Neeraj Kabi is another actor from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, who has managed to enthral you with his performance. His passion for acting began when he started performing in school plays, and skits and later in inter-college functions.

While studying at Symbiosis in Pune, he would often visit Film and Television Institute of India and learn about the craft. During an exclusive interaction with International Business Times, the actor shared how he developed his interest in cinema. 

Neeraj Kabi Pataal Lok

"Colleges from all over the country come there and perform and that was a great high at that time for me. Slowly these little instances drove me (was studying in Pune in college) I was not a part of film institute, I was studying in Symbiosis college when I was studying over there a film institute was very close. I would actually go there; somebody took me to see the institute and he told me that they study films over here.

I asked how do they study films like what's there to study in a film? Because in those days my absolute favourite actors were the commercial heroes because that were movies I would watch that time which was all about dancing, singing, fighting and punching and boxing, I would love these kinds of films.

"I saw world cinema, I saw amazing work at that time of Italian filmmakers

So I didn't know why do we had to study in order to make these films. I had some friends so I started visiting over there National film Archa in Pune and that's when I saw a library and that was the second shock to see so many books on film making and acting.

My aspect of acting was yelling, abusing the villain and that's all the heroes would do and that's what I saw while I was growing up or dance around the trees so I didn't know why one had to read all these books. When I started reading when I was in college that's where it opened up," shared Kabi. 

"I saw world cinema, I saw amazing work at that time of Italian filmmakers, French filmmakers, and then I began reading on acting and then I realised what a feeling and what a world it is. That's what drove me into the cinema. I was never going to take this up as a profession never.

I thought I won't mind seeing all this but I won't spend time dancing around trees and punching villains. I wanted to do something more intellectual in my life. But when I saw this and intellectualism in the cinema that's what hit me a lot. So many thing involved in these techniques, crafts, training methods..I was absolutely overjoyed by this. And I started working on this and that's what drew me into the cinema," he continued. 

Masoom duo, Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi have been Kabi's all-time favourite icons from the acting industry. 

"Although I look up to a lot of other actors Pankaj Kapoor, Dr, Shriram Lagu, Ompuri Saab all these are absolutely great but I still have Naseer Bhai as my favourite, when I saw Masoom right from there till date. And Also, I was lucky to have performed with him in a film called the hungry in another film with Sumitra we did a short film together called Phir Zindagi- a short film by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar then there was a play which I did with him. So he still remains my favourite," Kabi said when asked about his favourite icons. 

You are more popular on-screen for a character you play, it's a very character-driven role so does it bother you as an actor or do you see it as a compliment?

As a compliment, I have always wanted to role very different and contrast to each other. I 've always been looking for roles like that. Even though there are so many similar roles I keep getting, the moment I did Hitchki I got similar roles after I did Ship of Thesis I got similar roles, biopics of great monks great saints, I did Parulkar and I got roles of Police officers that would..I don't like that. Once I 've done the role of a villain I wouldn't want to do that again and again. Unfortunately, I have been offered so I did a few roles like that after that but I 've always been looking and it's a great compliment that people think that a variety of characters and not just one. In fact, this happened to me right after Ship of Theseus the moment I finished the role of a peaceful monk I got calls Dibakar Banerjee, Vishaal Bhardwaj immediately after that and the roles [that were being offered were again negative roles and I was so surprised. Like, imagine Diwakar offering me Dr Anukul Guha for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! 

I did a peaceful monk and how do you see me as a villain, total contrast. And it came as a huge compliment. I considered myself so fortunate that a peaceful monk role got me the role of a villain. And I don't how much if an effort I must have put into that role to really make it come alive. To actually take it to the audience that looks I can do this and I did that in the Ship of Theseus. I've always wanted to that and I will always want to do that all my life, work on character-driven roles.

Since you mentioned Parulkar, your performance in Scared Games, you formed an attachment with thriller-based content?

Not really.

I've not formed an attachment; I like doing it but I'm not attached to it. So I did a film once again it's a love story. I like that as well. So I don't get attached but I do like. It's just after that what roles I got were thriller based but were very massive project and very interesting. It just they happened to be a thriller based that's all. Amazon Prime Video's Pataal Lok, is very interesting it just happened to be a crime thriller. So I don't go by the genre but by the content of what is coming and by the talent that is being offered.

Your web series talks about swarglok, dhartilok and pataal lok, while the web series is circling around Pataal Lok aspect of it? Do you feel is there a flaw in every sphere?

Yes at every level. The series is definitely called the Pataal Lok so it does talk more on Pataal Lok, the entire series is about the collision and the interaction and coexistence of all the looks together, the swarglok, the dharti lok and the patal lok. That is how the patal lok functions they coexist. And each of them has gotten a grey shade, I can't say more about this unless you really watch but there is the investigating police officer named Hathiram played by Jaideep Ahlawat who is the lead actor that investigating officer whatever he investigates takes you inside the entire arena of all that is happening, the short discoveries at every class in india..the upper class, middle class or the lower class, that's where you see the flaws. And that's what the crime is all about. Crimes happen because of these flaws.

Neeraj Kabi

What do you learn from each of the characters you played? And have used them in real life ..with examples.

Actually, from each of them, there is something or the other I take home with me and keep inside after the series or the film is over not while I am performing it. While I am performing it I am very careful that my character does not travel home. At times I remain in that character because it is very difficult to come out of it and go into the character back again. Many a time I mellow it down at home but the character is still in flames, it is flickering through the night, it never switched off. And again the flames rises when I go on set. So that always happens and I take back a lot, right from the Ship of Theseus. From Ship of Theseus, I took a lot, in fact, a lot of it affected me my entire thinking actually. There was a time when I had left eating non-vegetarian food because I knew I was causing violence. It was for a long time after that film I totally turned vegan. I just did not touch meant at all for a very very long time. And the thinking process changed for me, the way I saw the world, the way I saw violence, the way I also saw the integrity of the character, the strength of the character..lean body but so much strength almost like Gandhi. I took that back a lot. That power that courage

Then even while performing Gandhi with Mr, Shyam I took a lot from there. Playing Gandhi has influenced me a lot tremendously. Even from the villains that I've played I have brought home the farsightedness of the dr. Yang,  the visionary that Parulkar was, the leader that he was, not the negative way, but in the most charismatic way he was. He was very charismatic, his entire police department loved Parulkar. With convicts, he was a demon but when it came to people, he was very very very nice. And even with the convicts, it was not only about thrashing them up and punishing them there was a way that he dealt with them, that they would never get back to that life anymore. In that process, he became very villainy. But inside that was not his intention to destroy a victim. He was a very highly educated officer, very well-read so these are the things I took back. With every character that I've played, I have taken back so much.

Even Krishna Murthy for the final call, another kind of a learning process when I played an astrologer over there. Talwar again took me so deep into the life of a real family and to see what suffering can be. That made me look at my family in a very different way post-Talwar. A lot changes when you actually perform. Because you have the privilege of performing so many lives at the same time and if you have to take up this profession very seriously. If you don't take it seriously it's just doing different characters and getting back home. But if you take the characters seriously they have the power to transform you. The same way you have the power to transform the characters, characters have the power to transform you as an actor and as a human being. So you have to surrender that much to the character and to give that much. Only when you give that much to the character that when the character gives you back. That's what I believe.

Coming to Pataal Lok character, you played a journalist here. How did you research on this character and what did you take back from this character?

The research process was step by step, I read a lot.

My character Sanjeev Mehra in the beginning of the series is going through a downhill, he is losing his work he is being sacked, his family life is in trouble, his marriage is in trouble, he starts off with that. That's the first cite of Sanjeev Mehra. He looks like a loser at that point in time. But there was a time prior to that when he was a hero, he was a journalist who was celebrated. So I read up a lot and researched on the philosophies and the mindsets of the great journalists that we had in India in the 1990s and what their philosophies were, what their mindsets were? How were they so courageous how did they stick to integrity and honesty so much in those times? So that helped me create a mindset of the character. I also visited the newsroom television news channel in Delhi where I saw the entire process of the work from the time the news comes into the news studio to the way it is processed and until it reaches the drawing rooms of the public and the audiences. So I got a skeletal structure of that and then I brought all this information back home and then I started to create my character and work on the psychological space of my character. With the help of the director and the writer, I found a way to continuously converse with them about the character many many times. Had multiple meetings with them just to settle down to myself who is this person because the scenes were complex and there weren't many many scenes. So when you don't have many scenes you have less time to tell your story as an actor. So you have to be even more well researched. So that was my entire journey of preparing this and when the mindsets were being prepared and the psychological space was being prepared that gave me a chance to really settle very precisely my character and the entire sketch very clear on my book. So that's what I used to carry to the sets when I used to read my notes and again go back to the director and discuss the psychological space. That determined my state of being and that determined the emotions I was supposed to play. So it was very methodical, nothing in my scene that I did was improvisation nothing was done on the spot of the moment. Everything was researched everything was studied and worked very methodically while I was on set. It was like giving an exam I had to go back refer to my notes, see my notes and get back again. That's how the entire process happened to me.

What I took back from this character, he was a hero first who falls and loses his integrity till the end of the series. So what I took back something that I will have to be careful as a human being because my character does something which I don't agree with as a human being. I can't say what till you watch the series but that's what I took. Something negative but on the other side what I take back from this character was his upbringing was the hero that he was and how he gets the solution after that. And how slowly he starts to take his decisions prior to that. Obviously, the decisions were towards the downfall but he was a hero once upon a time that is something I took back. His integrity before the series begins.

Personally, which is your favourite genre and why so? If you can name some of your favourite films in those genres? 

All genre all are my favourite, whatever I perform I thoroughly enjoy performing thriller, the monk which is the genre of the piece, I 've enjoyed performing great drama, I've enjoyed performing romance, so I have liked all the genres there is no favourite genre I may say I've enjoyed playing Romance a lot. I quite enjoyed that although I did realise that I was very satisfied playing the villain wherever I played it. Extremely satisfied with whatever came out of that. So, it's a mix, there is no genre I don't like. In fact, I am looking for more genres like comedy which I've still not played I am yearning to play that.