On most days, Bollywood prides itself in presenting neat heroes with a strong moral compass. But then came along director Bejoy Nambiar with his thriller Shaitaan.
The 2011 film squashed time-tested Bollywood conventions and introduced us to a bunch of filthy rich, unhinged kids who snort cocaine and stage the kidnapping of one of their friends to earn some quick money. Refreshingly unapologetic about their wicked ways, the cast of relatively new actors such as Kalki Koechlin and Rajeev Khandelwal made their mark in this dark, dysfunctional drama.
Nambiar is back with his second drama David this Thursday. His signature touches, such as grey characters and convoluted plots, are still intact. This time around, he lets us in on the lives of three characters in three different points of time. Their lives are different, but they share the same name: David.
tabloid! spoke with actor Neil Nitin Mukesh, who plays gangster David. The soft-spoken actor, who made his debut in Bollywood with the critically acclaimed Johnny Gaddar in 2007, attempts to play the baddie in this one.
“It was emotionally draining, but I found it exhilarating. On one hand, I am a cold-blooded murderer, but on the other hand I had to find a trick to make myself lovable,” said Mukesh.
Excerpts from our interview ...
Q: Tell us more about your role in David?
A: I play a gangster called David, who’s sorted in his head when it comes to his work. But when it comes to love, he is disturbed. It’s set in 1975 and it shows his complicated love life. Every man out there prefers his love life uncomplicated. But the point was to play a dark character in an endearing manner. It was a difficult task but I enjoyed it immensely.
Q: Was it emotionally draining to play David?
A: It was. To maintain consistency of a character you need to inhabit the head space of the role you are playing. So for the 35 days of shoot, you live that character in every frame you shoot. David is not your average Bollywood hero who’s happy-go-lucky, running around trees and throwing balloons. But boy, did I love that feeling. It was brilliant. I wish I could do more films like these. When films such as Johnny Gaddar and 7 Khoon Maaf come along, you consider it as a big, invigorating challenge. I would have been a fool to turn down David.
Q: Do you think it’s prudent to play a violence-prone character when there’s a debate raging in India over whether cinematic violence triggers violence against women?
A: Cinema has a huge impact on the audience and its reach is massive. But I don’t think that somebody else’s violence should be blamed on something else. Everyone knows films are made to entertain. Everyone knows that they revolve around fictitious characters. Cinema is not meant to be preachy. If you go by the yardstick that cinema influences you, then even Batman and Superman should influence you as well. This is a debatable topic. Remember, films are fake and it should not be taken too seriously.
Q: How was it working with director Bejoy Nambiar, Bollywood’s go-to director for dark, edgy films?
A: I am a big fan of his film Shaitaan. It’s a sexy movie. The moment I heard the script I knew David belonged to the same serious-yet-edgy space. Like my debut film Johny Gaddar, I call David a “clutter breaker”. By that phrase I mean there are so many of the same kind of films being churned out in Bollywood and then suddenly a film like David comes along which screams ‘move’.
Q: Do you think David represents the new wave of Indian cinema that has moved away from traditional dance-song love stories?
A: I am so proud about filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia who are flourishing today. Look at our award ceremonies this year: so many unconventional stories won several popular awards. They have given Bollywood cinema such dignity and grace. I feel relieved as an actor when films such as Dhulia’s Paan Singh [Tomar] win awards. I feel there’s hope.
Q: These days, one-liners have gained tremendous importance for a hero. Do you think smart lines make a smart villain and a good film?
A: If you ask me, being bad is always good for an actor. The challenge is to lend a certain vulnerability to my wickedness. Having said that, actors these days are remembered for the lines they say. Whether it’s “mugambo khush hua” [Amrish Puri’s dialogue from blockbuster Mr India] or “senorita, bade bade deshon mein” by Shah Rukh in Dilwale [Dulhaniya Le Jayange], you become iconic with these well-written lines. So if you have good lines and you say it well, then the battle is half won.
Q: After David, do you think you will become more popular with women?
A: Something tells me that I will get a lot more attention from women after David. Who doesn’t love a bad boy? For the record, I am not dating anyone now. I made four films last year and I have been living out of a suitcase.