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|July 6, 1998||
Rooting for the nasty
Cocky and vain, his confidence in himself ought to be seen to be believed. There's no diffidence there. He believes he is handsome, a great actor and that one day he will make it really, really big. That drive to prove himself is what has suddenly plonked him among the popular actors in the industry.
He has all the necessary qualifications to be a successful villain. When you see him first, things look black. A black T-shirt, a black blazer and black trousers. Suitably morbid colours for a nasty. Look above them and you run into big, intense eyes that can be very intimidating. And these are set in a face hard enough to make him look really mean.
The first role he picked up in films was in Dushman, where he convincingly played a psychopathic postman. Even if the film didn't do well initially, but his character as Gokul Pandit was noticed.
But then, Ashutosh always knew it. The role was a challenge, he admits. But he is perfectly satisfied the way he handled it. He laughs and tells you he expects two awards for the film this year -- one for the best director and one for the best villain. Tanuja being the fresh new director and he, of course, being the villain.
"We both were new and fresh. We had the opportunity to do so much.... There were no compulsions or objections to experimenting. And I had a dream role."
Dream role it was. Of an ordinary man who like anybody else on the street. Who doesn't have hoodlums hanging around him. Who comes from an inoffensive lower middle-class background, one not expected to be a rapist or a killer.
So how is such an ordinary man supposed to look menacing? But Ashutosh manages.
Have you ever met a philosophical villain? Who talks of being a negative character like it is the fad of the season? Well, here's one.
Ashutosh was born in a small town in Madhya Pradesh and has acted on stage since the age of four. He graduated to roles in Ram Lilas, where the role of Ravan fascinated him more than that of the mild Ram. That was when he began wanting to become the best villain in the country.
"I always told my friends that the industry would see a very handsome villain sometime soon." He turns to you and adds pointedly, "Don't you think he has arrived?"
Rather than pat an overstroked ego, we ask him why he opted for negative characters?
"They are very courageous, devoted people. They are very greedy and they want to reach their ends somehow. There is a kind of dedication and flexibility. If they want something then they get it by hook or crook. Their temperament is such that they think they are the world, whereas a positive character may say that he is in this world. That arrogance is something, which forms the first impression. Even in reality, an arrogant man is always noticed. That arrogance comes from some achievement, some courage, some devotion and some wish too.
You know the saying 'where there is a will, there is a way'. A negative character personifies this".
If this seems like an argument for self-indulgence, for desire without control, for demand extorting supply, you'd better not suggest it. Ashutosh Rana's philosophy might not admit it. But you have to admit that few actors aspire to become villains with Ashutosh's kind of single-mindedness. The kind that went into his portrayal of Gokul Pandit.
"I gave my 100 per cent to the character and I think it has worked," he says.
The same guru, he says, predicted the offer in Mahesh Bhatt's TV serial, Swabhimaan. Again it was a negative character lasting 10 episodes. He went on to do 740 episodes due to the audience response.
"My guru told me one thing," he says a little vaguely, "That work is work. Nothing is big or small. Whenever an opportunity comes, it is always small, and the results are always unexpected. Then a bigger opportunity will come. He told me to do everything that came my way initially, whether big or small. I was very ambitious and I didn't want to be a mediocre actor. I wanted to be the world's best actor. And I always asked God to give me the capability. My ambition and dreams were big and the bigger they were, the smaller the roles were. In a tele-serial, if there was one episode, I would get one small scene in it. I had no option then. Then I got Swabhimaan." And the rest is history.
Seeing his potential, Mahesh Bhatt offered him a small role in Ghulam. That of a freedom fighter. The role was very small, but it paved the way for Dushman. Initially, producer Pooja Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt were doubtful of his ability to play the main villain. They felt he had too soft a face. Then, during one of the trials of Ghulam, they noticed his cameo and decided that maybe he has something in him. Ashutosh couldn't believe his luck when they called him over.
With uncharacteristic modestly, when he met them he asked whether they were really serious. When they replied in the affirmative, he reportedly let off a whoop of joy right there before settling down to talking business.
"I was hurt when Bhattsaab offered me that role in Ghulam.... He had faith in me and I thought that he should have given me a better role..." But he had decided to do any role, regardless of size. And that was his stepping stone to bigger things.
A positive character, he points out, lacks the charisma of a negative one. He also likes the hard work that goes into making a villain look dangerous and mean. And no, he doesn't want to be a stereotyped Hindi film villain with the usual get-ups and dialogues.
"You got to keep your individuality... You look and have the same body -- two eyes, two kidneys, one heart. What makes you different is your mind and your thoughts. That is your individuality. If you concentrate on that, you can't be stereotyped. It is god's miracle that his production has variety. I have to experiment with the character and give the audience the satisfaction of knowing that I can be different".
And wait, all this hyping of anti-social behaviour does not mean he wants to be nasty off screen too. You wonder why this PR for brutality on screen prefers, off-screen, to cast off the "charisma" he thinks so wonderful. He sees your confusion and is more than willing to explain.
"Acting is a extension of your personality. Every character helps shape your present state of mind. When I beat the villain to death on screen, I get it out of my system. Then I don't feel the need to be bad again. I want to be good only in my real life, not reel life. Nobody wants to be bad, but he is, despite everything. So I have a way to get out of it." Catharsis. You never have thought acting could act as a safety valve, though, of course, you should have.
He says he does not believe in an anti-hero. It's black of white, either you are good or bad. There cannot be a middle way, of being anything else. It's only a way to avoid being something definite, he says, adding, by now needlessly, that he would hate such a role himself.
"When an negative person justifies his actions to the people, he absolves his sins and becomes positive. So what is this anti-hero theory? Both characters have to be charismatic and definite in their roles". If that flies in the face of what he said earlier about positive characters lacking charisma, just leave it.
Ashutosh feels that he has not done badly for a struggling newcomer who lacked a godfather to back him. And, in direct variance with his screen persona, Ashutosh is willing to forgive those who gave him a tough time in the industry. He even justifies their rejection of him.
"When they invest so much in you, then it is right on their part to see whether you are capable or not of fulfilling their needs." Admitting that humiliations are a part and parcel in this industry, he says he hopes that he can counter that with his talent.
He asserts he won't make hay by playing Gokul Pandit again -- for another two years at least. He would prefer doing TV serials till he gets something different.
"Ego is the best thing in the world. It doesn't allow one to be humiliated in the real sense. Because when somebody abuses you, you abuse that person back. You have wiped that humiliation that way. Nobody called me or invited me to come and join this industry. I wanted to do it and I have to face everything that went with it. You are here to entertain, and you have to show people that you are capable of it," he says.
Finally, he says, he might even shift to positive -- or rather character -- roles a little later in life. That, when he has had his fill of villainy.
As he puts it, " I am very greedy as an actor. Very selfish. I want to experience all the intensities a bad man can muster. I want to have it all... I want to show people the potential of a negative character. I am very hungry now, and I just want to eat and eat till I am completely full. Only then will I think of trying something else".
Photographs by Jewella C Miranda.
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