Sushant Singh Rajput is all set to portray Byomkesh Bakshi, the famous fictional Indian detective created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. The film, titled Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, is directed by Dibakar Banerjee. Alok Deshpande catches up with the actor.
From theatre to television to films. Are you happy with your journey?
I cannot be happier than I am right now. Before all this fame, two diametrically opposite feelings existed within me. One, I believed that this would happen, and two, there was no reason to support this belief. But today, when I get a room just beside Shah Rukh Khan’s, I feel this is it. What more do you want?
Was it your dream to be an actor?
I never wanted to be an actor. Ten years ago, becoming an actor was as unlikely as becoming an astronaut or a Prime Minister. Nobody I knew had any idea about this industry, I had no money to produce a film and lastly, I was studying Physics.
How did it happen then?
It was quite incidental. I was born in Patna and then moved to Delhi. I was the youngest son in a big family, which meant pampering. I thought that was life. When I stepped out for education, I was never able to talk to anyone or be friendly with people. While pursuing engineering, I joined Shiamak Davar’s dance class. But Shiamak asked me to do theatre, which worried me as I had to speak. But the thought that it was the character on stage that was speaking, and not me, made me comfortable. I could hide behind the character. It was so liberating that I decided to do it for the rest of my life and dropped out of college.
How did you end up playing Byomkesh Bakshi?
I was shooting for Shuddh Desi Romance, when Adi (Aditya Chopra) called me and said that Dibakar Banerjee and Yash Raj Films were working together on a film on Byomkesh Bakshy and I would be the detective. I was kind of sceptical initially.
Because Byomkesh has been done so many times. But then I met Dibakar and auditioned for the role. I got selected too. He told me that this film was going to be our interpretation of a guy in existence for the last 50-60 years and so we have to be very sure of our intent.
How was it working with Dibakar?
He asked me not to watch any of the previous Byomkesh films or serials prior to shooting. I did not understand many things when I read all the Byomkesh stories, but I was sure that Dibakar knew everything.
Which story of Byomkesh have you used in the film?
Well, it’s a mix of two or three stories, set in 1943. The things that were happening in Calcutta at that time, which impacted the culture of that city, are an integral part of the story. We have shot almost 70 per cent of the film in the city.
There’s always a risk of playing such roles, as many don’t like to change the existing image of the character imprinted in public memory. Are you scared of criticism?
This, I think, is the biggest leap of faith that Dibakar has taken. But, this is his interpretation. And for me, I don’t think about people while selecting a film or shooting for it. But now that the shooting is over, I do get these thoughts that people should like it. So that the film is commercially viable and so that I will get these kinds of films again. Because nobody puts their money on a non-bankable star.
What’s your criterion for choosing a film?
The first feel of the script. It stays with you. I don’t plan what kinds of films I want to do. People ask me why you don’t do truly commercial films. See, I want to do these films and enjoy on-screen dancing, fighting and other things. But in the last two years, the films I did had slightly more interesting scripts than the other escapist films I was offered. The moment I get an interesting script with dance and fight sequences, I will jump at it.
What is your ideal role?
First, I should understand the character and second, there has to be some room to explore it. Byomkesh did give me that space. Maybe Dibakar knew exactly what he wanted from me, but allowed me to explore.
What makes your journey from an aspiring engineer to an actor so special?
The experience I had while doing it.
You mean your struggle?
Nope. Struggle is a very naïve word. It means struggling to do something. I never struggled to do anything. People called me an average actor, but in my head, I was a star. I used to have one line in a play, but I used to believe that people frequenting Prithvi Theatre had come to see me. And that is because I was so into the performance. Nobody can take away that experience from me.
Is it difficult for an outsider to make a name in the industry?
Of course, it is. Tomorrow, if two of my films do not do well consecutively, I may not get another chance. You have to be sure of what you want. You have to keep thinking that you will survive, no matter what.