When an actor makes his debut in Bollywood, it’s almost always a big deal. However, when the actor in question is debuting in a film which sees the character he’s playing pitted against one of the industry’s finest actresses, it becomes all the more interesting. Interesting still is that Tahir Raj Bhasin, who was introduced in ‘Mardaani’ (2014) which also starred Rani Mukerji, was playing the villain. Arguably, he walked away with perhaps more accolades than his very evil-minded character deserved. BizAsia had the unique opportunity to talk to Bhasin about his first film, how he made it to Bollywood and more.
Congratulations on your great performance in ‘Mardaani’.
Thank you so much. You are one of the few people who loved me in it… well, they loved me but hated the character. Thanks a lot.
You’ve come into the industry with a professional acting background and that includes trying your hand at theatre.
Yep, that’s right. I started off with theatre in school at a very amateur level and then I went through professional training at Barry John’s theatre training academy at the age of 15 in Delhi. I went to Delhi University where there’s a huge theatre culture so I performed at theatre festivals while I was at college and then I finally moved onto doing a master’s degree from the University of Melbourne. I then moved to Mumbai to pursue acting in film. However, even while I was doing that auditioning process for films in Mumbai, I was here for about four years before I got my big break, I used to do a lot of workshops with theatre groups in Mumbai because that was the best way for an actor to stay in touch with his acting skills.
Have you always wanted to be a Bollywood actor?
Well, coming from a middle class family in India, it’s a little hard to come out and tell your family that you want to go to Bollywood to follow the big dream. It wasn’t really an ambition until the age of 19 and then at 21 I told people that this was seriously what I wanted to do. There were some prerequisites that I finish my under-graduation and your education and then when you have your qualifications then you can go ahead and do what you want.
Many people see ‘Mardaani’ as your debut but you’ve been a part of other films previously.
I count Mardaani as my debut as far as a lead character is concerned. I have done a number of smaller parts in films which start from ‘Kai Po Che’ (2013) which was before ‘One By Two’ (2014). I had two-three minutes of screen time in ‘Kai Po Che’ and then a bit of screen time in ‘One By Two’. However, as far as a lead goes, it was in ‘Mardaani’.
Were you a little bit apprehensive playing a villain so early on in your career?
When I read the script, it was a really interesting character to play. He had shades of grey in him where he was emotional at times and where he was loyal to his family. I was slightly apprehensive about the fact it was unconventional but I was very excited about the part because I knew that it would catch audience’s fancy because of the way he was written.
Your character in ‘Mardaani’, Karan Rastogi, was a little contradicting in image because one one hand you were the baddie but you were a sensational looking baddie. What was your take on that?
The brief that I was given from the director and the casting director was that he’s going to be an anti-hero. We want people coming out of the cinema hall saying we don’t know whether to love him or to hate him. That made for a very interesting contrast because you have this stereotype of what a negative character should look like and it was great that we broke through that. If you look at a lot of international cinema or Amercian TV serials, they’ve been doing this for a long time where the protagonist has negative shades or a grey character an the whole film is based around him. They wanted this relatable boy next door who could also pull off these shades of grey which I thought was great to play.
Do you now have a fear of being typecast at all after ‘Mardaani’?
No, not at all. I think being typecast only comes into play when you’ve done three or four roles of exactly the same kind or the same genre. I look forward to doing different kinds of work after this. And, like you said yourself, the way the film has portrayed me, it’s put me in a grey space. It’s not that this guy can only be a negative. The look and the way the character was mounted has got different kinds of directors noticing the character for different reasons.
What was it like working with the stalwart that is Rani Mukerji?
Oh wow, it was really intimidating but watching her perform helped me up my game a whole lot. It made me feel like I have to give my best because the characters have to balance themselves out. It was motivating in a way but it was also intimidating. Off set, she was a huge mentor. She would come to me and talk about scenes and she would make informal conversation that would help lighten the mood.
Going on to the tweet that Aamir Khan did about you. It would have been intriguing for those who hadn’t seen the film then and would’ve made them wonder what was so good about you. Have you met Aamir Khan since?
Yes, I had the fortune of meeting him at YRF studios actually a few days after that tweet. I thanked him for putting it out there because I don’t know of him to be talking about other actors and new actors at that, on a public forum. He was generous enough to say it was great fun watching the contrast of a bad guy played if it was just an everyday thing. I think he was very intrigued by the character which is why he said it but it was a very big deal for me as a newcomer to get appreciation from Aamir Khan.
Are there any actors or actresses – or even directors – on your wishlist for the future?
You know, I’m so new at the moment. I am just so excited about the fact that there is going to be more work so the wishlist doesn’t really come into play right now. However, I am happy that I am debuting at a time when films like ‘Mardaani’ are being taken seriously and it’s not an all-out commercial film and it’s not an all-out art film either. It’s an experimental space and the audience in India is open to characters that are different to what the norm is.
The current new crop of actors and actresses are multi-skilled. Would you perhaps like to do anything other than acting once you’re a bit more established?
I think writing, yes, definitely. I’ve always had an interest in writing. I have studied a little bit of screenwriting when I was doing my masters course. It interests me to see the process of something going from paper onto celluloid. Writing is the only thing I can think of at the moment but otherwise I think it should be one talent at a time. Let’s see how it goes.
Can you talk about any future projects or anything in the pipeline that audiences can look forward to?
It’s really too soon to say. I’m close to signing something at the moment but if I say anything then it really would be too premature. It’s not officially on paper yet.
It was a pleasure talking to this newbie who seems to have his head very firmly on his shoulders. BizAsia thanks him to talking to us and we wish him all the best for the future.