Actor hopeful Ranjith Sajeev, who was born and raised in Dubai, remembers watching Bollywood hunk John Abraham in the snazzy action thriller ‘Dhoom’ back in 2004 and being enthralled by his incredible star power.
Eighteen years later, Sajeev’s fascination and adoration has quadrupled since his matinee idol will launch him in his acting debut ‘Mike’, a Malayalam-language film out in UAE cinemas on August 25.
It’s a dream debut by any standards.
Imagine being plucked from relative obscurity to become the chosen one to spearhead Abraham’s debut South Indian production. Remember, Abraham also launched actor Ayushmann Khurrana when he produced the sperm-donation comedy ‘Vicky Donor’ and has a keen eye for fresh blood. After ‘Vicky Donor’, Ayushmann has gone on to become one of Bollywood’s most versatile and bankable actors in the industry today.
“I still can’t believe it’s all happening to me. It feels surreal and is just an absolute dream come true,” said Sajeev in an interview with Gulf News.
“When I saw ‘Dhoom’, I aspired to be like John Abraham and seeing that person stand in front of you as the producer of your movie felt extremely surreal and dream-like. It took a while for it all to sink in. He was extremely supportive from the start to finish,” said Sajeev.
Apparently, Sajeev didn’t even know that his acting breakthrough was backed by a big Bollywood talent. He claims he was first noticed by director of ‘Mike’, Vishnu Siva Prasad, who was impressed by one of his YouTube video uploads and patched a meeting between them.
“My director saw a spark in me. At that point, I didn’t know the film was going to be produced by John Abraham honestly, but he was an amazing support and a hands-on producer. I met him for the first time during the poster-launch of ‘Mike’ in Kerala. He wasn’t on the sets while we were shooting, but he was clued in and he told us how proud he was of us,” said Sajeev.
The Millennium School alma mater, who rounded it all off with a course from New York Film Academy, will be in Dubai along with his co-star Anaswara Rajan on Wednesday to premiere the slice-of-life drama that deals with a pair of twenty-somethings in the midst of a complicated quarter-life crisis.
“Life has come full circle. Becoming an actor was my biggest passion while I grew up in Dubai and now to have my debut film premiere there feels incredible ... A few of my friends from high school even messaged me after seeing the trailer. It’s going to be a great re-union of sorts,” said Sajeev.
While Anaswara Rajan’s character Sara is grappling with gender identity where she feels trapped in a girl’s body, Sajeev’s debut role as Antony sees him play a young man facing mental health issues.
The complicated pair meets under random circumstances and form a close bond. The movie, which opened to good reviews in Kerala after its release last week, isn’t a conventional debut vehicle for any actor. Sajeev’s character is on call to give a ‘nuanced and layered’ performance and isn’t your run-of-the-mill swash-buckling hero.
“Malayalam cinema is content-driven and has always been about good story telling … And I have always approached a project from an artist’s perspective. Ideally, I wanted my role to be challenging. And ‘Mike’ deals with a lot of socially relevant issues – be it gender identity, mental health, or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” said Sajeev, who grew up on a staple of Bollywood blockbusters like ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’.
The young talent shifted base from the UAE to India to try his hand at getting an acting breakthrough since being in India helped him snag auditions and workshops. His parents – who are based in Dubai and own a construction and hospitality chain – insisted that he get a solid degree before pursuing his ‘primary passion’. Although his parents have produced a handful of movies such as director Blessy’s ‘Pranayam’, starring Mohanlal and Jaya Prada, they insisted that he is armed with a college degree before following his acting ambitions.
“They were always supportive but they wanted me to get a stable degree first. Films are such an unpredictable industry where you may be big one day and the next day, you may not be around. This degree was like my back-up. But even in between my engineering days, I went for acting workshops and did several short films. Acting has been my life-long passion and I treat my body as my temple. I don’t drink or smoke since we are in a visual medium,” said Sajeev.
So what’s his advice to youngsters who hope to take a stab at cinema?
“Stay and back your passion. You are going to have obstacle and meet a lot of naysayers, but you need to have faith. If acting is what you truly want to do with your life, then go for it. Just give it your 110 per cent. And, never give up,” said Sajeev.
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‘Mike’ is out in UAE cinemas on August 25
Being a part of John Abraham's production: “I was instantly drawn to the plot of the film and found it catchy … He was a hands-on producer who knew about what’s happening on the sets. He was so involved.”
Her leg work for the film: “After the director narrated the story to me, I instantly knew that I have met many Saras’ in my life. I felt like this character was someone I know. It was a challenging role, but we have presented this character with a lot of empathy and authenticity. I don’t want to ever spread toxicity through my films. I frequently communicated with my director if I had any doubt.”