Brand Loyalty - Sushant Singh

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I remember flipping through channels and stopping to watch a movie just because Sushant Singh was in it. It does not matter who the lead pair may be but if Sushant is in the movie…it carries an unwritten promise. Such is the pull of this actor…he is a brand unto himself! A seemingly self assured and confident actor, Sushant has managed to put together a body of work that can be seen as nothing less than exceptional. From the mysterious, unkempt, Grey shaded protagonist in ‘Jungle’, to the larger than life, perfect Sukhdev in the Legend of Bhagat Singh, to the antagonist who killed his own brother yet managed to melt our hearts in the popular TV show Gulaal. Constantly looking for new challenges, he unfailingly lands roles that stretch his talents to their limit but also require him to step away from his comfort zone. You would think that an actor of his caliber would be completely comfortable at what he does best but would you believe it when he says that he still gets nervous before the first shot?! Immensely proud of his talent and completely aware of his own flaws…Tinsel Gupshup brings you ‘the common uncommon’ man…Sushant Singh


TG:There is no doubt that you are an exceptional actor, your body of work is just brilliant but would you consider yourself as an underrated actor?

SS: I don’t really know because that is a very subjective question. Underrated by whom? When people like you see my work, appreciate it and want to feature me, I don’t feel underrated, so that’s one. I definitely do not underrate myself so that makes two. Ummm…who else…the industry people? You cannot live your life based on their evaluations because those change every Friday. So I don’t really give much weight to what the industry people think about me as an actor. I know there are people who truly appreciate my work and as long as those people don’t underrate me, I am happy.



TG: Do you think your potential is yet to be exploited. Actors take risks and push themselves so do you think that there is still that opportunity, role, character that could push you to achieve your highest potential?

SS: If I was the most successful actor and I believed that my potential had been exploited to the maximum then I don’t think there would be any point in working anymore. So I am happy the way things have worked out for me so far. Even after working in extremely satisfying films like ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ and ‘Sehar’, when I look back I can see how much I have grown as an actor and I know that I have much much more to prove and achieve. I don’t think my potential can ever be fully exploited but I will always work to improve on it.



TG: A lot of actors prepare themselves mentally or physically…they will do their research or some prefer not to prepare at all. What kind of an actor are you?

SS: Most of the times I am a very flexible actor but there have been roles where I have had to prepare. In the television industry, most of the time, you don’t really come across roles that require too much preparation. Most of the roles are quite stereotypical and the director or writers will depend on the actor to add more shades to the character and that requires some sort of mental preparation. Apart from that you don’t need much preparation for such larger than life, heroic roles. When I came across films like The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Sehar, Jungle, Hulla – those roles were extremely demanding and each character challenged me and pushed me to my limits. Sukhdev’s character in Bhagat Singh was completely overpowering! Thankfully, Mr. Rajkumar Santoshi’s team had already done their research for the movie but unfortunately not much had been written about Sukhdev…so he was not a very well documented figure. I remember there was only one chapter in a book describing Sukhdev so all I had was that one chapter to go on. I think, in order to prepare for any character it is very important to firstly decode the thought process – understand what makes the character tick. Once that falls into place then the body language and everything else comes automatically. When I start thinking like the character then I have no issues figuring out just how he will walk, how loud he will laugh, what his smile will be like, how he will react when he is angry…all those little nuances just start falling into place. Even today, I am very very nervous while giving the first shot because I just don’t know if I’ll be able to get it right. See, it is very easy to become repetitive in your performances and unfortunately many actors get away with it easily. That is no fun…that is like opening a shop, going to the shop and selling the same bread, the same milk, same biscuits every single day. At the end of the day, you just count how much money you have made and go back home. My decision is to open a new shop every day, that way when I play a character, it should excite me and people should be excited to watch my character.




TG: Wow…now that is a revelation! You still get nervous before your first shot?

SS: Oh yes! It was the first day of shooting at Bhagat Singh and the first shot had me in it. Now, it was a very light shot but I had instructed the Chief Assistant that I would not go anywhere close to the monitor or the director after the first shot because I had no idea if I had cracked it or not. I mean, for all I knew, Mr. Santoshi would have slapped me thinking he had wasted his time on me. So we finished the shot and I just went away to a corner. I must have been about 20 feet away from the director and just asked him with my eyes if he had his Sukhdev and he have me a thumbs up! It’s only after that signal from my director that I felt I could portray Sukhdev.



TG: You mentioned that there was only one page written about Sukhdev. How did you use that small point of reference to build on the character?

SS: Honestly speaking, even I don’t know. It is a long process and again there is no fixed method to it because I did not do anything physically or externally. I think every day I would just try and figure out – why, why, why, why? Why did he do this? What kind of a person must he have been to act the way he did and I just kept trying to figure out his frame of mind. You can call it self hypnotism…I really don’t know what it was but I am very thankful it happened. I am not the kind of person who makes notes, writes things down or makes background stories. I am very intuitive and most of my homework is just in my own mind.



TG: You have worked in daily serials and movies. On television you have done Gulaal, Wanted, Virrudh and now you are doing Savdhan. Do you have a preference in terms of television or movies?

SS: Oh yes…of course, definitely movies! See, television is a very…I am not getting the right word for it…ummm…very very fragile. In TV, everything depends on the viewers’ feedback and you cannot take anything for granted. You might be narrated an excellent storyline but then 10 episodes down the line the story will change, the character will change. You might have started out as an orphan on the show and somewhere along the line the parents will appear out of nowhere and everything you started with will just go out for a toss! So it is very spur of the moment and you can keep adding shades day after day. The biggest problem with me is that I cannot live with a character for too long because I start getting restless. I mean, fine, ok, you play a character…so let’s finish it and move on! This is why I have never done a serial for more than one year because that is how long I can live with one character…that is my limit! This happened in Gulaal and the same thing happened in Virruddh and after one year I said, ok I am done with this guy and bye bye. So, I prefer movies because once the story is set…you are set! You shoot the same story, stay with the same character and you might improve on it but you don’t deviate much. Also with movies there is no instant feedback, you release the movie, get reactions, learn from your mistakes and move on to the next movie…finished! That is why I am much happier doing movies.




TG: Now with TV becoming so big do you still feel that way? You were in Gulaal and it was a beautiful show and your character was visible from start to finish but we also felt that your character did not get its due. So if you get something similar but longer, would you consider it?

SS: Honestly speaking, I don’t know. Trust me, I have been offered shows and the makers of Gulaal approached me for a show as well but I felt it was too soon. I have still not forgotten the rigorous life of daily serials and I have still not recovered from all that. It is extremely tedious – 30 days a month, 12 hour shifts and when you are the lead then it tends to be longer than 12 hours. I don’t think I want to spend that much time on something that I don’t even find all that satisfying. Savdhan India is different because I am a host on the show so I am not playing a character, I don’t have an exhausting schedule and it gives me time to do movies as well.



TG:Do you regret turning down any roles? 

SS: Yes yes…of course! There were two big movies and coincidentally both were Aamir Khan Films and both went on to become mega hits! The first one was Lagaan. They had approached me with two roles in mind so I had that choice. At the same time Ram Gopal Verma called me up to say that he was starting Jungle and I had already committed to RGV a few months back. So I went back to Ashutosh Gowariker, explained my situation and the fact that I was committed to Jungle. He was very gracious and understood my predicament. So I had to let Lagaan go and it went on to become a super hit and later I found out that the entire cast had toured the world and played Cricket all over during the promotion of the movie…so that was quite heartbreaking and I really missed being a part of it.


The second one too was a big one. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra called me up for Rang De Basanti! The problem was that he was starting shoot from the 31st of December and he wanted 99 days from me starting mid January. Once again I was already committed for two movies (Shikhar and Family) and I had to go on an outdoor shoot in January. Now, I am not the kind of guy who will shuffle dates so I told Mr. Mehra that it was too late and I had prior commitments. Of course RDB went on to become a huge hit too and both my movies bombed. Well, that’s life…what can you do?


TG: How much of your life involves thinking about movies?

SS: Ohhh…it is a 24 hour thing. If you are an actor then you are an actor all the time. You never disconnect. Either you are thinking about what kind of movies you would like to be a part of or even if you are watching a movie, you will be thinking of how you would have played that character…so it is a 24 hour thing. Even when I am at home playing with my kids, I’ll be learning from their expressions, body language, thinking – ok, what if tomorrow I have to play such and such a character, then maybe, I can use this! So, it is a constant thing and everything you see becomes source material for you. You are an actor…period…finished!




TG: That is interesting…you don’t ever stop being an actor but then how do you switch off? Do you bring your characters home?

SS: You do need to switch off. There have been times when I have done heavy, emotional scenes and I don’t feel like talking to anybody for a few hours. You have to learn to just leave it and get out of that zone and it is not easy. I think it took me more than 4 months to come out of Sukhdev and even now, a part of Sukhdev still lives in me. He was not only a fantastic character but a beautiful human being too so you don’t want to let go but then you have to. I mean, I cannot live my life as Sukhdev and for a very long time I was living my life as him…I just could not figure out what had happened. When I realized that I had not been able to switch off from Sukhdev - now that was a revelation for me! Even my wife used to tell me that something in me had changed during that time, I had become very emotional, I would cry, I would laugh a lot, so I had these extreme and raw emotions and I really not could not figure out what it was. One day it just hit me that this is what Sukhdev used to do and once I figured it out, I started the process of coming out of it.  


TG: Would you say that acting is a question of instinct and talent rather than something you can learn?

SS: No…I don’t subscribe to that school of thought…I don’t think acting can be learned. Acting is like any other talent. You cannot learn how to paint because it is a talent and you either have it or you don’t. You could sharpen and improve that talent but that is it. Again, you cannot learn how to sing…just improve on it. The industry is full of poor actors and I can challenge any of these acting schools to take them on, teach them and turn them into brilliant actors. If it could be taught then every actor working in the industry right sons and daughters included would be brilliant! Well, they are not…so it can’t be taught. Somebody can teach you the techniques, the technicalities etc but the raw material has to be there already.


TG: Do you consider yourself as a brand? If we know Sushant Singh is going to be in a show or a movie, we expect it to of a certain level or standard.

SS: Yes…off late, I have realized that. The word ‘brand’ sounds very commercial and I have never considered myself a brand but I do realize that there are certain expectations that get attached with me automatically. Till now I have been able to deliver to those expectations and I think that when I lend my name to a project or character, I bring credibility to the project and in that way I do become a brand. I don’t consider it as a bad thing because it is great to know that people have certain expectations from me and I am happy with that. I don’t mind that kind of branding, I just hope I can live up to it. I have to admit that it does add some pressure and also it does not give me much leeway to experiment and try new things out. For example, I don’t always want to burden the audience with heavy philosophy and intense acting…even I get bored of my intense acts. So, sometimes, I want to try something light, be a buffoon on screen. At the end of the day I am human and I cannot be in the same mould 24 hours a day…I need to break the mould, test my own limits. We laugh at other people’s comedy or we watch something and think it is stupid but before I say anything, I need to try it out. If I excel and get acceptance then I have every right to say it was the stupidest movie but if not then I have no right to make fun of people dancing around trees or slapstick comedy! Every kind of movie, every role takes a lot of effort and some people excel in a certain genre and we don’t. So people’s expectations kind of scare me as well and put in that questioning mode – should I…or should I not?



TG: Taking you back to your Jungle days…your character was very strange and brilliant, it was also your moment of arrival. You were the protagonist but you were neither the good guy or the bad guy, fell in love with the girl. For a first movie, your face was all covered with hair, bad teeth. Was that a risk for you? What were your thoughts when you accepted that role?

SS: Frankly I was very excited! I am really not the kind of guy who will think too much about the future or what will happen when the movie releases etc. For me, it is always about the kick that I will get when I do this one! At that point I was nobody…I had done Satya and Kaun so I was not an established name and people knew that I was a good actor. So, when you get offered the main lead opposite Urmila Matondkar in a movie that is being made by Ram Gopal Verma…you have every reason to be excited! The biggest kick was that Ramu handed over all the research to me because the character was based on Veerappan and I was asked to design the look, the costumes, makeup…everything! So it was a huge responsibility and I enjoyed every moment of it! I read everything that had ever been written about Veerappan and started working on the character. I decided how this gang would be living, their uniforms, how they would move from place to place, why they were so loyal to him. I designed my own makeup and the idea was that he is such a mysterious character that you don’t want to see the full face at any point. I did not want that element of mystery to fall and it is unbelievable that this kind of a man could fall in love with a girl. You would expect him to assault her but you would never expect him to fall in love with her. He always had that half mask kind of hair on his face and you kept wondering what this guy was thinking so I really enjoyed doing the movie. I did not think about what would happen after the release, would it be accepted or not, would I become a hero or not. RGV had seen my capabilities in Kaun so it was superb of him to trust me that much and I can proudly say that I did not let him down. It was a big ego boost!


TG:What does being famous mean to you?

SS: Ummmm…I don’t know…I mean there are so many guys who are more famous than me. Normally when people see me they smile, some people will stop and tell me that I am a very good actor…yes, that makes me happy. I like to stay in the moment and at the end of the day when I go home to my family I am just dad…my kids will come and pull my moustache, pull my cheeks and then I am just a dad. Fame is overhyped. Thankfully, I don’t get photographed in malls or at the airport…we mortals are spared the whole paparazzi deal that actors like Shahrukh Khan etc are subjected to. I can still go to a mall and cinema halls with my family without any fuss. When I go outside Mumbai then people do want to take pictures and talk to me, they want to shake hands and after a point I have to disappoint them, sometimes you have to be rude or abrupt because you have to go somewhere else. Fame is good, it is exciting but I don’t think anyone should get used to it. Right now it is there so just enjoy it…don’t get used to it because tomorrow it might not be there. It should not change you and you should not start missing it.



TG: If I describe you as the uncommon common man. Would you agree with that? Is that who you feel you are?

SS: (Laughs) Uncommon common man? Yes, that sounds good. I can live with that…



TG: So many crime shows – Gumrah, Crime Patrol. What made you accept Savdhan? You have already hosted a crime show – Wanted, what made you warm up to Savdhan?

SS: Presence on television was not the criteria. See, I had tried doing Wanted for Colors and unfortunately the show was taken off air after 5 episodes. That was my first opportunity to be a host and I was excited because it was the kind of show where you are trying to help catch criminals. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons the show was pulled off and I was very disheartened. It was not just a challenge but you are also doing something that would mean something to somebody. After Wanted I did not even actively try to get into another show as a host. Then Savdhan people approached me and that is the time I realized that whole ‘brand’ thing associated with me. I was very upfront with them and my main point was that if they were serious about the issues being brought up in the show and not just trying to sensationalize then I was the right choice for Savdhan. People believe in me, certain sincerity and honesty is associated with my image so when I spoke to the production house I wanted to know clearly what they were looking for. If it was going to be a sensational show where we scare people into believing that everything is bad around them etc then I am not that kind of guy. However, if you are seriously raising issues and I can be myself and I am allowed to present it the way I want to then we can move forward. Fortunately they also had the same vision. I had faced a lot of disappointment with ‘Wanted’, so this was a great opportunity to prove to myself that I had not failed as an anchor and then of course to be able to bring some improvements and awareness to somebody’s life somewhere. At the end of the day I am an individual and had I not attempted Savdhan then I would have always wondered whether ‘Wanted’ failed because of Sushant or did Sushant fail because of the show. I needed to resolve that question and I am glad I have resolved it. The audience has accepted me as an anchor, the show is doing very well and I am happy.




TG: With so many crime shows on TV…there is a thin line between creating awareness and creating fear. What are your thoughts on that?

SS: I would say that don’t let the fear overpower your life. Yes we should be afraid because most of us who say that these shows are creating fear are the people who have never faced a crime. So we live in this cocoon and we believe that these things can only happen to other people but then the times are such that there are no guarantees. You might be a victim tomorrow so it is better to be aware and better to be alert than be sorry tomorrow. Nobody should become a statistic tomorrow so let us not be naïve and ignorant of how society is behaving around us today. Let us be aware but living in fear is not a way of life…be alert. Crime and criminals cannot be completely eradicated but creating awareness is a small step that can save someone’s life. That is exactly what all these shows should be doing. Sensationalism and creating fear are the wrong goals.


TG: What criteria do you use when choosing a role—is it a gut thing?

SS: Yes it is a gut thing. Well the first thing of importance is the story, the story should excite me. If it is not a page turner and if I am not curious to see what happens next then it is a dud for me. If the story is working for me then comes the question of my involvement – how involved is my character in the plot? Am I moving the plot? If the answers to those questions is yes then comes the question of whether everything is well developed. So there are a lot of questions I look at but the primary criterion is always the story.


TG: You mentioned that you are nervous during the first shot but once the movie is done do you go and watch your own performances? What is your reaction?

SS: I don’t watch all my performances. Sometimes I cringe. I feel maybe my face is too bloated, I should have worked out, I should have avoided all that food…I should not have had that drink that particular night. I’ll focus on my I looking fit enough?  So most of the times I end up focusing on those kinds of things, which is probably why I don’t watch my own movies. Performance wise...I know because when I give my shot I already know how good or how bad that moment was.  Sometimes the director had to say ok because there are time constraints or they have to focus on another actor. So you know it could have been better. My mom, dad and sister watch all my movies. I am an actor 24 hours and if my wife and children also start looking at me in that sense then it will be a bit too overpowering. My wife gives me inputs when I am preparing for a role but we don’t make it a point to get excited about any of my movies.



TG: You played an absolutely brilliant character (Dushyant) in Gulaal. Can you give us some of your favourite scenes from that show?

SS: I really liked that last scene where I confess that I have killed Vasant in front of the whole family.  There were a lot of scenes between Gulaal and me that came out very well. The scene where Gulaal knew that I had killed Vasant. Also, there was a scene where I am heartbroken when Motabha asks for Gulaal’s hand for Vasant, I go in the desert and am walking in the dunes. That was actually a much longer scene but it was edited, so there were quite a few scenes that I really liked. Thanks to Sidharth and Aziz, most of us always tried to layer the scenes especially when Dushyant was there. Overall I really enjoyed playing Dushyanth!


Photo Credit: Sushant Singh


©Tinsel Gupshup


Dec 01, 2012
So his favourite is Sukhdev too.I LOVED him in that. A cocky young freedomfighter,his and Bhagat's friendship,and anguish when betrayed by his friends, brought him on his knees, that scene broke my <3

Nov 15, 2012
Bilkul Dile se interview....true to ur job and feeling...

Manjeet singh
Nov 14, 2012
You have something different in u,put it ahead, you are true to your job as I look. It's a good interview.

Nov 12, 2012
loved it. very honest replies. he is one of the finest actor i have seen. i loved how S said art is a talent . it cannot be taught true :) thanks TG for this wonderful diwali gift.. :)

Nov 12, 2012
Thanks a lot for this wonderful in- depth interview TG.The photos are so good.He is such a dedicated actor.I really wish we could see more of him on big screen.I loved his comment about TV shows :)

Nov 12, 2012
awesome interview :)

ojasvitaa singh
Nov 12, 2012
very nice interview of a real star

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