‘It’s fun when there’s a break between two releases but this is good too,’ says Saurabh Sachdeva, who has a busy September with four releases.
Sachdeva is also an acting coach and has trained actors such as Varun Dhawan, Tripti Dimri, Rana Daggubati, Richa Chadha, and Avinash Tiwary who is his co-star in the Amazon Prime Video series Bambai Meri Jaan.
In an exclusive chat, Sachdeva talks about reuniting with Anurag Kashyap and Nawazuddin Siddiqui after Sacred Games, playing Haji Maqbool in Bambai Meri Jaan and his excitement about Sujoy Ghosh’s Netflix film Jaane Jaan where he shares screen space with Kareena Kapoor Khan.
How does it feel to have multiple projects releasing within a span of a month?
Saurabh Sachdeva: It is exciting as well as confusing! Like where do you put your focus? Bambai Meri Jaan was done long ago. It is surprising that all these releases have lined up in a month. It becomes confusing for some people when I post about one release and after a few days about another one. It’s fun when there’s a break between two releases but this is good too.
What was it like to reunite with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anurag Kashyap for Haddi after Sacred Games?
Saurabh Sachdeva: I was excited because earlier I didn’t know that Nawaz would be playing the role. When director Akshat Ajay Sharma came to me with the script, he wanted to make a short film and he wanted me to play the character. I was excited because I wanted to challenge myself as an actor.
When he started working on the film, he called me and said that he wanted me to play the character and I got to know that Nawazuddin was going to play the lead and I was like this would be fun. Because Nawaz bhai and I come from the same thought of acting. We haven’t learnt from the same school but we have the same understanding of acting.
After a few days, I went for another meeting with Akshat at his office and I heard Anurag Kashyap’s name and I was like, ‘What is he doing in the film?’ Akshat said that he was approaching Anurag sir for a role. I got very excited.
Did playing Suleiman Isa in Sacred Games open other doors for you?
Saurabh Sachdeva: Yes, it opened the doors even before the show was released. On the first day of my shoot of Sacred Games, I said one line and Anurag Kashyap called me up and said, ‘Do you speak Punjabi?’ I said I can speak a little bit. He said, ‘Okay, let’s do a film together.’ The film was Manmarziyaan. I didn’t know that it would be so easy. From Manmarziyaan I got Taish (ZEE5) and Vadh (Netflix). From Taish, I got Animal (starring Ranbir Kapoor). So, yeah, that role was definitely a game-changer for me.
The character you played in Vadh was very dark. Isn’t it difficult to play a character with such a mentality?
Saurabh Sachdeva: It’s very difficult. Actually, grey shades are very difficult to play because there are a lot of nuances. The character in Vadh was extremely difficult for me because it didn’t match my values. You have to love your character to play it. You have to protect your character. In a way, you have to be a lawyer for your character. While playing a character, you have to let go of your own values and morals. So, finding the character from the life around you becomes challenging because your values keep haunting you.
I remember being scared of Vadh releasing. How will my family react to it? How will people perceive me? Then my colleagues said that we are actors and we have to play these characters. I also knew that if I did not play that character strongly, the protagonist (played by Sanjay Mishra) wouldn’t have that power. At the core, it was a totally dark character. I worked on learning where this attitude came from. Whether he was bullied by his family or not looked after well by his father. That is where I empathise with the character. And from that empathy, I started relating to him.
Were there moments of deja vu while shooting for Bambai Meri Jaan since Sacred Games was also about gangsters in the Mumbai underworld?
Saurabh Sachdeva: No, because the style of shooting was very different and the character brief was very different. While working with Anurag sir, I would get the script a night before the shoot. I didn’t know the whole arc of the character either. He knew it, of course. I was working on what he was giving me.
In Bambai Meri Jaan, I had a script beforehand. We had discussions on the character and I created the character of Haji Maqbool in a certain way. Director Shujaat Saudagar said, ‘No, I don’t want that. I want your voice, your body. That is why I selected you.’ So I had to work from his vision which was more poised, aristocratic and more upright as a person.
My character in Sacred Games got created on its own – there were big cars, costumes and people around me. In Bambai Meri Jaan, Shoojat wanted it in a particular way because that was the style.
Initially, I was a little nervous about not being able to be on the same page. But then lockdown happened and I got the time to completely understand what the director wanted and then we were on the same page, jamming with each other. Bambai Meri Jaan is more of a family drama, there’s a love story too (between Avinash Tiwary and Amyra Dastur).
Would you call Haji Maqbool the biggest role you’ve played so far?
Saurabh Sachdeva: Yes, I can say that. I thought Haddi would be the biggest role yet. But Bambai Meri Jaan is a 10-episode series, so I’m there throughout. I had to be more poised and aristocratic for the role. I am fidgety and I use things around and I don’t sit straight. But to play Haji, I had to be like that. I respected the director’s vision because he has lived with the script for a longer time.
What fascinated you about Sujoy Ghosh’s Jaane Jaan on Netflix?
Saurabh Sachdeva: That I am going to work with Kareena Kapoor Khan [chuckles]. I have many scenes with her. When I got the script, it was very challenging for me. This was again a character that was difficult for my values and morals. The cast was fascinating because Jaideep Ahlawat and Vijay Varma have established themselves as good actors. Plus, Sujoy Ghosh was directing it.
What is more challenging – acting or teaching someone how to act?
Saurabh Sachdeva: Teaching comes naturally to me. Acting always challenges me. While teaching, I feel more enlightened and loved by my work. Through acting, I get more power and more introspection also happens when I act. Because the team changes, the script changes and the system changes, it challenges me every time there’s a risk. Then people come and talk about my performances.
I have been teaching for the last many years and I love it. I would like to do both but if I had to pick one, then I would pick teaching.
Which actor that you’ve trained has surprised you the most?
Saurabh Sachdeva: Richa Chadha surprised me a lot. Her nuances and behaviour were very different when she was in the course. I did a play with her too. She was very confident, bold and educated.
I have always been fascinated by Harshvardhan Rane because he is very hardworking. I have seen his growth from zero to where he has reached today. I look up to him as a person.
I also trained Tripti Dimri. She really surprised me. She is so good on screen. The camera wants to catch her. We are working in Animal together. She looks so good on the camera and she is just relaxed. Kamaal hai woh.
Avinash Tiwary was my student with whom I have done Bambai Meri Jaan and Kaala. I don’t have scenes with him in Kaala but I have a small part.
Do you think the Hindi film industry still struggles to make brave casting choices consistently?
Saurabh Sachdeva: With the OTT and new directors coming up, they are taking risks. And it has given writers the freedom to express themselves. It would have been difficult to accept a character like Haddi as a protagonist seven-eight years ago. That shift has happened and we’re ready to see different kinds of cinema.
People take risks when there’s a script like that. Look at me, I have got to play characters as diverse as the one in Taish, the one in Manmarziyaan who is arranging marriages, or the goofy goon in Good Luck Jerry. I have played different shades of negative characters because filmmakers are ready to take risks.
My responsibility towards the director and casting director is to show that I can play different shades. When they see those shades, they pick you. The responsibility lies with everyone.