Sometimes you need a certain push in life to pull out a purpose from it and make your stars create a wheel of fortune for you. And that's exactly what destiny had in its store for Saurabh Sachdeva. What started as an obstinate wish to become instantly famous slowly turned into a passion that gave a new lease of life.
From being an acting coach for more than 15 years to watching himself act on the big screen, Sachedva has come a long way in the Hindi film industry with his sheer dedication. He is confident about his craft and all ready to explore his personality to portray different types of characters onscreen. And since the teacher within him can never sit still, Sachdeva has started penning his shoot experience to share with his students.
In an exclusive conversation with International Business Times India, Sachdeva spoke at length about becoming household with his role of Suleiman Isa in Sacred Games, being socially awkward, why he chose Barry John and why he still loves teaching more than acting.
Did you ever feel that with such a short screen presence of Suleiman Isa in Sacred Games, your role would become so big.
No. Never. Actually I saw auditioned for a different role where the character helps Nawab Shah, who played Salim Kaka, and Nawazuddin cross the river to smuggle gold. Then the makers thought I should be given a different role so I was then auditioned for Malcom Murad's role (played by Luke Kenny). But even that didn't work out and finally I was given this role of Sulieman Isa. So I never thought that it would become so popular. I had shot for only 4-5 days for the role. And I did it because Anurag Kashyap was directing it and also I had not shot for anything for a long time because I had been teaching acting for many years now. So when I stepped out of it, I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra, I got auditioned, they liked me and I was like 'let's do it'.
Did you know that you were playing a strong character in Sacred Games.
Actually, I didn't even know that I would be pitted against such a strong character like Ganesh Gaitonde or doing a role opposite Nawazuddin. The script was kept so confidential that when I shot for my first scene in Dharavi where I go along with a few people by my side and say 'main sab thik kar dunga', that time I felt that I am playing a strong character. Also Anurag is someone who will never tell you before hand what you would be going to do. He will keep improvising while shooting. So I just did what I thought would be right. And I had not even read the book before shooting for it. So on the very first day of shoot when I said those lines 'main sab thik kar dunga', Anurag came to me and asked, 'you speak Punjabi right'. So I said yes then he told me that let's go to Punjabi next month and that's how I got Manmarziyaan.
After looking at your performances, it seems like you are all ready to showcase your acting skills.
Yes, even I feel that way as I am very confident about it. I had dropped acting in between. In my early days, I used to do theatre with Barry John sir in Delhi and when I came to Mumbai in 2005, I had not done acting for a long time. I did one film called Maroon which you will find on Netflix but even then I wasn't pursuing acting so religiously. For almost 15 years I was with Barry sir and when I started my own venture called The Actor's Truth, I started getting a few roles and then I thought of pursuing acting again. Being an acting coach is a different thing from being an actor as you need to do a lot of practice and rehearsals. So now that I have started acting again, I make sure I do justice to it.
Being an acting coach, you must be feeling proud to see your students doing great but how was it to watch your own self on the big screen.
The first time I saw myself on the screen when I was shooting for Sacred Games, I was dubbing for it. And it was a close up shot where I saw those lines, and I was like 'Oh my God! It would look so big'. I was very overwhelmed and at the same time felt nervous as well. And I was also very excited about how it would look after finishing dubbing. And more than watching myself on the big screen, I was excited to see other people's reacting on it. They were all praise for me. And it was all me, my natural look in that shot like the hair and the beard. So I was very happy to see that people liked the raw look of mine and even liked my performance.
I am the biggest critic of myself and others as well because I see the performances through the perspective of a teacher. So that criticism comes from there whenever I see any of my students or other actors perform. That's a part of my profession to give feedback and look at all the small nuances.
Do your co-stars look up to you for validation since you have been teaching acting for many years now.
Not really. So far I have worked with established actors so they don't really feel that way. But Kubbra Sait, who one of my students long ago, used to feel that way sometimes like when she's performing or dancing in front of me. But as such no one used to come to me for validation. But new actors used to come and ask me if they are doing it right or not but I cannot judge anyone when I am also acting in the scene. If I start using my teacher mind, I won't be able to act, I would lose that particular character. But you can come and ask me for suggestions before and after shooting the scene if you wish to.
Looking at your journey and the way you started off your career, it feels like you were destined to become an actor.
I still enjoy teaching more and people who know me in the industry, they know it very well. And I didn't even start off as an actor. I just wanted to get famous as early as possible. I am a dyslexic and I also have my personal problems. So at 22, I was just wanted to get famous and show my girlfriend, who by then had left me, that I will be some bigshot. So it was not like that I wanted to act and neither I was passionate towards it because I could've done anything or ventured into business whatever that comes my way. But thank god I joined Barry John and someone had recommended me to do it otherwise I was thinking of joining any big institute in Delhi. And on the second day itself, we were working on a thing wherein we were asked to make a self portrait and then we discuss about it. Then I realised that this is the place and I don't want to be famous. I want to have my own expression as I was a dyslexic, I was not good at studies and couldn't convey myself properly and I used to get bullied a lot in school for that. And that's what Barry John gave me. I used to do plays with him and after one year he offered me to join as a teacher, and I did. And then I started teaching non-stop and I enjoy teaching a lot, like a lot and I still do. So even if I didn't get to act, it wouldn't had been a big deal for me.
But yes I was destined to become an actor, as Anurag sir and Barry sir said, that 'your features, your behaviour, your voice are perfect qualities to make you an actor'. Anurag had told me that 'your screen presence is very powerful and where were you hiding all these days? You should be out there.'
So did you manage to impress your girlfriend back then.
(Laughs) That was a long time ago. I was 22 at that time and now I am 40. But thank god I had a break-up and I reached where I am today. No disrespect to the girl, but there are many things in life happen so that you can move on and do something new. And I think, it was meant to happen because otherwise I would have joined by father's business and did something similar because I was good at it. I don't watch TV and neither my mother but father likes to. I still don't have a TV at my home. It is said that you need a certain jerk in life to make you do things that you had never done before. And I did otherwise I wouldn't have joined Barry John, would've settled down with some work and got married and so on.
How did your family react after when you took that step.
My family's reaction was that they didn't want me to become an actor because they thought that it was not their cup of tea and had absolutely no connection in the industry. And all that emotional blackmail that follows like 'you will struggle a lot, how things would happen, this and that'. But I was like I am determined to do this and I literally started enjoying it. And eventually my parents accepted what I was doing. And now they are really very happy about how things have fallen in right place for me.
Did you struggle when you first came to Mumbai.
Actually, I have never struggled. I used to teach children on the streets. Yeah, I used to earn peanuts but I never felt I was struggling. I was teaching a boy from the slums and he went on to Oscars which was a very proud moment for me. I was staying a 3-4 people, who were TV actors and used to earn nicely, when I was Mumbai initially but I was living in a very satisfactory condition. I love my work and it feels good to see significant positive changes in your students and doing good on their own. It keeps you moving and motivated. I think I am lucky that I found my passion at very early age in my life unlike others.
Was there anybody to guide you throughout your journey and tell you that 'this is how its done' to give you the right direction.
No that didn't happen to me. My parents were always worried but they were never that stubborn to restrict me from what I was doing. They supported me in my every decision and when Barry sir came to Mumbai, it was like going to a temple everyday, that I have to go and work there for 8-9 hours and come back home. And that was my life. But even Barry sir didn't tell me that you should do this and that. He was actually kind of supportive in whenever I was low, or depressed, or unable to do anything. I was used to go to him as a mentor and talk to him. I think the guidance that I have got, is from my education be it Barry sir or a Russian teacher. Reading psychological books also helped me a lot in finding right directions. I always wanted to do something new or big for humanity and that kept me moving even if I am going through an emotional turmoil or break-ups or anything.
How do you approach different characters and develop them on screen.
First I seek the dominant point of the character by asking my director and even while reading the script. And then I keep looking after it everywhere by observing different people. And if I get the script before hand, then I try to develop the character by studying behaviours of different animals on YouTube. I am doing a grey and violent character in Gwalior. So for that I have tried to put the characteristics of Hyena into that like how they are hunting, playing or giving birth and their overall behaviour. I also doing a revenge drama Taish directed by Bejoy Nambiar. Though he has narrated me about my character, I am yet to develop a connect with it. And if I don't find references, then I use my imagination or I will just play myself on the screen. Like I played myself in Sacred Games honestly because I didn't get time for briefing and the same happened with Manmarziyaan as well.
Are you greedy as an actor.
No I am not greedy as an actor. Whatever roles will come to me, I'll do it. And it doesn't matter if it fails. I am not expecting that every role that I play should become big and popular. I just want to portray my every character with dedication.
Now that you have finished shooting your part in Sacred Games 2, can you tell us how your character will shape up.
It's too early for me to reveal anything about my character in Sacred Games 2 as I am bound by my contract but you will definitely see different aspects of Suleiman Isa including his personal life as well which was missing from the previous season. You will be able to understand the character of Isa with a different perspective. I am not sure whether I will get more screen time or not because lot of that we shoot gets edited in the final cut. So let's see.
Every industry comes with its own pros and cons. Did you come across any.
I feel bad when I don't get paid for the shoot. I had done one film in the past which I vividly remember which didn't even release in theatres and I didn't even get paid for it. So you feel like being cheated as you have invested a lot of time and commitment. By god's grace, I am fortunate enough to have not come across any bad experiences that will haunt me. I have so far worked with respected directors and production houses. Never at a point in my career I felt being put down or looked down upon. I have no complains at all and I am happy with what I am doing and people are treating me well.
We heard that you are socially awkward. Is that true.
Yes, it's true that I very rarely socialise with people in the industry. Most of the time I am quiet and lost in my own world and keep observing people a lot. So majorly I read books and watch documentaries but not movies including short educational videos.
Tell us about your role in Housefull 4 and Laal Kaptaan.
I am doing Housefull 4 because of Sajid Khan. He had called me once and asked me if I will do this character and I gave a nod to it. It's a small character but in Laal Kaptaan I have an important role that will make audience feel my presence in it. Both are period dramas and Laal Kaptaan has been shot at a very realistic location which was kind of a struggle shooting with almost 1,000 people, horses and cattle in the background. It was a very different experience, tiring but an enlightening one.
And whenever I am shooting in the studios or at different locations, I have started making notes of it so that I can share my experience with my students to let them know how it actually happens on the film sets.
Lastly, for what kinds of roles you are ready for.
I am ready for everything. And I want to explore myself, my personality to be able to know what I can do more. Like Manmarziyaan I thought I wouldn't be able to do it but Anurag felt that I can do it. Even I didn't believe why and how I was doing that character and Anurag was happy with it. So then I realised that I can do this as well. So now I want to explore myself and do every kind of roles. Many people approach me with Isa like character but I brush it off because now I want to use all my experience and see what I can do. And I am ready for it.