When actor Siddhant Chaturvedi began to get into the skin of Zain, the character he plays in director Shakun Batra’s Gehraiyaan , he automatically gravitated towards the stereotypes that Bollywood peddles about love. “I started by writing notes in a diary as Zain, and most of them were rejected by Shakun. That’s when I realised that having grown up on a diet of Bollywood romantic films [most of them starring Shah Rukh Khan], I was conditioned to see romance in a certain way.” As the process continued, Chaturvedi unlearned all that he knew about love and its depictions. “He [director Batra] made me see beyond all the gloss and glamour. He showed me a mirror which was so human, intimate and nuanced.”
The Hindu Weekend spoke with the 26-year-old via Zoom just as the film’s promotions were starting and he was still looking for the right words to describe the film. “It’s a relationship drama, but unlike anything you’ve seen before. We called it domestic noir for the longest time and didn’t even have a title until much later because it’s so new and fresh.”
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Gehraiyaan , a Dharma Production that also stars Deepika Padukone and Ananya Pandey, is Chaturvedi’s third film. The actor had a dream debut of sorts in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019) as MC Sher — who helped Ranveer Singh’s Murad channel his angst and achieve his dream of a career in hip-hop.
When I met Chaturvedi days after the release of that film, he was still in a daze processing all the praise that was coming his way. ‘Surreal’ was a word he used often during that conversation and almost three years later that feeling hasn’t changed for him (last seen in YRF’s Bunty Aur Babli 2) . “Things still feel surreal. I actually have a film releasing! I’m still very young and new, so I think this feeling will last. It is also a validation that I’m doing something right and that I am living my dreams.”
‘Either good stories or great scale’
Like everyone else’s life, Chaturvedi’s also had to hit pause in March 2020 on what seemed like the beginning of a dream run. It would have been natural for him to be frustrated, but he is confident in his abilities and choices. “I knew I’d be working. After this, there’s Phone Booth , Yudhra , and Kho Gaye Hum Kahan . So I was fine, but I was sad about what’s happening in the world. I just wish this [the pandemic] would get over and children can go back to school — they’ve missed three years of their lives. My brother who’s going to be turning 18 has not seen college yet; he couldn’t give his boards. I think it’s bad for one’s mental health.”
Even as he was preparing for Gehraiyaan and his other films, Chaturvedi used the last two years to “sit back and study people and watch their tastes change”. “Thankfully, I haven’t signed much and I’ll take all of this into consideration while signing the other films I’m going to do,” he says, adding, “Attention spans aren’t what they used to be, so you need really good content. Now, stories and writers are the most important part because you need the audience hooked. I really need some great stories and, if not, I need big scale [like Telugu films RRR or Pushpa ]. Don’t give me something that’s mediocre.”
Of complex modern relationships
For now, though, he’s anxious to see audience reactions to Gehraiyaan , a film where “you’ll feel like you’re watching yourself at times”. Shooting schedules were delayed because of the pandemic, though Chaturvedi believes it helped the film. “I’m glad it [the shoot] didn’t happen at that time because there were so many things we came up with during the lockdown. Shakun came up with ideas about the characters and picked up those little nuances from real life, real people, and real experiences. It was a never-ending process and he was even tweaking things while dubbing. Because of the pandemic, so many things have changed. The definition of love and relationships, tastes, consumer preferences — everything is evolving and it’s all happening very quickly.”
Batra’s tweaking of the film to reflect the ‘now’ meant that the actors had to bring their A-game and own their characters. The filmmaker’s collaborative directorial process helped. “Us actors prepped for a year, doing workshops, playing games, and doing team building exercises. We would all come up with things to help each other and own our characters. Shakun made sure we were all on the same page. Apart from discussing our characters, he would ask us our opinions on the others and why someone was feeling a certain way.”
And for fun, he made sure to bring something extra to the set. “For every scene, I had my own Bollywood take. So, I’d do the scene that Shakun wanted and then do one in the Shah Rukh Khan style. Shakun shot all of those takes just for fun!” he concludes.
Gehraiyaan will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on February 11.