The idea is to go and do work that doesn’t feel like work: Purab Kohli
Earlier this year, Purab Kohli played an upright cop in Sujoy Ghosh’s five-episode horror-thriller Typewriter. In Out of Love — a Hotstar original now streaming on the platform — the actor changes tracks to play a cheating husband and a man with various shades of grey — and not just in that salt ’n’ pepper beard! The Telegraph chatted with the 40-year-old actor on why he doesn’t identify with his character on the show directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and co-starring Rasika Dugal, his international career aspirations and what keeps him going even after 22 years in the business.
Had you watched the original BBC show Doctor Foster on which Out of Love is based before you signed on?
I watched Doctor Foster five years ago, much before Out of Love was offered to me and much before these digital platforms emerged in India. I was in the UK and someone told me, ‘There’s a great show with some great writing and you can watch it on BBC’. I did and found it to be a fantastic show. When Out of Love was offered to me, I jumped immediately and said, ‘Yes, I want to do it. It’s a great show’.
Given that it’s a greyish character, what made you want to sign on?
It’s a character that goes into the slightly sleaze ball category, you know (laughs). As an actor, you worry about those spaces and how they are going to be treated. Having seen the original, however, I had an idea. The first reason I signed on was that BBC was remaking a show that I had absolutely loved. The second was that Tigmanshu (Dhulia) was one of the directors. I’ve always wanted to work with him and I have been a big fan of his films. In the bargain, I got another amazing director in the form of Aijaz Khan, who made a wonderful film called Hamid and won a National Award for it. I have known Rasika for many years and I always knew she was a wonderful actor. An opportunity to work with her was interesting. There are good names and brands involved, so as an actor, it all worked for me.
Do you identify with your character Akarsh in any way?
Not at all. This is one character I don’t want to identify with. For me, a liar is a liar and I find it very hard to lie and also associate with liars. I mean I will be friends, I will sit and drink with one at a party, but I won’t trust anything they say to me. It’s a no-brainer for me.
So, in the beginning, I had some trouble with Akarsh because I was thinking that how do I play this guy when I don’t understand who he is and why he is the way he is… I couldn’t understand where he’s coming from. I remember sitting down with Tishu (Dhulia) and having a conversation that, ‘Empathy kahaan se laoon main?’ And he was like, ‘Hai hi nahin ismein. Toh laa ne ki koi zaroorat hi nahin hai. Jhootha hai yeh ek number ka’. That actually made it easy for me to switch off completely and play him. I was just going with my instinct but not becoming him. I was being somebody else, which was a first for me. In almost all the parts I have played, I try to become the part and feel the person. Here also, I felt the part to some extent, but I didn’t become this person. I was like, ‘Yeh kar raha hoon. Bas karke nikal jaana hai yahaan se’. It was just about acting him out, rather than just being the person.
Did being directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and having Rasika as a co-star help in making things easier?
Definitely. I enjoyed working with Tishu… I love him, we got along very well (smiles). He’s a great actor himself and he thinks like one. If something’s troubling you on set as an actor, he will know it. He will eventually make you do what he wants you to, but he also makes shifts and gives you what you want. Nothing drives him more than getting it right and putting something forward as cinematically as he can. I didn’t even know him before this and met him only once before shoot. I live in London now and all my conversations were with the creative team at BBC. I remember walking into his office. I hadn’t shaved for days and hadn’t combed my hair. That’s what I do before every project… I walk in like that and let the director decide what he wants my look to be. He just looked at me and said, ‘I like this look, keep this look’. Something felt very warm and comforting with him.
Rasika and my cousin were at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) together and I knew her. I have seen and admired her work and was excited to be on the same set with her. You want to be with good actors who throw lines and emotions at you perfectly and you react to them. When the other actor is good, it betters your own performance. If I am any good on the show, a lot of the credit goes to Rasika. The show is told from Meera’s point of view and Rasika has done a great job.
Some of your best work in recent times has been in the digital space. What works for you in this medium?
I am getting a lot of calls from the digital space simply because so much content is being generated in this space. I got a few calls for films in between, but I couldn’t do them because I am committed to projects in the digital space. Films are two hours long… Out of Love has a total of five episodes which are an hour each… Typewriter had five episodes too. It’s a lot of time… you are blocked into a shoot, blocked into a look. It’s just playing out naturally that all my last three projects have been in the digital space, but I am looking to do a film soon.
At this stage of your career, what do you look for in a project?
I’ve always looked at it like this… I have a great personal life and if anything is going to take me away from it, then it has to be equally great (laughs). I’ve always looked at work as not just work, but something that I enjoy doing.
Of course, you can’t get it right all the time. There have been times when I have been in a project and by Day 5, I have realised, ‘Oh, what am I doing here?’ You learn from your mistakes. So the idea is to go and do work that doesn’t feel like work, that feels like an extension of myself and to think, ‘This is what is making me most happy at the moment and so I am doing it’.
What drives me now when I choose a project is that will I have fun. In terms of the script, character, fellow actors, the makers, the location…. One of the reasons I chose Out of Love is that it’s shot in Coonoor. My whole family went to Coonoor with me for the shoot. Also, since I don’t live here any more and so I have to work out my logistics in terms of coming from London and shooting here.
We loved you in Sense8. Is there more happening on the international career front?
Well, my move to London has been in the hope of pursuing an international career. I have got myself a strong agent there. It’s been a little more than a year for me there, but out of that, I have spent six months in India shooting for projects here. You have to spend time there to let people know you are interested. Let’s see… fingers crossed.
So many years down the line, what makes you get to work with the same enthusiasm and energy? Does the key lie in being choosy about what you pick?
I think so. I have always believed that there is no point draining yourself out as an actor. This business is very exhausting, you know. It’s a 12-hour shift a day… and that’s only shoot time. There are also things like hair and make-up, prep, training in the gym if the character demands it, there’s travelling to work, the shooting, then prepping for the next day in your head, learning the dialogues. It’s hard being an actor.
A full-blown project involves a six-day week and you get only five-six hours of sleep every night.
I am lucky that I get to take a break after every project, spend time with the family, take a breather, get in touch with myself as a person after playing a character… I need to keep resetting. I have been working for 22 years and I have done multiple projects at a time, but never flooded myself with work. If someone is in a hurry to sign me on for a project and can’t wait, I politely tell them, ‘Aap kisi aur ke paas chale jaaiye, main jump nahin maroonga yahaan se wahaan’. It’s worked for me, so far (smiles).
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