Starting his career with Ranveer Singh starrer Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram Leela, former YRF casting AD and now acting in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Amitabh Bachchan’s Mulk and Shahid Kapoor’s Batti Gul Meter Chalu are what he’s best known for. Ashrut Jain, who is setting foot in Bollywood slowly and steadily, gets candid to Deccan Chronicle about the role he’s longing for, how he made it and what has his experiences with Shahid Kapoor and co-worker Bhumi Pednekar been like.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Finally bagging movies like Mulk and Batti…
Yeah, but took little time to reach there.
Since when are you trying?
I came to Mumbai when I was 16, which is 12 years back. I was in Xaviers college and then joined YRF in casting department. I worked on films like ‘Sultan’, ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’. I was just learning. Then I got my first cameo break in ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela’. Then there was a very big Kannada hit called 6-5=32 which was made on a budget of 40 lacs and earned 50 crore only in Karnataka. The distributor Bharat Jain got so rich he remade it in Hindi and I was the lead of the film. The marketing however he used in Karnataka did not work Pan-India. Then I starred in Sunshine Tours and Travels which was on Sunburn. Post that I did a small cameo in MS Dhoni since I have a background in cricket. My character Shabbir Hussain actually had a big part but got edited. He is still alive and working as a railway magistrate also known as DRM. I met him when I was in Ranchi. He’s a family guy. Then Mulk and Batti happened.
Do you have something interesting after this as well?
I have certain things lined up but I’m not supposed to talk about them.
Commercial or art films?
I’m open for everything, but now it should have length. Initially the mindset was that I have to show work, but people have seen that now. Now I see that the more length you have, the more sustenance you have in the minds of people.
So how about having a short role in a movie which has a big name?
If it is performance-oriented then yes I will do it. Even if there’s one scene where I can show my performance, then why not? For example, Sushant did a very good job in PK. It was a very impactful role. Something like that is definitely on my mind. Even if there’s a big director, big production or budget film, I will look for that or reject it.
How did acting happen to you? You began with casting direction that too in YRF. Did you always want to be an actor?
The trick for the game plan is to have new tricks. So this was my trick to enter the industry. If I go with my folio showing that I have just entered Mumbai, no one will entertain. You need to know people and when I entered it was my plan to work behind the camera and make contacts. Acting is separate than learning work because you know how to behave, talk and other details when you learn. I belonged to a small city and like others, that thing came with me. I’ll behave differently in a restaurant and in a dhaba. It won’t change me as a person but the mannerisms will change. I wanted to learn that and hence I wanted to work only with YRF. I’m a believer of acting methods like success and failure are temporary but performance remains.
I took around 2 and a half lakh auditions. Trust me it’s a very difficult job. So when I meet new people, there’s a visual library which opens up. I absorb from the nuances, body language, the way they talk. One girl was so crazy that when I put up a post, she took a flight from LA to Mumbai in Business class just to come and audition. She wasn’t even fitting the role. I think the best kind of acting happens from your unconscious mind. The only thing which connects is what has been in your brain for a really long time. I travel by 16-hour train where I talk to people about their cities. I rehearse one scene in 50 different situations. Disturbance is required during auditioning to understand if a person can fit in. On a movie set, a person can be laughing behind the camera and you have to keep your focus to give the best scene.
I was on set for 70 days for Ram Leela on 80 day schedule. I used to quietly stand behind the screen and learn what Mr. Bhansali had to say. That has opened a new zone in my acting method because I know what’s on a director’s mind. I consider myself as lucky as Ranbir or Sonam Kapoor because they also learnt from the best. In 70 days even if I learnt 7% of what they learnt, it’s a big deal for me.
You might have met Bhumi as well…
She’s my colleague and close friend. We have auditioned people together. I know her cousin in US too. We’ve partied a lot.
Has the equation changed?
No, no. We don’t meet often, but when we do, it’s from where we left off the last time.
And she bagged Takht…
We used to go to Dharma and other production houses too. She is a very good actor and that was understood from the way she gave cues from behind the camera.
But why casting direction over AD?
Working as an AD, you give 7-8 months of your life and work with only one director. I met different director everyday as casting associate.
So you’ve faced nepotism?
There’s a bigger issue – favouritism, where a director doesn’t want to look beyond their favourite actor/actress. Nepotism isn’t an issue because when you see a movie and find some star kid do good, it isn’t because he/she is a star kid, right? It’s difficult to get the first opportunity but it’s okay. There’s a Nawazuddin Siddiqui too.
But he also took so many years to be noticed…
Who will give me meetings? I’m trying to meet Mr. Johar since 4 years but he’s not giving me time. There should be some way out.
How did Batti happen?
Because I knew Shree Narayan Singh sir from Dhoni. He edited that film. He spoke highly about me. After Toilet released, I messaged him that I would love to work with him and he asked me to meet his casting director.
How was it working with Shahid?
He’s a very organic guy, very organized and carries very good energy. Whenever he came on sets, he improvised a lot, giving many inputs. He’s good fun to work with.
Any memorable experience?
Oh, many! We went to Tehri which is much more beautiful than Shimla. We did one improvisation with Shahid in fun. We shot for it and now it’s in the film. We travelled to Dehradun twice. Post pack-up we used to have a guitar and everyone sung nice songs like Lucky Ali or even Shahid’s Aankhon Mein.
With the locals, there was an incident where some locals had clicked photos and come to our studio saying they also wanted to become a hero. I asked them to come to Mumbai (laughs).
But if they come here, then we will have to pack our bags because they are such beautiful people who are really fit.
You have come from YRF so do you plan to go back and do a YRF film?
YRF is like home, like a school to me. So if I get something, of course I would love to do it, but it will always remain school first for me. That is where my heart belongs.
Apart from acting, what does your interest lie in?
Interiors. I have designed my home, office.
Since you’ve done a lot of films with Shailendra Singh, you guys must be close…
Yeah. I’m doing another film with him – Road Trip To Pakistan....