I come from the believable school of performances: Kay Kay Menon
The actor portrays of a tough, no-nonsense and honest RAW agent in the hard-hitting thriller series Special Ops
- Published 31.03.20, 7:06 PM
- Updated 31.03.20, 7:06 PM
- 5 mins read
More often than not, Kay Kay Menon is considered the gold standard when it comes to picking the parts he plays on screen. The man has hit bullseye once again with his portrayal of a tough, no-nonsense and honest RAW agent in the hard-hitting thriller series Special Ops. The eight-part series, now streaming on Hotstar, is directed by Neeraj Pandey, the man behind films like A Wednesday!, Special 26 and M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story.
As a man whose quest for the truth is doubted at every step, Kay Kay’s portrayal of Himmat Singh has met with unanimous praise. The Telegraph chatted with the 53-year-old actor — who has delivered stellar turns in films like Black Friday, Haider and Sarkar —on being Himmat Singh, playing ‘people’ on screen and why less is more for him.
Special Ops is unanimously being praised for its plot and performances, even being hailed as a landmark in the Indian web space. Are you hearing similar things?
I can’t really recall anything specific, simply because the response has been so huge and so overwhelming. To pinpoint one is very, very difficult (laughs). The quantity of accolades has been too much. Overall, I am very humbled by the response. We knew that we had made a good series, but this kind of a response was unexpected. It’s a very pleasant feeling.
Himmat Singh is a great character to play in the way he’s written, flawed yet upright and invested with so many layers. Was there a trigger point that made you certain that you wanted to do the part?
I think the trigger point was Neeraj (Pandey) coming up with a series like this. We have known each other for a long time now… 16 years. So when Neeraj told me that he was doing Special Ops and wanted me to play the lead, I had no qualms in saying ‘yes’. It’s more of a trust thing, you know.
After that, of course, I read the script entirely. I began from the first episode and I simply couldn’t put down the script till I finished it. I realised that this was tremendous writing, a tremendous screenplay, and all we needed to do was to execute it well.
You have played shades of Himmat Singh in various other characters in your films. What was the biggest challenge of playing a man whose gut and intentions are scrutinised and doubted at every step?
I don’t look at parts as challenges… I categorise them as interesting and uninteresting. The thing is that I play people, I don’t play roles. No two individuals are the same, but two roles can end up being the same. So, say I play Mahesh the cop and Suresh the cop, I will play Mahesh and Suresh as people and not as cops.
In Special Ops, I played Himmat Singh, who is, as a person, different from Rakesh Maria (the real-life Mumbai top cop that Kay Kay played in Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday). The institutional values are perhaps the same, but the individuals are different.
I look at roles as being very limited and, of course, limiting. There are perhaps only about 25,000 roles… lawyer, cop, doctor, terrorist… whereas the kinds of people out there are limitless. For me, Himmat Singh was a person who not only had to maintain a balance between his home and work, but his real character comes through in how he handles himself and his professional life during the inquiry. He had to put across his point without disrespecting his seniors who are conducting the inquiry and that, for me, was interesting because one stands the danger of becoming slightly heroic in nature and then losing it all. That balance was tenuous but interesting for me as an actor.
When you play a person, do your core values have to resonate with that of the man you play or as an actor, are you open to being every kind of man on screen, even if their values are different from yours?
No, I have to strongly believe in every character I play, even if he is an evil person. You cannot carry your personal ego or values into a character. I have to surrender my ego completely and be loyal to who I am playing. Only when you do that, then the person you play becomes believable for the audience… otherwise you end up faking it. If you think you are playing a villain, then you start playing a villain. I know that’s the trend, but that’s not how it’s meant to be done (laughs). That’s why I tell people that when I am playing a villain, then between ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’ don’t mess with me… because I don’t know how I will react! (Laughs) Kay Kay Menon doesn’t exist at that time, it’s only that man I am playing.
Basically, I come from the believable school of performances. If you have to make things believable on screen, then you have to be that person… there is no alternative or shorthand to that. That also allows the actor in me to improvise because I am completely driven by the person I am playing. It’s not Kay Kay Menon being smart.
Like that Bengali fellow (Partho Sen) I played in Honeymoon Travels (Pvt Ltd) is completely different from the guy (Vishnu Nagre) in Sarkar. But I didn’t put anything of myself in any of them.
You’ve been in the business for 25 years now. Would you say this is the most exciting time in the Indian creative space, given the wide variety of roles being written and the presence of different platforms to tell one’s story?
I think so. I come from the time where there were no such opportunities… there was no Internet and hence no digital platforms (smiles). I see the young actors of today being given so many opportunities, which we didn’t have when we started out. It feels good to see that. Now, if you are on social media, you can become a star… if you have some talent, that is (laughs). I am glad that opportunities have opened up for this generation, be it artistes, writers, singers, everybody. It’s a good time because it also ensures that the standards go up because there is competition.
At the same time, there is also the danger of diluting the quality. It happened with Indian television. It started off as a wonderful medium, we spoilt it... completely! We have to be careful not to do that with the web.
Is there a difference in how you pick your roles now as opposed to how it was a few years ago?
The medium doesn’t bother me… as long as the camera is there, I am fine. Apart from that, it’s difficult to pinpoint how I choose what I choose. It’s about the moment, you know… you read something, you like it, you fall in love with it and you want to do it. It’s simply the feeling of, ‘Okay, this needs to be done’. There is no clause or rule that I follow, it’s an overall subjective feeling. It’s a lot like love, for example. It’s something that you get attracted to at that point of time and say, ‘Let’s give it a try’. And many a time, it fails also… it’s not a foolproof method. I have failed more often than not, but you need to go in with that intent and positivity.
Is there a recent performance by anyone else that made an impression on you?
I think it would be (Leonardo) DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I think he was outstanding! He was nominated for an (Best Actor) Oscar, it’s a pity that he didn’t get it. For a good actor to play a bad actor on screen is very difficult… it’s like asking a fantastic singer to sing besura (laughs). But he did that so well. I was really impressed by how effortless he made it look, despite being such a great actor.
Your Twitter timeline is dominated by fans saying how much they want to see more of you on screen. Has less always been more for you?
That’s not been a conscious decision. People tend to think that I have a plethora of offers at every point of time and that I am being choosy. I am choosy, of course, but that ‘plethora’ doesn’t exist (laughs). Of what’s offered to me, I skim through and do what appeals to me. The offers are definitely not as much as people assume them to be. Sometimes, the industry works in strange ways, I really can’t comment on that. But within the limits of what’s offered to me, I sort of pick enough stuff.