On the eve of his birthday, that falls on 21 July, here is a look at some of the most iconic roles he played in films that went on to become cult-favourites, themselves.
RJ-turned-actor Mantra, who is gearing up for his next musical broadway Disney’s Aladdin, believes that he was born to perform and entertain no matter even if he was not on stage or in front of the camera.
What are your thoughts on being a part of one of Disney’s most popular fictions and essaying the iconic role of Genie?
Playing Genie in Disney’s Aladdin is one of the highest points of my career. I am thrilled to be a part of Disney’s Aladdin and perform this iconic role of Genie.
Tell us something about your character. How did you prepare for getting into the skin of Genie?
Genie as an animation had the liberties to do a lot of things. But we are mere mortals, we are humans and hence all the limitations. So, when the opportunity to create this magnificent musical production came, we had to make sure that Genie’s magical attributes remain intact. We knew we had to around the limitation of just being a human body to achieve it. And maybe that is the reason why the preparation was different as compared to other roles.
It was a very time-consuming process to get everything right. To get into the skin of Genie’s character, all I could say is that I really looked up to Robin Williams and when I say I looked up to, I literally looked up to the heavens and said, ‘Hey Robin, I need you here’ and that’s it, I think he blessed me with whatever I am doing on stage. It is a tribute – it’s something that all Robin Williams fans would like to say that we miss that guy. We miss that wonderful person. It’s just that.
What made you give a green signal to this role?
I think for me to say yes to playing the Genie, I had to really go through an internal process because even though it is a great role, it’s something that every actor would give his two left hands to play this role but, frankly, at the same time there is a lot of pressure, there are a lot of expectations. At the end of the day, Genie is one of the most iconic characters ever. It took a lot of conviction, and confidence, and learnings from many years of many roles that I have done. So, when I play Genie, it is not the final step that counts, it is those little steps that count. So, for so many characters that I have played in my life, I think they all helped me to create Genie and his magic on stage.
Your journey can be well documented. From a RJ to acting to hosting TV shows; how will you sum up your journey so far?
Yes, radio, television, films, theatre have been a part of my career in the last 20 years. I would sum up my career in one line — I was born to entertain, I was born to perform and no matter even if I was not on stage or in front of the microphone or in front of the camera, I was still performing. That’s the reason why I think every time I stepped on stage, it took me just a switch for me to become the performer, because I think that’s what I was born to do.
Was getting in front of the camera was always your passion? Was your family supportive of your decision?
Well, I was a hotelier before I became a radio jokey or a performer and frankly speaking my mum wasn’t very keen when I switched from the hotel industry to the radio industry. She was like ‘Are you crazy? Just hang on, don’t lose focus. Today you are an Assistant Front Office Manager, tomorrow you’ll be a Front Office Manager and one day you’ll be a general manager. But I had the confidence and tasking risks has always been a part of my upbringing or the way in which I approached my career — may it be switching from radio to television.
When I was shifting from Indore to Delhi people told to me – Why are you shifting? You are such a big radio jockey in Indore. Hang on over here. Be the big fish in the small pond rather than going into the ocean, you’ll get lost. But again, I took the risk. When I reached Delhi, the same thing happened. I took over the airwaves, I became very popular. I was ranked the number one RJ over there too. And then when I was shifting to Bombay, everybody said the same thing – Why are you shifting? It’s such a great place. You found your comfort zone. But that is exactly what I believe that once you get stuck into your comfort zone, you stop growing. And that is the reason why I want to keep on growing. The day I feel that I have reached my pinnacle, because everybody has their own parameters of success, I think that’s when I’ll stop and my journey continues.
After Disney’s Musical, what are your future prospects? Will we witness you in another hilarious role like ‘High Jack’?
My year 2018 is packed with Disney’s Aladdin. I have my sports shows coming up. As an anchor, I will be hosting the Kabaddi league very soon. I have my web series which I am shooting for in August which is not a comic caper, it is a very stylised character that I am playing. Maybe because people relate me more with comedy than anything else is the reason why a lot of comedy shows or comic characters come towards me. I don’t mind playing them, but I’d like to have as much as variety in my performance as I can.
In your opinion, are theatre and stage shows getting as much importance as films in the country?
The film and television industries are babies. Theatre will always be the father of entertainment. Theatre has been around for much longer than people could even imagine how a camera could be. You remember that song which says – video killed the radio star? People say that video, television or films killed theatre but that can never be the case. Theatre has always survived.
Theatre has always given films and television life. It is not the other way around. I am glad the way theatre is being appreciated in India right now, especially with these grand musicals like Beauty and the Beast and Disney’s Aladdin – they have done so wonderfully well in the last couple of years! I think with every medium getting modernised, it’s the same with theatre, is going to be moving on much further at a much faster rate. I completely believe that Indian theatre is in safe hands with a lot of these wonderful directors doing some tremendously amazing work. So, I am looking forward to doing more theatre because live stage is what attracts me more than anything else.
What is more tough? Acting in films, radio jockeying or hosting a live show?
I think a live show will always have more risks than anything else. In films and television, you can always go for another take, and theatre is rehearsed. Live shows are where the magic happens because everything in impromptu. There is a lot of scope of interaction when it comes to live shows. So, if you ask me what is the toughest, or where am I more alert more than anywhere else, it is live shows because that’s where the magic remains and theatre belongs in that zone for sure.
You must have your own fair share of ups and downs, what motivates you to keep going?
I push myself every day because I never let my guard down. While there are people that I replaced and moved ahead of, there will always be other people who will move ahead and take my place. You always have to be giving your best shot and perform at your best.
I motivate myself every day and it is not just a statement. I am my own competition and I like to believe that I should do better than what I did yesterday. If yesterday was the best, can I do better than the best. I always push myself because I am my biggest critique. I am also my own judge and that’s why I decide if I did well or not. There have been times when I have been told by my audience and my directors that I have done tremendously well, but I thought otherwise. Sometimes it’s the other way around – when people say that I was not very good on stage. But if I think I did well, their criticism does not matter that much to me. I am my own critique.