Saqib Saleem began his Bollywood career in 2011 with his romcom Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge and now he is entering into the digital space with his web series Rangbaaz. In this show, the 30-year-old actor is playing the lead role, of a real-life gangster. He speaks to Guardian 20 about Rangbaaz and about the criticism he faced for his role in Race 3.
Q. Tell us about your character in the web series Rangbaaz.
A. I play the role of Shiv Prakash Shukla who was one of the biggest gangsters in the late ’90s. The series primarily depicts his love story. It doesn’t humanise his deeds of the underworld but shows him just like any other regular person. The series also shows his relations with his father and sister and brings to light the circumstances in which he committed his first murder. The character is quite unique and honestly, for a long time, I’d been searching for such an opportunity. I was really nervous about portraying such a role. I wanted to break the stereotype as people have seen me in a particular way, and now I had to convince them with my new character of one of the most dreaded gangsters of the ’90s. I felt that I was doing easy roles till now, but for this role I had come out of my comfort zone and had to challenge myself to do justice to the part.
Q. Was it difficult to impersonate a real-life character? How did you prepare for this role?
A. I was provided with a lot of material by the makers of the series. I studied the character by watching his news clippings and by reading his biography. Once I got the hang of the character, I started preparing from the basic level. I first decided to work on his accent and started to learn the Gorakhpur dialect and further worked on the body language. As I have always been a city-dweller, when I first heard the name Gorakhpur I did not even know where it was in U.P. Luckily, I was blessed with a great team and all the actors brought their A-game to the series. Being the main character I had to outdo them and put my best into it. I even went to Lucknow 10 days prior to the shoot because there is a world of difference in learning the dialect in your Bandra house as opposed to when you are really at the place and communicating with the local crowd. Slowly and steadily all these small things kind of got together and made my character what Shiv Prakash really was.
Q. The audience has always seen you in a different light, mostly doing light-hearted roles. Were you apprehensive about how people are going to react to this role?
A. This is exactly what I wanted. I want people to see me differently. Being an actor, I should be able to convince the audience with every part I play and that’s what an actor’s job is. Honestly, if I keep on doing the same roles over and over again, it will become boring to me as well. I would like to push myself and overcome new challenges and I know that in the past I have done similar roles, like playing the same old cute college boy, an aimless youth. So there weren’t many layers to the role. I had to work upon the characters that were more or less the same. When I finally got this role it felt like it was a new challenge for me. But like I said, I had a great team to work with and was really excited for the role.
Q. This is your first show in the digital space. Do you think this medium is here to stay?
A. Definitely. This medium is here to stay. It is not going anywhere because it not only opens new doors for actors but also for the people behind the scenes, like directors, technicians and so on. Making a web show is far more difficult than making a movie, as a movie has one beginning, one middle and one end. But here, in one season, we have nine episodes that mean nine beginnings, nine middles and nine endings.
So, I think there is more one puts into a web series than into a movie. But both mediums have their own importance and it is not like one is going to eat through the business of the other because our country really wants to see good content and it doesn’t really matter through which medium they get it. The web has many advantages over the big screen. You get to work with young and talented minds that are rare. You get to work more on your skills and the web being an instant medium you get instant feedback for your work—either the audience appreciates your acting or it doesn’t. For me, it really connects me to my audience.
Q. Last year, you saw many ups and downs, professionally. How do you deal with disappointment and success?
A. I believe when it comes to disappointments that one should just keep the chin up and keep working hard. Because we as actors have put ourselves in public domain. Unlike any other profession, our work is reviewed by the whole nation. And it just takes one single day to understand how well we are doing. And I am okay with that because I really enjoy acting. If I am not thick-skinned, I can’t be an actor. I have done 7-8 films, and I have been appreciated for most of them except for Race 3. Even though some of my films previously did not turn out well, I was appreciated for my roles. This was the first time that I faced criticism. But I thought it was a great opportunity for me—being part of such a big film, with people whom I have looked up to all my life. I just feel disappointed thinking that I should have done better in that setting. I reached that superficial layer where I was just thinking about how I was looking and did not focus much on acting. It is great learning for me.
Q. What’s next in the pipeline?
A. I start a film in April which I can’t talk much about right now. Other than that, I just hope that after this series, I should get good stories to work on. I want to work with good directors and actors so that I can learn from all of them. Because honestly, I was not getting good roles in the past few years. I was doing that work because I like acting and I had to pay my bills.