Ravi Kishan is a name that needs no introduction. You wouldn't have come across something like Bhojpuri film industry if it wasn't for him. He has struggled all the way to earn the title of a huge superstar in the country with his sheer talent.
In an exclusive and candid conversation with International Business Times, India, Ravi Kishan revealed the secret behind his talent, how making a biopic on him will be difficult, and why Bollywood has to be treated only as an industry.
You play a boxing coach in Mukkabaaz. Tell us something more about your character.
I play a boxing coach in the film. I want to become a Mukkabaaz but my dream did not come to fruition due to some circumstances. So I try to fulfil my wish by training Vineet Singh Kumar's character in an attempt to heal the wounds deep in my heart.
But he is a very realistic person who comes from a lower caste. He is a very emotional person who wishes to turn his long-time dream into a reality. I come across many such people in real life who struggle a lot. I felt as if it was my own story since I have also struggled a lot in life.
This is your first film with Anurag Kashyap. Since Kashyap is known for projecting realism in his films and you are also a man of the soil, how was your chemistry on the sets?
It was very good. First of all, Anurag literally had no idea about me. He thought I was a big star with a huge aura and that I would charge a huge amount to act in this film. He wanted to cast me in Gangs of Wasseypur as well, but was hesitant because of his assumptions.
Later, as we spent many days together on the sets, we became very good friends. And Anurag is one director who gives complete freedom to his actors. Once he finds that this particular actor will do justice to his character, he leaves it to the actors to perform in front of the camera.
He would say something like: "You do what you think is best for the character. This is the dialogue, this is the scene." And he would watch me perform from a distance.
Tell us about the secret behind your method of acting.
I meet many different people every day. And I travel a lot. I am a traveller. And I incorporate their things in every other regional language cinema as well, be it Telugu or Bhojpuri. I interact with people a lot whenever I meet them.
So all these things help me a lot when I am performing. The image of the character who I have observed or interacted with always remains somewhere at the back of my mind. So it becomes quite easy for me to portray them.
There is a dialogue of yours in Mukkabaaz: 'Tumko mukkabaaz Banna hai ya mukkebaaz'. Has anyone ever told you something like this at any point in your career?
Yes, Naseeruddin Shah told me something like this when we were shooting for Guru Mahaguru back in 2001. He is a very good friend of mine.
He asked me whether I was acting just for the sake of earning money and fame. And this is exactly what I keep asking people: 'What do you want to become in life?'
We know you have struggled a lot in the industry. What did you do when you got your first pay cheque as an actor?
I used that money to reclaim my mortgaged land in my village because it was father's dream. It was a small piece of land.
Your parents were against your decision of becoming an actor. What was their reaction when you got your first film?
They were all like "Oh good, he has now got a job and is earning money.' And money was the only driving factor for them. But they didn't know that sometimes in this entertainment industry, you spend a lot of years without earning anything.
I didn't earn money for almost 15 years. I used to get peanuts, but continued to work. I just wanted work. My first cheque was for Rs 25,000. And it was a huge amount at that time, equivalent to Rs 25 lakh today.
Each character you have portrayed has been memorable. Which one of those is your favourite?
I did the Shyam Benegal film Welcome to Sajjanpur in 2008, where I played a lovelorn Ram Kumar, who is crazy for the widowed daughter-in-law of a retired Army officer. And the one in Salman Khan's Tere Naam in 2003, where I played a priest named Rameshwar.
Since this is the era of biopics, what would your reaction be if someone walks up to you and tells you he/she wants to make a biopic on your life?
You will have to work a lot because my story is very long with many twists and colours. It's simply unbelievable. My story is full of life with a lot of humour. My life story has been very entertaining so far, but I have never spoken about it. I have never shared it with anyone.
So it will be a difficult task for whoever plans to make a biopic on me. My journey has been a complete roller-coaster. From nowhere to somewhere, from a superstar to the South to Bollywood to television, then family and many more colours, it has been very entertaining.
I had no godfather in the industry. I have struggled to come this far with hard work and determination.
People always say there is no unity in Bollywood. No one comes to help you when you are in need. Why is it so?
Yes, the divisions are there, but everybody is right in their own way. Everyone here has come with a dream, to find a life, to achieve their goals in life. Everybody wants to earn money.
So I feel everyone is fighting their own battles. You would look like a fool if you start having expectations and faith in a person who you think would help you in any way. Everybody wants to open their own shop, start their own business in the industry. So you can just treat Bollywood as an industry. Just like I did and created my own Bhojpuri industry.
It gave me name and fame in the country. Many people got employment because of it. Other things like talent, skills and acting are all secondary. But you need to know how this industry operates. What its norms and nuances are. You have to be professional. And then things will fall into place.
When Padmavati was mired in controversy, everyone from the industry raised their voice in support. But we didn't witness a similar outrage when your film Mohalla Assi locked horns with CBFC.
It's like whenever big guns or big names of the industry are associated with a project, everybody will follow them like a magnet. Nobody actually cares about people who are a few stops down the rung. Nobody comes out in support of the ones who are less popular in the industry.
So everybody has their own way of doing things. Everybody is associated with their respective groups and people with different mindsets.
I am a solo warrior. I understand these things but I don't heed them. So it's fine. Everybody lives their life on their own terms and you just have to fight your own battles out of it and fulfil your ambitions in your journey. And I am doing that myself.
I might be slow in achieving things but I am doing it with pride and honour. I have made myself capable enough to prove my worth. God has been very kind and the media has always loved me. And most importantly, my fans have kept me in this industry all these years with their love.
I have my own drawbacks/minuses like I am not that media-savvy, don't attend Page 3 parties and all. But I have immense knowledge about the industry and spirituality.
Anurag has told me that soon we will be doing a film together with me in the lead. So I think life finds its way sooner or later.
CBFC has issued an A certificate for Mohalla Assi. Are you happy with the decision?
Yeah, it's perfectly alright because I have a very strong role in the film. And it's a very entertaining film. People should actually go and watch it. And I know they will, even though the movie has been delayed for two years. Because right now we are living in an era of realistic films which are being made keeping Indian roots in mind. This is the only right time for the film to release in theatres.
Why people have to struggle a lot in the industry despite having immense talent?
I think filmmakers should step out and discover good talent, which is in abundance in our industry. I feel I would rather invest my time in other things or spend my time with my family — my wife, my children — or say a prayer or work out at the gym instead of going to a filmmaker and asking for a role. And whoever wants to cast me, will come and find me.
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right, I don't know. But that's the way I function, because I don't go to anybody's office. If they call me, I go and visit them. And I have my own office. I spend my time there. I entertain every person who calls me with a warm heart. I am always available to those people.
If I get a message, I reply immediately. I have my own staff working for me. But I believe that I should at least get one call or a message from the other person who is willing to work with me.
Lastly, what would you like to tell young actors who wish to become a Ravi Kishan in the industry?
Be cool, be calm and have faith in God, because your talent and personality count for just 10 percent, while the rest entirely on destiny. Keep believing in yourself and stay focused. If you keep digging, you will surely end up with a well.
Keep yourself away from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. They kill you. They push you into depression.