After the success of Season One of the Indian adaptation of The Office, its makers are now out with the much-awaited second season, comprising 15 new episodes, on Hotstar. Actor Mukul Chadda, who plays the lead role of Jagdeep Chaddha in the show, spoke to Guardian 20 about adapting an English comedy for a Hindi-speaking audience, and the pressure of living up to the high standards set by the British and American versions of the sitcom.
Q. Do you think there is a great element of risk involved when one works on adaptations? If yes, how serious are the risks and how high are the stakes?
A. One of the risks involved with an adaption, as we have learned, is that of comparison, especially if the original has been widely loved. So one has to tread a careful line, of being true to the soul and tone of the original, as well as to root it in the local context and language, so as to give the show its own distinct flavour. Of course, these contradictory forces can pull you in all directions. But at the end of the day, if you make a compelling show that people want to watch, a lot of these tedious comparisons will be forgotten.
Q. How has the audiences’ reaction to the show been so far, and are you happy with it?
A. The audiences’ reaction to Season Two has been overwhelming. The show has been loved by everyone who’s seen it—both by those who have seen and loved the original, and those watching our version without having seen the other ones. This is especially heart-warming, given the negativity around the show before Season One began streaming. The tide definitely turned after people began watching the first season, and it’s moved even more decisively now. People don’t just like the show, they seem to have fallen in love with the characters from The Office.
Q. How was your experience of working on the show?
A. Oh, it’s been wonderful. The opportunity to play a beautifully flawed character like Jagdeep Chaddha is a gift, and I have really relished every moment of it. There was something very liberating about playing Jagdeep, without the trappings of the filters we impose upon ourselves.
And then the whole cast and crew enjoyed such incredible chemistry that it was quite a magical atmosphere on the sets.
Q. To what extend do you relate to this Jagdeep Chaddha character?
A. This was the tricky part. Jagdeep is so different from me, and that’s the joy and challenge of playing him. But at the same time, one has to find parts of oneself that can relate to what the character is going through, to make him believable and real. Every crazy set of events and dialogues in each new episode presented its own challenge, and I had to keep finding ways to make those ridiculous lines seem real. I hope I’ve managed to do that.
Q. How did you prepare for the role? Did you watch the American version of The Office to take cues?
A. I hadn’t watched any version of The Office earlier. When I was first called to audition for the part, I began watching the American version to get an idea about the character and the show. But once I got the part, I stopped watching it completely. I had seen enough, and I didn’t want to be influenced by how anyone else had approached a particular moment.
Moreover, there was also a lot of other work needed to create the localised character of Jagdeep Chaddha. He’s a successful salesman and a proud branch manager in Faridabad, and I needed to bring in the flavour of that milieu into the character. Then there were peculiar eccentricities to think about—his manner of talking, walking, mannerisms, etc. There was a lot of material in the scripts that helped me come up with these. And fortunately, our lovely writers had already written scripts for 12 episodes when I signed onto the project, and there was so much to work with right there.
Q. You have completed your management degree from the most prestigious college in India, IIM Ahmedabad. Then how did acting happen for you?
A. I’m not really sure how it did, actually. Yes, I had a conventional start to my working life, i.e. MBA, and then a banking job. I had always been interested in theatre—had acted through school, college, business school, and even while working in banking. We started a theatre group for working professionals in New York, and I acted in its maiden production. I even took part-time acting classes while in New York. However, I had never considered it as a career.
I wasn’t really happy with my job, and I also wanted to move back to India. But I didn’t really have any clear idea of what I wanted to do next. That sort of delayed my decision, but I soon realised that if I waited for a well-laid path before stepping off the road, I never would. I just had to step off and discover what came next.
So I quit my job, moved back to India, and decided to take a sabbatical for a year or two—where I planned to act in theatre, and write until I figured out the next step.
The writing never really took off but I was having so much fun acting that I didn’t want to stop. And then I got a lot of work in television commercials, which paid the bills, and allowed me to keep extending my “sabbatical”.
Eventually the sabbatical segued into a career, though I have to say, I took a while to even admit to myself that I had become a fulltime actor.
Q. You have worked in several theatrical productions. What has been your biggest takeaway as an actor from the medium?
A. Theatre is like Test cricket in some ways. Flaws are harder to hide, so the good part is you often discover your shortcomings quickly. Plus a live audience makes you well aware of how well or badly you’re performing, in real time. There’s a huge kick in that, while it can also be an extremely humbling experience.
Q. In what way has the availability of multiple mediums like theatre, film, TV and web affected the people associated with the entertainment industry?
A. More mediums equal more opportunities! Of late, we’ve seen a surge in one medium—the web—and that has been amazing for everyone working in the industry. There’s more work, different kinds of stories are being told, and so many things being experimented with. I think that it is wonderful.
Q. You have spent quite a lot of time in the industry. Do you think you have got your due as an actor?
A. I think every actor thinks their best is yet to come. So do I, and that’s all I’m focused on.
Q. What would you like to do next?
A. I want to do lots of acting of different kinds and in multiple genres. I want to play very different kinds of characters. And I hope to get back to my long unfulfilled desire of writing.