Director Sooni Taraporevala’s Netflix original film ‘Yeh Ballet’ is based on the real-life story of two young Mumbai ballet artistes Amiruddin Shah and Manish Chauhan, rising from their humble beginnings to make their way to prestigious international ballet schools. While Manish plays himself as Nishu, Achintya Bose plays young breakdancer Asif (based on Amiruddin) in the film.
BizAsiaLive.com caught up exclusively with the 19-year-old actor, who coincidentally used to train in the same academy as Shah and Chauhan and has a background in contemporary and jazz dance.
How much training did you need to go through in order to portray a ballet dancer on-screen?
I was not doing ballet for the first time. Yehuda (Yehuda Maor, real-life instructor of Amiruddin and Manish) used to take ballet classes and I was already training there in the same studio (The Danceworx Performing Arts Academy). So, I knew the basics of ballet. When the movie happened, I had to train for three hours with Cindy (Jourdain, a seasoned ballet dancer) regularly for five times a week. I had to get ballet in my body because it was Amir I had to match upto all the while!
Did you meet or speak to Amir to understand him as a person?
Well, I did not meet him during the whole process at all. But I do remember the first encounter which was way before the film happened, it was a Sunday. On Sundays we have back-to-back classes in the studio from 10am to 6pm. The last class is ballet and by then I was really tired. I was sleeping with my arms over my head and Amir comes in front of me and hits me saying, ‘Ghar pe bistar nahi hai kya?’ (laughs). I’ve seen Amir dance before so I knew what I was getting myself into.
Do you consider yourself an accidental actor?
Yes, definitely. Before the movie, everyone I had spoken to had said that I’m a terrible actor (laughs). Pooja (Swaroop) said that to me on my face, so yeah, you could say that. But I worked hard with Pooja and Atul Mongia and they’d make me sit down for three hours a day every evening and make me go through the lines. We worked really hard.
Were you surprised with the overwhelmingly positive response that you’ve got?
I was expecting something nice from the dancers and the dance community of India. But I never thought that the message of working hard towards your passion and dreams will also inspire people so much. The wave that I am seeing right now is hitting me real hard because there are people from Mexico, Russia and Argentina texting me on Instagram saying, ‘We thank the director and all of you for making this movie happen, you’ve inspired us.’ It’s really cool and I’m connecting with so many people. I’ve spoken to so many people about the movie and their feedback. It’s really amazing to see how the response was.
What kind of questions did you have for Sooni Taraporevala about your character?
On the first day itself Sooni had made it very clear that it’s not Amir that I’m playing, it’s Achintya playing what she feels Asif is. So it’s not Amir, it’s Asif. We used to sit with her and sometimes she’d change something in the script, sometimes she’d incorporate something she really liked in the script. She knew what she was doing, so frankly, I never had a question. She’d guide me through and tell me what to do. In fact, I was super pampered on set. I was the youngest on set, I think.
Did you face any challenges while shooting the film?
There were four Worli Koliwada dance sequences and out of that three sequences were shot back-to-back. It was a five-day shoot… the first day we got tanned, the second day we got sunburnt, the third day we were putting nimbu paani on our face so that it calms down! We were shooting from morning till afternoon and the sun was directly on our faces. It was really hard because people were getting dehydrated within 15 minutes. We were sweating and that was a little hard. But we were still pampered, there were people running behind us holding umbrellas (laughs)!
Going ahead, would you continue being a dancer or take up acting?
Dance is always going to be my first love. The day shoot ended, I went back to dance in the studio. That’s never going to change. But the past one-and-a-half-years has been a turnaround point for me because I never thought I’d really take up acting ever in my life. Have you seen the Les Twins in Men in Black? I’d definitely want to do something like that, they were crazy!
Did Manish Chauhan guide you or give you any tips during the shoot?
I would follow Manish in anything and everything. The moment he entered, I knew that he’s going to be like this big brother to me. Manish used to pamper me and how! There’s something called a ‘double tour’ in ballet where you jump in the air and turn twice and I wasn’t getting it. Immediately, Manish changed it to a ‘single tour’… no questions asked. It was really nice of him to do that because I tend to panic really fast. Manish safeguarded me while working.
Did you bring any of your own nuance or signature as a dancer to this character?
The song Gheun Tak was choreographed on Mekhola (Bose, who plays Asha in the film) and me. Vitthal sir (Patil, choreographer) asked us to tell what we were feeling about the music, so Mekhola and I kind of jammed on it and then he refined it. That was totally me… I haven’t seen Amir do hip-hop much. Sooni never let myself lose as a person and the character, whatever I felt was natural to me she’d try to incorporate that into the script or change things around.
‘Yeh Ballet’ is now streaming on Netflix.