Amongst some of the most appreciated performances from a web series so far this year has been that of Aditya Lal in Voot Select’s Asur. This up and coming actor really was at the right place at the right time for this one. Born and brought up in Delhi, Aditya has a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. But his true calling somehow came on a stage show which he was forced to participate in at University. This landed him up back home just in time for an audition. While the project never took off, he knew he had it in him to make it big as an actor.
But it hasn’t been easy… this tryst with destiny. It was a few years at the casting agent’s office post which he was finally redirected to the office that would give him his two biggest roles yet - Asur and Fittrat (on Zee5). In spite of his role as Moksh in the former being just voice work, he has been lauded for his menacing murderous streak and his precise diction. As a parallel lead in Fittrat with Krystle D’Souza, Aditya Seal and Anushka Ranjan, he’s also a lot of eye candy for the ladies.
LetsOTT caught up with this rising star while he’s at home in Delhi during the quarantine. Some excerpts from the chat...
Q. What prompted your journey towards becoming an actor? Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?
Honestly, no. I hadn’t even thought of it. I was an undergraduate student in the UK when the collective cultural societies for all South Asian students were putting up their annual programme which was called ‘Dil Se…’ There was a lead actor on the show who came down with some kind of infection at the last minute which is when one of the organisers, who was a friend of mine, asked me to fill in. I think he only asked me because I was quite a ‘dramebaaz’ otherwise. I was very unsure but did it as a favour and ended up winning the award for Best Actor in the East Midlands region.
Q. Was it easy sharing this dream with your family… that you wanted to become an actor?
Initially, my father’s reaction was - “have you gone mad?!” But eventually, he calmed down and became very supportive. I came down to Delhi from the UK for my winter break and I was called by a known casting agent for an audition for a film project. I made it through and we started talking about shooting and the cast and finalizing everything. Unfortunately, that film was shelved. But the sheer fact that I had made it to that point gave my parents the hope that I had some potential in the future.
Q. So… no convincing needed there in spite of this setback?
My father is from St. Columbus School in Delhi which happens to be Shah Rukh Khan’s alma mater as well. He has closely observed Mr Khan’s journey and struggles to make it as an actor. For me, this film (even if it wasn’t made) came out of nowhere. My father told me that there’d be a lot more rejection beyond this, it’s just something that I need to stick it out with if I feel strongly enough about it.
Q. Do you have any particularly profound/funny instances from your struggle years that you still remember?
I’ve given many auditions but a few instances are particularly funny. I once went for an audition and was called into a famous casting director’s office where a light bulb needed to be fixed. I don’t know what happened but the casting director asked me to grab a stool and fix the bulb!
Please tell me that you actually got this role.
I did, but I got replaced later! That film did get made recently and didn’t do too well at the box office. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I could give you a lot of reasons why things didn’t or don’t work out, and honestly, they’d all be pointless. Sometimes things just don’t work out.
I once went for an audition where I was to perform a particularly emotional scene where the main character has lost his mother. I was standing by a ledge outside the office when the guy who served coffee at the production office offered to help me with my lines. It just happened to be that he had lost his mother from a heart attack, and here he was… reliving that moment. That was something I will never forget. It was one of my most organic auditions.
Q. How do you usually prepare for a role? Are you a method actor?
I think the biggest mistake an actor makes is when they take a character and overdo their homework by giving them a back-story with hours of preparation. I’ve also worked at a casting agency, and I’ve seen actors really struggle when you ask them to change or reduce or amplify any emotion or nuance in a certain scene. Very rarely have I seen an actor come completely prepared but just perform so effortlessly and naturally that the audition was near-perfect. My method is to know my lines impeccably and then go with my gut so that I can perform the character in whichever way is required of me. The sheer nature by way of how a film/show is made is that every person on set is there to make you look good. The least I owe all these people is my complete effort in making their effort not go to waste.
Q. How did Fittrat/Asur happen?
I had worked with Mukesh Chhabra’s casting agency for a while and one of my acquaintances connected me to the team at Ding Entertainment (the production house attached to both Fittrat and Asur) for an audition. I got through one, and then the second one also happened automatically. I owe all my gratitude to Tanveer Bookwala (producer) and Santosh Singh (director, Fittrat) and Oni Sen (director, Asur).
Q. Asur has an ensemble cast led by Arshad Warsi and Barun Sobti, and it’s easy to get sidelined with a line-up like that. However, you have managed to make your mark.
I think a lot of that was to do with the fact that it was such a distinctive villain. You don’t see him for most of the runtime (you don’t even know who he is till then). His identity is revealed at the very end. The one thing that I really had to work on was my voice with a certain regime to burn my throat (two green chillies dipped with salt) before dubbing, for instance.
I think what resonated with the audience is that when people assumed that this is ‘Shubh,’ his motive was coming across as someone who had gone through years of abuse at the hands of a flawed father figure, and whatever he believed in had been ingrained in him so deeply that he had to make some human sacrifices to bring that across. Apart from the individual performances, it had to all come down to writing. It’s very layered and nuanced. The show doesn’t glorify religion, it shows how dangerous blind faith is.
Q. Was there any fear of public opinion, considering you are playing a character with psychological repercussions of what religious fanaticism or blind faith can end up as?
The show takes from actual instances from the vedas for all its dealings with religious texts, and the way my character is shown is just a story… an opinion of a group of writers. At the end of the day, I don’t think I’m important enough as an actor yet for people to care what stance my character took in the show (laughs).
Q. You were also lauded for your command on language and clean diction of traditional Sanskrit and Hindi. I presume that’s not how you talk at home…?
Not at all! I did very well in Sanskrit in school, and my dadi (grandmother) had higher education in that language enough that she can converse in it easily. So I guess maybe that’s why. In fact, I got a call from my old Sanskrit professor in school after 12 years to compliment me over how I spoke. It was difficult but I worked on it.
Q. In Asur, the nature of your role was to work in isolation. It was completely opposite in Fittrat. What was more enjoyable?
The two were very different. With Asur, the objective of the show was very precise so the atmosphere was more intellectually suited to that. It was also a very dark and dimly lit set. On Fittrat, it was fun. We’d come in, do our scenes, and leave. Asur took a toll on me because I had to cut off from the world to prepare to get into that space, but it was more challenging. Fittrat was a super happy set and the four of us along with the director and cinematographer had a lot of fun during and post the shoot.
Q. Do you miss being on the set? How are you spending the quarantine?
I miss being on any set. I’ve spent a lot of time doing nothing, so I’m ready to get into the gear of doing something. Honestly, my day is very straightforward and boring right now. Wake up… work out… help my dad with his work… watch movies… write… sleep. That’s the usual schedule.
Q. Anything specific that you have watched recently that you loved?
I am driving my family insane by watching Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu cinema only. I recently watched Dear Comrade and Lucifer and loved both.
Q. So any plans to join the South film industry?
My intention is to make a mark as an actor. But I want to be a big star. Meaningful scripts can only get you to a certain point but it doesn’t matter what language I do it in, as long as people appreciate me for what I bring to the table. I would love to work in the South industry, I just don’t know anyone there.
Q. So… if there is ever a situation where you are offered a mediocre script but it’s from your favourite filmmaker or a massive production house, would you…
I wouldn’t think twice.
Q. Do you have anything signed on for the future?
I have a romantic comedy film in which I am playing the parallel lead.
Q. Have you found a way to connect to your fans during the lockdown?
Yes! I do a live session with my followers every few weeks and usually, I try to keep it up to 30 minutes but it goes up to an hour because it’s so much fun. We discuss pertinent themes and recent events. In fact, the last one was hilarious with my sister and parents appearing, making fun of me and passing funny comments.
Q. In a strange way, the lockdown has been advantageous for shows on OTT platforms because people have more time on their hands to explore content that they wouldn’t otherwise. Do you agree?
Purely from a professional perspective, it has been fantastic for Asur, and otherwise as well. But in general, OTT platforms have done for the film industry what IPL did for cricket. So many young talented people have got a chance to work and showcase their skill. It’s great.
Q. What would be your advice to aspiring actors?
Just act. Hone your craft and convince someone that you can perform the role. The rest - building a physique, learning how to dance, all of that will come later. Of course, luck has a small role. Being at the right place at the right time. But patience, persistence and perseverance are very important.
Q. Do you have moments of doubt or insecurity?
Even after advising everyone to stick it out? Of course. We’re human. There are moments where I think too - what have I gotten myself into it? On those days when I was low on cash or on motivation. There are conversations with parents… is this what I worked so hard for? But you just have to move on from thoughts like that.
Q. People in the entertainment industry are going through that moment of doubt where the future is very uncertain. Do you feel a sense of anxiety in that respect?
I have a strange sort of self-assuredness, if I am to be honest. Maybe it’s because I have a supportive family but I always feel that whenever I have something which isn’t going my way, I just stop and reassure myself that I’ll make the best of my life, whatever that may be. I’ve also struggled my way out of many situations, but that’s because I know that I have some skills to make it in some way. Actors are born insecure and die insecure. While I’m sure I want to be here, I am also sure that if this doesn’t last, I’ll still have a good life.