The actor who completes 22 years of film acting in 2018, speaks to Subhash K. Jha on doing a web series at this juncture of his career. Excerpts:
First of all, why a web series now?
Because this is where I saw something worth investing my time, energy and efforts apart from movies. See, you have to understand that the magic of the large screen won’t go away. But at the same time the lure of the internet is something I saw coming long before most people in the entertainment industry.
So, are you saying the size of the screen doesn’t matter, that content is king?
Not just any content. But powerful fresh content. And a web series cannot be treated on a par with the big-screen experience. The other day I was watching “Padmaavat”. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone transported us into a different world. We stared at their larger-than-life world with our heads looking up on screen. When we see a web series, our heads are at level with the screen. We are one of them on the screen. It’s the relatable quality that makes a web series work. Just as “Padmaavat” can’t work on the small screen, “Breathe” would have fallen flat on the large screen.
What made you choose “Breathe” as your web debut?
When Vikram Malhotra of Abundantia Films and Amazon offered me the series, I was not sure I wanted to do it. But then I heard my role and I heard the twists and turns in the plot. And I was bowled over and sold over. I had to do “Breathe”! I had to play Danny Mascarenas. He is an average kind doting father who goes amok when his son faces death. This is a role any actor would give his life for.
Any fears about audiences doubting your career in cinema?
You mean because I’m doing something on the smaller screen? In the West, the biggest of the stars do web series. Meryl Streep is doing the second season of “Big Little Lies”. I saw the potency of the digital platform long before. I was waiting to do a web series. “Breathe” gave me just the opportunity to make my debut on the web.
Having said that, let me also hasten to state that my movie career is not yet over. I took a three year break to rejuvenate myself and I made a comeback with the films “Irrudi Sutru” and “Vikram Vedha”. Even as we talk, my preparation for my next film is on.
What has the reaction to “Breathe” been so far?
My wife Sarita, who is my greatest critic, became very quiet after watching the series. She then said, “I’ll never forget Danny Mascarenhas. Never bring him home with you.”
Since you are a father in real life, did you delve into your emotions with your real-life son Vedant to play the troubled father in “Breathe”?
No. Not at all. I was not allowed to bring Danny Mascarenhas home. When I was shooting, he was with me. But the minute I left the set, he was not with me. So to answer your question, as a father to a son I knew exactly when and where to hug my son, and the difference between a kiss on his forehead and a kiss on his cheek. Beyond that I didn’t use any of my own experiences to play the father in “Breathe”.
Do you see the web as the future?
I see it as the present. Audiences do not want to be told to be present at theatres at certain specific times to watch a film. They want to see it at their own convenience. If we give them content like “Breathe” on the digital platform, they will use that opportunity to be entertained. But digital entertainment cannot replace the movie-going experience. So, if we want our audience to continue to love the movie-going experience, we have to give them content they respect. Do not take the audience for granted.