“I want to be known as a performer who can deliver,” tells Kolkata boy Shantanu Maheshwari to Edugraph, hours before making his big film debut as he plays Afsaan, the love interest of Alia Bhatt, in Gangubai Kathiawadi.
The dancer-turned-actor shares his learnings from working with filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, how he stays focused on his career and what keeps him going as a content creator.
Edugraph: It will soon be 10 years since you moved to Mumbai. Things have changed a lot since then…
Shantanu Maheshwari: Yeah, almost 10 years! When I started, things were different and then the social media boom happened. I am still struggling to understand it. I think I am a bit lazy in a good way but then I am what I am. I don’t think it will change. I hope I don’t change as a person.
Young actors often succumb to pressure and jump on trends just to remain relatable. What is your idea of having a sustainable career?
Shantanu Maheshwari: I think it’s to each his own. I also don’t think there is a formula to what you become after achieving something and then later something else. You need to have that kind of thought process and creativity to come up with something or to start with what others are doing. I get a lot of suggestions to make videos on YouTube, but I know for a fact that I won’t be able to continue. I won’t be able to deliver every week because that is not how I function. So just for the sake of it and that all actors have YouTube pages, I don’t want to do it. I am very clear about my approach in life.
The last two years have been difficult and different for all of us. There have been days in all of our lives when things weren’t okay. What do you feel about the mental health aspect in a young actor’s life?
Shantanu Maheshwari: I want to go a long way, so I don’t take shortcuts. If it takes time, it does for a reason. You learn certain things. You experience certain things. It just makes you a stronger individual, a better person with better decision-making abilities. I keep working hard. I am blessed to have friends who make sure to keep me grounded and I don’t get into situations of self-doubt. I surround myself with positive people and family support. I have the patience to not leave and move on to something else.
The online content creation space is huge now. Many teenagers ride on online trends to gain followers. What do you want to tell them?
Shantanu Maheshwari: Do what you are doing but think about the future part of it as well and how far you can sustain. It’s important to have knowledge of things and be creative with your approach. These days, everyone is an actor, singer, choreographer and dancer. It’s a weird thing. It hurts! We know that we come from a culture where singing and dancing comes naturally to us, but people should make sure to learn it the right way to move forward in life. Be true to the art and celebrate dance. If you are true to the art, it will give you back. If you follow trends or do things to get followers, I don’t say it’s bad — but it’s important to learn and grow as there is no end to any art form. It’s the only way to survive. I love creating exclusive content. I will be soon making content around dance and short stories. I always want to go behind the camera. To be in front of the camera happened by chance, which I thoroughly enjoy and love to explore but I am prepping a lot of things and am in talks with people.
(L-R) Shantanu Maheshwari, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Instagram
Over the years, what did you learn, unlearn and relearn?
Shantanu Maheshwari: As an actor, I have learnt to be patient. One should keep learning and invest in oneself. It’s important to take care of your health and be fit physically as well as mentally. Also, it’s essential to surround yourself with positive people. Lastly, spread love, stay happy and keep people around you happy. Money and everything will come, only if you are happy.
You have been a TV heartthrob for years now, but did you ever dream of debuting in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film?
Shantanu Maheshwari: Yes, after a point, you want to be in films and it’s a different ball game. Not in my wildest dream did I think I would get a chance to work with Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) sir or Alia Bhatt, or all those people who are part of Gangubai Kathiawadi. I can’t say it was a dream-come-true moment because I honestly never dreamt about it (Laughs).
What did you learn about acting and performance from working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
Shantanu Maheshwari: Sanjay sir makes you explore your inner capability, the potential to give your best, not fear retakes and other external factors. I learnt to be honest to the character, explore to the fullest, then come to the sets and perform. I learnt how to approach a scene as there are 100 ways to do it. We had multiple brainstorming sessions. I couldn’t just mug up my lines. I had to live in the moment as he moves with the flow. Sanjay sir is a perfectionist. I understand his passion. I tried to aim for what he was trying to achieve from my character.
What are the top lessons from Sanjay Leela Bhansali which will stay with you forever?
Shantanu Maheshwari: If you are clear about something, don’t doubt! I picked that up from him. If you think you are moving in the right direction, then go for it even when others don’t get you. If you know what you are up to, do it with all honesty to achieve it.
Wasn’t sharing screen space with Alia Bhatt a bit intimidating?
Shantanu Maheshwari: No, not at all (Laughs). She was very helpful. Initially, she made sure that I was comfortable, not nervous in any way because my character is important in terms of the narrative. She is amazing to work with. She is a brilliant co-actor, very professional, and very approachable. She respects you and gives you space. It is fun to collaborate with her. We rehearsed for the songs, but we didn’t have to work on our chemistry as it came very naturally.
What would be your advice to a 17-year-old Shantanu?
Shantanu Maheshwari: Live life to the fullest. Don’t think too much. I used to think a lot, I still do (Smiles).