What started as an experiment on a few film sets is now a full-fledged career for Lakshya Kochhar. The young actor, originally hailing from Bhopal, struck 'Gold' in 2018 when he got his Bollywood break with the Reema Kagti period sports drama starring Akshay Kumar. He is currently receiving rave reviews for his leading role in Zee5's short film 'Second Hand,' helmed by Navjot Gulati (who recently made his directorial debut with Jai Mummy Di and will soon be receiving writing credit for Dharma Productions' Dostana 2). From a starry debut to a true passion project with close friends, Lakshya says he's learned a lot and is still doing so.
In a conversation with LetsOTT, his excitement to know what we thought of his film was heartening. "It's all part of the experience. And if nothing else, it motivates us to take the story further as a narrative feature." Excerpts from the interview, where he talks about how the film encapsulates the worldview of a middle-class couple with emotions that are universally resonant.
Q. I just caught 'Second Hand' on Zee5, and I really enjoyed it. It had a distinctive visual style. Not sure of what to make of that climax though...
A. A lot of people did tell us that they weren't able to connect to the ending... that perhaps it came a bit too abruptly. We're getting such great reviews for the film overall but they were a bit underwhelmed of how we left it. My naani called up yesterday and asked me why the film ends the way it does (laughs).
When Navjot narrated the story to us, the intention was to highlight that insecurity is far more fatal to relationships than anything else. It might feel abrupt but from our perspective, it's more of an open ending where we don't know what happens to the wife's character in the aftermath of the climax. She claims a tale and we may have believed it but there may have been more to it than that. What if my character (the husband) hadn't questioned her in the first place? Would they have been able to settle their differences? It's really the intrigue of the girl's world which would make you think. Perhaps we need to make another movie for that.
Q. So has there been a conversation of a sequel? Or adapting this into a feature-length film?
A. Amidst all the positive reviews for the performances, a lot of people who called/messaged said that they felt that the film could have been longer, especially since they got so invested with the characters. The story is rather layered and has the potential to be taken further. There's only so much you can do in 13 minutes, so the narrative was concentrated on my character. But there was a backstory to the wife, the friend, so much happening. I think this is certainly a discussion we can have now.
Q. How did the collaboration with Navjot come about?
A. Navjot and I have known each other for years and have been wanting to work together for most of it. We were supposed to work on another short film earlier which didn't happen. Between him making Jai Mummy Di and after I finished my work for Gold, we had a bit of time on our hands. So Navjot had the idea, and Abhishek (Banerjee) and I came on board with the thought that we'll make a film that we believe in collectively. This happens rather rarely, where we all get a free hand at what we want to do. The opportunity was too sweet to pass up.
Q. What's that one thing that excited you when you were offered 'Second Hand?'
A. The message is so universal. It ties into how specific the setting is, but the feeling isn't alien to anyone in the world. Cross all social and economic barriers, which relationship doesn't have problems of insecurity? We're all protective of our loved ones. We feel, love, care, attach ourselves in the same way. But the difference is in the extent to which we will push ourselves to make that relationship work, and also how we choose to deal with a partner who doesn't reciprocate. Our culmination is a bit extreme because my character is once bitten and twice shy, and is also under a lot of societal pressure.
Q. I agree with the positive reviews for the performances. Each character looks the part. The body language, the diction, you've all got it down pat. I heard that you put on weight for the role. Is this part of your usual process?
A. Navjot was very precise about the look that he was going for. He needed me to look normal, non-glamorous. So I put on weight, grew a beard, stopped working out. I wanted to go for the most normal vibe possible. Even the costumes we got were reflecting that.
I wouldn't say that it's part of a usual process, but I don't function like that. I've attended loads of workshops and trained at many institutes. There's no one method that I adopt. Every workshop I've done teaches me to work at my craft in a different way. Recently, I've done one with Atul Mongia and then Hussain Dalal. I'm taking one online at the moment. A lot of it can't be taught or learned. As much as one can it just has to be understood on how to understand multiple people's journeys and take whatever suits you best.
For Second Hand, my approach was to watch a lot of movies about North Indian (specifically UP and Bihar) immigrants in Mumbai. Amongst those was Masaan, for instance. That's the setting of the film, we are a middle-class couple in Mumbai but our roots are somewhere in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, probably. This is a specific demographic. It's not as connected to their origin but it's still an outsider just trying to make a living here. I hung out with a few people like that here as well, just to get into their psyche, understand their trials and tribulations.
Q. Did that help in picking up with the diction as well?
A. Yes, they have a specific way of talking here as well. It's a mix of dialects now. Second-generation immigrants don't speak the way people would speak in their native villages. The advantage I have is that I am from Bhopal, which is a smaller city in Madhya Pradesh. The trajectory isn't that different. My way of speaking in Hindi is quite similar to that milieu anyway. And since I have been in Mumbai for about eight years, I have picked up a mixed dialect over time.
Q. Movies and shows set in small towns seem to be really picking up with the audience these days. Do you think that this film opens up avenues for those kinds of projects in the future?
A. That's not the intention behind this film at all. I know those kinds of films are doing well and that's a great thing. These films are about certain people who have long been underrepresented, and with more accessibility to such content, the films are bound to do well too. But I cannot bubble myself into a certain type of role. In Gold, my character was elite. In this film, it's not. In my next project, Dongri to Dubai, my character is suited to that area.
Q. You are from a comparatively smaller town, Bhopal, yourself. Did you have teething issues when you initially moved to Mumbai?
A. There were adjustment issues. I came here for college and from Bhopal, I was put right into the heart of Churchgate and Colaba. I'm really happy that I moved here much before I started working because it familiarised me to the city. Mumbai has so many cities in itself. There is such a difference between Borivali and Andheri and Bandra and Churchgate, you wouldn't know that they're all part of the same city. I picked up these small things pretty quickly and that helps me now. Having a friends' group here also helped, they were my support system.
Q. What got you into acting?
A. I did a workshop with Anupam Kher's Actor Prepares that got me interested in the field. Eventually, I decided that I needed to be on a film set to know if it's something that I even enjoy, just being on set, because that would be my workplace in the future. It was on the sets of Rock On 2 (on which I was an AD) that I realized I'd like to continue doing this and then I started taking the acting gig seriously.
Q. Were there ever any aspirations to do something else? Perhaps something your parents had envisioned...
A. I come from a business family, and I'm sure my father would have been very happy if I had joined his business. But both my parents are really supportive of my choice to become an actor. They're understanding of how unpredictable my work is... the months when I have work, the months when I don't, the uncertainty of the future, all of it. I thought I'd have trouble explaining it to them because our lifestyle has been so straightforward and stable until now. But they were really cool about everything, even I was surprised! (laughs). I think they see how passionate I am and how hard I'm working to prove to them and myself that I can make it here.
Q. What is your biggest priority when saying yes to a film?
A. I know it sounds like a cliche, but the script is everything. Without a good story, even the best in their craft can't execute a good end-product. I used to hear a lot of people say this in interviews and wonder about it, honestly. I always thought that talented and skilled stalwarts had the capability to elevate a film which didn't have its basics right. After spending time on so many film sets and working myself, I now realize what they were talking about when they harped on concentrating on the script.
Q. Then you don't have a bucket list of filmmakers that you want to work with...
A. On the contrary, I have a massive bucket list. I want to work with the best filmmakers and writers. But it's not at the sacrifice of a good story. There are a few films which stay with you long after they're over. That's the kind of impact I want to make with my work. With Second Hand, we made a short film but it has impacted so many people.
I've been a massive Anurag Kashyap fan for years and Gangs of Wasseypur had a profound effect on me. It was such a game-changer in the way he extracted performances from the actors. He recently presented the film Bamfaad which stars my friend Aditya Rawal, and he's the kind of person who backs these content-driven projects. Of course, I've had the privilege to work with Reema (Kagti), and seen Zoya (Akhtar) and Farhan (Akhtar) on set. Instead of just following trends, all these filmmakers have made films which are trend-setters. Even actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi are such an inspiration.
Q. Starting out with a massive film like Gold, then a slice-of-life short film, on to a web series for Amazon... what's the thought process behind this journey?
A. No amount of plans in the world can prepare you for what happens in the film industry. The work here is dependent on how good you were at your last job. I was just 24 when I did Gold, and the intention was simply to get on a film set and see what that experience would be like. I was an Assistant Director and all I wanted was to understand how a big film like that is made, how actors of that calibre work. Then they told me I'd be taken to London for the shoot for three months and I thought, why not? (laughs)
Whatever I do post-quarantine will be based on whether people like me in Second Hand. I can make a timeline in my head of where I see myself in five years, but it's essentially pointless. It really does go from project to project. In this film, I've made a big impact in a small role and that's the first step. Now I have to build credibility based on meatier roles. I am just relieved that I have Dongri to Dubai right now, for which we resume shooting once the lockdown is over.
Q. Would you be open to doing smaller parts or character roles in big films then?
A. There's no such thing as a character role anymore. Look at Abhishek in Second Hand or any other film of his. His work is fantastic, the label of the role is irrelevant. There's so much work now and so many great parts. As long as the part makes an impact on the story, I'll be happy doing it. Honestly, I am happiest during pre-production when you're busy prepping for the role - workshops, backstories, self-study. That makes you a better actor in any role, short or long.
Q. What's been your biggest take-away so far?
A. Interacting with so many actors, I've gained an insight into their process and hopefully, they've gained some into mine. What I've learned is that no one has the answer to what it takes to be successful. All you can do is keep gaining from all these experiences and then channelling them into your work.
Q. Is there any advice you have for young hopefuls?
A. Every experience, every interaction, every story will teach you everything. Take every opportunity possible to learn something. Be great listeners and get involved in all that is happening around you, and you never know from where you're able to channel it into a scene. Persevere, work hard, but don't keep a deadline. Work might plop into your lap when you are least expecting it.
Q. Now that all shooting is stalled, you must be disappointed. How are you spending time during the lockdown?
A. Don't ask. I'm getting really bored. The only thing that is keeping me motivated is that I can take some online classes for acting and filmmaking. Thankfully, I’m at home with my family so that’s at least better than being all alone in another city.
Q. If it weren't for this unwarranted house arrest, what would you be doing otherwise?
A. Actually, I play a lot of cricket. But other than that, it's the same drill for any actor. Working out and attending workshops. I'm mostly concentrating on honing the craft right now.
Second Hand is available to stream on Zee5 as of 15 April 2020 and also stars Parul Gulati. Lakshya will next be seen in Excel Entertainment's Dongri to Dubai for Amazon Prime.