‘Surrendering to the director enriches you as an actor,' says Betaal's Viineet Kumar

Man at war: A still from Betaal  

It’s a few days before Betaal’s premiere on Netflix and Viineet Kumar is grumbling— all in good humour —about how he hasn’t yet managed to catch his own show. “Naamuraad virus ne bahut kuchh chheen liya (The ominous virus has taken away a lot),” he says, referring to the customary cast and crew screenings that have become rightly extinct during the ongoing lockdown.

The new web series is the Mukkabaaz and Saand Ki Aankh actor’s first crack at the horror genre. Though, Kumar does remember being part of a television show early on in his career, in which he had a small role as a ghost. “You couldn’t make out it was me. Even I could recognise myself only from the kurta that I was wearing,” he laughs.

Fear is fun

But it wasn’t the zombie-horror element that drew him towards Patrick Graham and Nikhil Mahajan’s Betaal. He regards Betaal as more than a horror show, “Darr se mazaa aayega (It’s a fear that you will enjoy).” As Vikram Sirohi, the second in command of the fictional CIPD force, that takes on the undead East India Company officer and his battalion of zombie redcoats, Kumar found himself wearing the uniform for the first time on screen. More than that, it was the character’s backstory. According to him, for every role he plays on screen, Kumar makes it a point to discuss the character’s past with the writer and director, to put the present motivations in context. His method as an actor has always been to understand the mind, the rhythm and upbringing. “But in Betaal, it is all present on screen itself. The past, the dark secret, the guilt that he can’t undo, the pain he carries within,” he says, adding, “There is the external battle and then there is another constant fight within him.” It’s an internal battleground that haunts Sirohi at all times.

This is something new and more complex for Kumar. He last remembers playing a complicated person in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly. “He [Chaitanya, his character] used to think one thing and say another,” says the actor. For Kumar, more than the ghosts of the past, Betaal is all about a larger theme of action and reaction. How our actions in the present will have a consequence in the future. “We must all give it a thought. So much poverty is not something that has happened overnight. People are stressed about basic things in life. With a daughter in arms, a suitcase on the head they are walking. Can’t we see all that is happening around us?” he asks rhetorically. The actor rewinds, to his days of studying and practising his MD in Ayurveda and pulls out a medical analogy: “The chronic problem of the past has become an acute illness. We all need to seriously introspect.”

Philosophic outlook

Betaal also marks Kumar’s first outing with Mahajan and Graham. “As an actor you always get to learn a lot from a new team. Surrendering to the director enriches you as an actor,” he says. It also marks his second attempt at web series, the first being Ribhu Dasgupta’s Bard of Blood last year. “Paisa samay se pehle account mein aa jaata hai (Payment is transferred to the account before due date) so you can focus on your work,” he states candidly spelling out one of the reasons he finds the OTT world an attractive platform as an actor.

What is coming next? Kumar has four new projects that are ready, one of which needs patchwork shoot and dubbing. What he is disappointed about is not being present at the Tribeca Film Festival for his new film, Prashant Nair’s Tryst With Destiny. It was slated to have had its world première there. While the physical festival was cancelled, the film was screened virtually for the festival jury and clinched the best screenplay award in the international narrative section. “I was looking forward to meeting my favourite actor Robert De Niro who is the founder of [the] Tribeca [festival],” he says. Kumar then reverts to his characteristic philosophical mode, “Nature takes its own course. Nothing is in your hands. The only lesson is to not take yourself too seriously.”

Betaal is streaming on Netflix

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 10:09:46 AM |

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