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How The Ghost actor Manish Chaudhari carved his film career after his breakout role in Rocket Singh

In Telugu film The Ghost starring Nagajuna and streaming on Netflix, Chaudhari plays gangster Lala

Sameer Salunkhe Calcutta Published 04.11.22, 11:09 AM
Manish Chaudhari.

Manish Chaudhari. Instagram/ @chaudhari_manish

Manish Chaudhari’s cold-blooded gangster act in Nagarjuna-Sonal Chauhan-starrer Ghost, which released on Netflix on November 2 and is trending at no. 1, is grabbing eyeballs.

We recently caught up with Manish, who shared his thoughts about his roles in movies and shows as well as his journey so far.

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What is your character in The Ghost and how did you get the role?

Manish Chaudhari: The Ghost is a big commercial Telugu film in which I play the villain. My character, Lala, has the swag of a larger-than-life gangster. He shares a very special connection with his family and the director was very interested in exploring this bond. It’s not a one-colour villain who just knocks people off and then gets knocked off by the hero in the end. The man has a lot going on and has an emotional side.

Praveen Sattaru — the director — liked my work in Aarya very much. Aarya was released in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. He watched it in Telugu and thought of casting me as the villain opposite Nag sir. That’s how it happened.

Shekhawat in the web series Aarya was an interesting character. What went into creating that character?

Manish Chaudhari: Aarya director Ram Madhvani had particular ideas of how he wanted to portray the character. Shekhawat likes to smoke big cigars, he drives fantastic cars and his clothes are of a particular nature. But in hindsight, I feel what actually worked for Shekhawat was the fact that he had a real-life problem — he had lost a bunch of stuff which was worth a lot of money and he had to retrieve it. And in the meantime, he ends up doing things that are not nice and becomes the villain. But he’s a human too. I think that connection worked with the audience.

The showrunner, Sandeep Modi, and I were having a conversation one day. He said, ‘It’s just that you have these expensive cigars to smoke but you smoke them like a ‘bidi’. That’s what worked’ [laughs]. So, that’s the kind of thing that Ram, Sandeep and I tried to put into the character of Shekhawat and it worked really well.

Earlier, roles like these were not written for actors like you. How did you make your acting choices back in the days when you didn’t have enough material to play with?

Manish Chaudhari: I was 25 when I came to Bombay in 1995. It was not a question of choice. You do what you get. I was just happy to work as an actor. It was a great dream for someone like me from Delhi to make it as an actor in cinema. And when that started happening, the sheer excitement of it took over anything else.

Of course, now I have a choice. I have sort of earned the privilege of saying yes or no to films and shows. But having said that, it’s a great privilege to be given work and do work that creates more work.

So, did playing Sunil Puri in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year create more work for you?

Manish Chaudhari: Actually, a lot of people think that Rocket Singh was my debut film. But by the time Rocket Singh was released, I was 40! I was already working for about 14-15 years in shows and movies that a lot of people didn’t watch or care about. But you just have to carry on working. And I got very lucky with Rocket Singh that it came my way.

Actually, the part of Puri was written for stalwart actors at that time, but they didn’t want to do it for some reason and it slipped down to me.

Unlike actors who play lead roles, actors who play supporting roles juggle multiple characters in different films/series. What has been your experience of juggling shoots and characters?

Manish Chaudhari: I always wanted to play a range of characters. Whenever you get acclaim from the audience or critics for a particular character, the business comes back to you with similar offers because the first one worked. That’s what happened to me after Rocket Singh. But I thought Sunil Puri was done and dusted. I didn’t want to play another version of him. However, such decisions do curtail your choices.

But in the last three to four years people have understood that Manish likes to do a wide range of roles. So, if there’s a villainous part in The Ghost, there’s a heroic part in the show Shoorveer as well. The range of characters has widened. How do I deal with that range? So, I have decided to do four projects a year.

I had an interesting conversation with Ashutosh Gowariker while we were filming Mohenjo Daro. He told me, ‘Why do you work so less? You should be doing 10 films a year. You’re doing only 34.’ I said if I do 10 films a year you’ll get bored and the audience will also get bored seeing me in similar roles. And most importantly I will get bored.

I enjoy flitting from part to part. In fact, I recently played a villainous and a heroic part simultaneously. When we were shooting Shoorveer, we were simultaneously shooting the climax of The Ghost. I realised that when the characters are different from each other, they feed into each other in a positive way for me. My directors as well as the audience were happy with what I brought to the screen.

When I go into the world of The Ghost, Praveen is not interested in where I’m coming from. He simply wants me to enter his world and deliver. Similarly, Samar Khan, the showrunner of Shoorveer, wants me to play that heroic character and doesn’t care about anything else that I might be doing at the time.

Any memorable characters that you were glad that you took up?

Manish Chaudhari: Some years ago, I did a film called Sanam Teri Kasam (2016). It’s a very underrated and beautiful film that touched a chord with the audience to such an extent that young girls stopped on their way to have a chat with me about how my character made them cry in an emotional way. They felt a connection with that character as their father. I played a middle-class Telugu Brahmin guy in the film. And I have no connection whatsoever with his world, his conservatism, his language, clothes or his mindset. So, I enjoyed taking up that challenge and I’m glad that I took a call to play that character.

What is your process as an actor when you’re not shooting?

Manish Chaudhari: As I have grown older, I have come to realise that what really helps me as an actor is to simply live life and not do anything particularly special between projects. That really helps me. I like to walk a lot — you see a lot of scenes unfolding in front of you when you’re on your feet. It’s not planned though. It’s just about living your day and observing the life around you. It naturally happens that when you are preparing for a role, you remember a scene from life and then you use that in the character.

You recently did a play. How was it like going back to your roots?

Manish Chaudhari: My partner and I started a company called The Yellow Door Theatre about five years ago. I started my career as a 15-year-old on the stage. It was only when I was 25 that I started acting in front of the camera. My work ethics and training come from the theatre. It was a pleasure to go back. It keeps me in touch with all my training.

I always remember what Mr Rishi Kapoor said to me at a pre-release party after he watched Rocket Singh. He said, ‘You’re a very good actor. It doesn’t matter what kind of film you work in, whether it will work or not, whether the film is good or bad is not for you to judge. The audience will decide that. You do your work the best. Only continue to do that.” He was really encouraging. He talked to me for four hours.

What are your upcoming releases?

Manish Chaudhari: I have just finished filming a series for Netflix which shall be released early next year. It is helmed by Sudeep Sharma – the creator of Pataal Lok — and is produced by Clean Slate Films. I am going to start shooting for Praveen Sattaru, the director of The Ghost again. But this time in a heroic character in a big Telugu entertainer. We are going to start filming at the end of October. And all of us have our fingers crossed for another season of Shoorveer.

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