Indraneil with daughter Meira. Picture: Anindya Shankar Ray
So, are you a bad son or a good son to Amitabh Bachchan in Prakash Jha’s Satyagraha?
A very good son! My character Akhilesh is an engineer, he’s very obedient. His father is a very upright person and Akhilesh is like his father.
Are you happy that the director must have felt you resemble Bachchan?
I don’t know if that has been the criterion... maybe I do! But I am happy that I am playing his son. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a big deal! When I grow old, I can tell people that I had worked with Mr Bachchan. Just because of my non-expressive self, I don’t make it sound big!
Tell us how the shoot went...
I shot for two days only. I am going back on the 11th. Mr Bachchan wasn’t there on the first day. Arjun (Rampal), Ajay (Devgn) Manoj Bajpai, Amrita Rao were there. Arjun is very friendly, while I am very reserved. He has a habit of chatting which makes the other person feel very comfortable. I had no scenes with Ajay and he doesn’t talk a lot.... Prakash Jha kept on cracking jokes to make the shoot lively and comfortable. On the second day, I got to shoot with Mr Bachchan and he was very warm, lively and he cracks jokes too.
How big is your role?
It’s comparatively a smaller role. Length-wise, Arjun’s role is less than all of them and mine is lesser than Arjun’s. But it has an impact.
Indraneil Sengupta in his apartment at Upohar.
Picture: Anindya Shankar Ray
How did the film happen?
The casting director asked me to come for the auditions in Mumbai. I knew it was for Satyagraha and they were auditioning me to cast as Mr Bachchan’s son.
And yet you kept the news to yourself!
Yes! I didn’t share it with anyone other than my wife (Barkha) actually! I didn’t even tell my Ma and Baba. As far as the media is concerned, t2 was the first to know. Barkha is more excited than I am. But I think my father-in-law is the happiest! He said, ‘I’m so proud of you. You are playing Amitabh Bachchan’s son!’ I said, what is there to be so proud of? As if I have become his son! (Laughs) My brother-in-law SMSed from the US: ‘I heard you are playing son to God!’
Do you feel this role might be your ticket to Bollywood?
Not really, because it’s not the main role. See, even if it is a main role, in a Hindi film it doesn’t ensure you a ticket. Even if it works, you don’t get further work. I will be happy if it gets me a decent amount of work, but then it’s all about hoping. After Kahaani, everyone said that whoever worked in it would get Hindi films. It doesn’t happen that way. Bombay is saturated with actors.
You’ve been working in Tollywood for four years. Are you happy with the roles coming your way?
I have done 13-14 films since 2008. I was happier initially because when I was a newcomer, very good films were being made. In the beginning of my career, I did Autograph, Angshumaner Chhobi, Aarekti Premer Galpo. After Bhooter Bhobishyot, most films didn’t work. A lot of people tried to follow the medium-budget-smart-film formula and that has been a deterrent. You find a lot of stories interesting but the execution goes wrong.
Do you think you’ve said yes to some wrong films?
Yes, at times. See, I can play safe and mark my territory. In Tollywood, I had started out with Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Janala. But how many films do Buddhadeb Dasgupta or Rituparno Ghosh make? If I only say I am going to work with Rituparno, Aparna Sen, Goutam Ghose, Srijit Mukherji, Kaushik Ganguly and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
. I mean I have to run my kitchen, boss! Yes, I can try and not do very bad films.
Why did you stop chasing the Bollywood dream after Vikram Bhatt’s 1920?
Before 1920, I had done Shukriya and Mumbai Salsa.... Bengali films just happened to me. One film led to the other. In the Hindi film industry, you can’t really chase. Doing the rounds of production houses is no more in fashion.
You’ve been a TV serial hero. TV actors like Rajeev Khandelwal did make it to Bollywood...
Do you know how many TV actors there are in Bombay? Even Rajeev Khandelwal is yet to get a foothold. Now if I take Sushant Singh Rajput’s example, he’s done Kai Po Che! and is starring in a Yash Raj production... how many can be a Sushant? Suddenly one person becomes lucky. And I was not one of them. I wasn’t as popular as Sushant, Rajeev or Ram Kapoor. I didn’t stick to television because I was never keen on being a TV actor. I did TV (Pyaar Ke Do Naam: Ek Radha Ek Shyaam on STAR Plus) just for the financial part. Television gave me everything. It is with the money from television that I bought my car and a flat in Mumbai!
Are you satisfied with the money you make from Bengali films?
See, the problem is that the films I do don’t have a mass appeal. Recovering the money is very difficult. So you have to lower the budget. But I am not able to understand why every time a film is offered to me, the first thing the producer says is ‘amader budget-ta khub kom’! A lot of times I have missed out on films because I didn’t agree to what they offered. If we keep working for the love of art, then we will have to skip meals at home! Besides, when two of your films don’t work, you won’t have any work. And even if you get work, the pay will go down because your last two films didn’t work.... It’s very uncertain.
Any lessons learnt from films like System and Dosshomi that didn’t do well?
You will never know which film will run and which wouldn’t. You have to gamble. I feel I’m not a good judge of scripts. I feel I get excited by the idea of the story. I don’t have the technical expertise to understand whether a screenplay is as good as the idea. So sometimes I do make the mistake of falling into the trap of a good idea.
How does one improve as an actor?
We mostly learn on the job. I don’t think an acting course would help. You grow with every film. Watching great actors and directors helps.
Are you an introvert by nature? Does that work against an actor?
Yes, I am an introvert.... I think so, to a certain extent, because our industry is very relation-based. Maybe a person who is very open about his needs and can express his desire to work knows the tricks of the game and does it better than I do. Maybe if I were an extrovert, things would have worked out differently for me. I have felt that I needed to change and be more upfront, go out and market myself. I tried it for two days and felt so unconvincing.... So I said, let me be myself. I can’t do the big talk.
Have you made any close friends in Tolly? The kind one would hang out with after work...
I don’t hang out with people because I like to disconnect from the film fraternity after the shoot. I feel that we are in a very competitive industry where friendships will backfire. When you and I are vying for the same spot, technically it’s very difficult to be unbiased and selfless, so the root of your friendship is not pure. Whether you party with someone or have a drink at somebody’s place... it is a
I do go to Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s house, Rituparno’s (Ghosh) and Sohagdi’s (Sen)... but that too maybe once in four months. I feel our industry is such a competitive field that it would be foolish to think everything is genuine. I like Jeet but the kind of films he does I don’t do, so there is no competition between us. Had we been doing the same kind of films, I don’t know if it would have been so easy to gel.
You mean you can never be friends with a Parambrata or an Abir?
We can be friends but there will be a sense of competition all the time.
What do you do when you disconnect from films?
Barkha says I am a loner! I don’t need friends. Leave me alone and I will be happy all day. I can sit and watch TV for hours. When I was shooting in Egypt for Mishawr Rawhoshyo, I would stay in my hotel room and do my own thing when there was no work. The rest of the team members invited me to go with them on a cruise but I didn’t go! I am very lazy. Barkha feels I do nothing to bond with my daughter. Meira has just learnt to say ‘Papa’ but Papa is never around, so she looks at other men and goes ‘Papa, Papa’! Barkha has gone to Mumbai and has left Meira with our help, so that she knows who the real Papa is!
We hear Barkha has a lot of say in the decisions you make...
Not at all. We share everything and take ideas from each other. I don’t think it is intrusive and there are so many times Barkha has been offered TV roles which I have told her not to do. Same way, whenever I get offers I discuss with her and she gives me inputs but she listens to me more than I listen to her.
Are you a possessive husband?
We are both very possessive about each other. But I feel Barkha is a bit more possessive than I am.
An actor you draw inspiration from:
Your go-to film when you’re down and want to change your mood:
Andaz Apna Apna.
One Amitabh Bachchan role you would love to play in a remake:
I would love to do his role from Shakti.
The last gift you got was:
A pair of shorts and T-shirts that my wife bought me just like that.
One bad habit you’ve been wanting to kick for a long time:
Smoking. I’m 38 now and I have promised my wife to quit by 40.
One food/dish you hate and will never eat...
I hate cabbage and cauliflower and I will never eat them ever in my life.
The animal you most resemble in spirit...
A horse! (Laughs) And I would like to believe it’s a stallion because of the physicality and free spirit.
Should Indraneil focus on Bolly or Tolly? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org