Weeks after the success of Chhichhore, actor Tushar Pandey, who plays a geeky college student in the film, is hopeful about getting meaty roles in mainstream Hindi films. He spoke to Guardian 20 about his experience of shooting the film, working with the acclaimed director Nitesh Tiwari, and his love for theatre.
Q. Has your life—and acting career—changed after the success of Chhichhore? If so, how?
A. Yes, it has. When a film is appreciated all around, the impact is very evident and I can’t explain how happy I am with the love and responses coming my way. It’s always humbling and exciting when people spot you at airports or in cafes and talk about your film and your performance. This is what every actor hopes to achieve with their work, recognition and appreciation, both from the audience and critics and I’m glad that is happening for me with Chhichhore.
Also, I believe you need that one film that makes people notice you and hopefully, now things will improve from here on.
Q. Were you hopeful that your role in the film would get you the kind of attention you are getting now?
A. I was aware that Mummy [the nickname of his character in the film] had that potential as soon as I read the script. But I had no idea that he will be loved to this extent and will bring so much praise my way. It’s hard to explain the feeling when you receive messages and calls from actors and directors you’ve have grown up watching. It is surreal.
The journey of Mummy is a “coming of age” journey and that resonates with the audience if dealt with honesty. Throughout the prep, I made sure that I keep Mummy real, honest and grounded. The action of fiddling with my glasses and a constant high pitch in voice are few of the characteristics that came out of observations. Usually geeky, low-status characters are played like one would play stereotypes, and I worked hard to break that stereotype, and the responses and love from the audiences prove that I was successful at that.
Q. How was your experience of working on the film?
A. Honestly, it’ll be a benchmark for all of us. From the first time when we all met to read the script to today when we are chatting and cracking jokes on our WhatsApp group, the experience and friendship have just grown. Nitesh [Tiwari, director] Sir and Sajid [Nadiawala, producer] Sir created an unforgettable space for all of us.
Chhichhore’s set felt like revisiting our college days. From eating lunch and dinner together, and solving analytical questions—Nitesh Sir would ask us one question each day, and usually it would take us a day to get the answer—to birthday bumps, because my birthday was during the shoot, cricket matches and late-night drives, the seven months of the shoot were nothing less than a joy ride.
Q. What is that one lesson you got from Nitesh Tiwari which is going to stay with you for a long time?
A. One is too less. He is a master at work. He has a gift to make actors super comfortable and that boosts immense confidence in them, so that they shine and make the character come alive. Particularly in my case, Nitesh Sir gave me full liberty to shape Mummy the way I wanted it. We discussed and I created my trajectory from age 18-45, and in the process figured that Mummy should settle in the US. He lets actors create their world and supports them immensely.
Q. You have received professional training in acting from National School of Drama in Delhi and London School of Performing Arts. How do you think these institutes helped the actor in you?
A. Immensely. It is similar to an engineer at IIT or to a doctor in a medical school. You need those formative years to generate the understanding and knowledge needed to be a professional in your field. When you’re dealing with emotions and experiences for your performances, I guess these schools give you a secure place to explore, fail, enrich and learn. When you are working professionally in films, you are judged based on every role you do, and you must have the understanding to play it honestly and to the best of your ability. You don’t get many chances and so every role you do, you need to put in your best.
Q. You have also done a lot of theatre. How has that experience enriched you as an actor?
A. I am a theatre artist before I’m a film actor. I have spent most of my professional life acting and directing in theatre and I hope to keep that balance—of working in theatre and film—even though I’m working on films a lot more now.
Theatre really keeps you grounded. You do everything yourself when you’re working on a theatre project and that really adds a lot to an actor’s growth. Also, while facing a live audience you get a first-hand experience of how well your performance is received.
Q. How did your acting journey begin?
A. Honestly, it was never a very conscious choice. I used to participate in every activity in my school from as early as I can remember. Finishing my schooling from Montfort School, Delhi, I was certain that I did not want to be an engineer, even though I had engineering subjects in my 11th and 12th standards. And fortunately, my parents supported me.
I joined Kirori Mal College, Delhi and studied English. The Players, theatre society of KMC, gave me the first experience of the performance world. I believe my passion and vigour for the craft developed there and that led me to get through to the National School of Drama, where I got trained professionally as an actor. My desire to train further, led me to apply at the London International School of Performing Arts. I got selected there and was also awarded an international scholarship by the Inlaks Shivadani Foundation.
Q. A lot is being said about how this is a great time for character actors. Do you agree?
A. Well, I believe an actor is somebody who embodies different characters. What can be said now is that a new wave of mainstream films are focusing on and creating protagonists that were once not considered mainstream or were only seen as supporting cast.
Yes, it is a great time. The definition of what a protagonist should be like is changing and the audience is accepting and enjoying new content-driven performances and films. Ayushmann Khurana, Rajkumar Rao, Vicky Kaushal are the best examples of that, and I hope I will add my name to this list.
Q. What about trying your hand at OTT platforms?
A. I would love to if anything exciting comes my way. OTT is a great platform. It has a massive reach. The content and genre are varied and they are no longer limited with small budgets.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. Fortunately, post Chhichhoresome very interesting projects have come my way. I hope I’ll be able to confirm one very soon.