“My character in Pagglait is sensitive and vulnerable”

Actor Chetan Sharma talks about what goes behind the depiction of complex characters

During his short span in the film industry, Delhi boy Chetan Sharma has managed to emerge as a promising actor capable of essaying intense characters with great ease — be it as a passionate young cricketer Saad, who gets subjected to mob lynching in the second season of Sacred Games or as Binnu, a self-loathing being who’s driven by toxic masculinity in Kanu Bahl’s short film Binnu Ka Sapna. But, in the newly released Netflix film Pagglait, directed by Umesh Bist, he has portrayed a very different character that’s far from the darker characters that he has been essaying in the past.

In this interview, Chetan talks about his character in Pagglait and the preparations for the part, his comfort at playing darker characters, and his influences and upcoming projects, among other things.

Excerpts:

Tell us about your character in Pagglait. How did you prepare for your part?

I am playing Alok Giri in Pagglait, who is the younger brother of the deceased. The character is really sensitive and at times vulnerable.  For the part, I had to get my head shaved in one scene for real and had to pick up insecurities and mannerisms that Alok would have had. Alok is someone whose likes and dislikes are evident on his face which means he can’t fake how he feels but knowing that, he tries hard to portray a tough outer shell so as to not appear vulnerable and harmless.  We all have such people around us and we too act that way many times. As part of my preparation, I wrote a back-story for the character within the perimeters shown by the director. The key was to try and justify Alok’s actions from his point of view while incorporating situations where the insecurities caught hold of him or someone else.

Your character Alok in Pagglait shares interesting dynamics with Sanya Malhotra’s character Sandhya in the film. What kind of discussions did you have off camera that allowed you to develop your chemistry?

Sanya is an amazing actor to work with because she is so much at ease being herself on set, laughing off any stupidity she sees around her. Sanya provided me with a lot of space and I can only be grateful. The scenes were not about dialogues but understanding for us. We had enough time in between scenes where we talked about artists and singers we liked and also listened to songs. Her sense of humor is better than mine and she would mentor me about jokes which apparently worked well for our film. Also I read out some of my poems to her. She laughed at some of them and praised others. This process helped us understand and respect each other better as individuals and this exchange of sentiments and trust seemed to work for us on screen.

What was the brief given to you by the director / creative team? Did you have any references for your part?

Briefs are always simpler in early stages of casting for the role. Initially it was just an underachiever boy whose brother’s accomplishments add to his agony but he really admires and adores his sister-in-law for her simplicity and understanding.  But gradually Umesh sir kept on adding more details to the character. Every scene required some emotional reference for the sake of freshness but there’s one I would like to mention. There are some strong inclinations in our lives that shouldn’t exist. I had to believe one such to be happening right there. If we are observant enough, almost all references are around us; after that it boils down to delivering what you have got.

Sharma at the sets of Pagglait

You have been doing some interesting work across formats whether one speaks of Sacred Games, Kanu Bahl’s short film Binnu Ka Sapna, or films such as Lanka, Ankhon Dekhi, Parched, among others. How do you see the different formats?

My dad is my earliest mentor and it was his desire that I become an actor. He always insisted on learning and delivering as much as I can. I guess for an actor it is more about listening to the director or creators of the project. With ever changing market dynamics many projects had to switch their format. Thus you can never be sure how the project will be placed in future. Every director has a different vision and theme for his/her project, a certain way or pace of performance is required keeping in mind the format and structure or sometimes nothing specific is required but realism. But that shouldn’t be my concern. I have to absorb the theme and rhythm, no matter how absurd it is to me. I will have to find my own truth there and be meaningful to business and craft alike.

In a short career you have played a few characters that required you to channelize your inner darkness. How did you reach out to those darker spaces within you? Tell us about your acting method.

I once heard someone say, “Happiness is overrated, it is sadness where you transform,” and in a way I agree with that. For Binnu Ka Sapna, I had to develop some situations for humiliation and anger for myself and stay with that for a certain duration, away from the warmth of my family and friends. Every time I blocked what otherwise would heal me, I reinforced the self-pity, self-loathing, and paranoia. But it is a really long and tiring process which is really not required in many projects and not every project can afford such privileges.

How have you been affected by the ongoing pandemic? What kept you busy during the lockdown?

Pandemic was equally melancholic for me. Though life as an actor calls for tremendous patience and we are used to weeks of no work either by choice or by chance. But with so much going around in the world, it numbed me for a while for sure. Books, songs, films and poetry came to my rescue and they always offer a whole new vibrant world. I believe if you are an artist then the internet and digitization has made it far easier for you. It gave us more liberty with accessibility, working on craft in a secured space of your home and thus you can avoid the risk of leaving your city. One just can’t fool oneself and ignore the fact that these are uncertain times.

Tell us about your inspirations and influences. Also tell us about your upcoming projects.

Though there are innumerable masters of acting in India and abroad who leave me dumbstruck with their magic, I am deeply inspired by Daniel Day Lewis, Om Puri, Irrfan Khan and Heath Ledger.

My upcoming films include Meenakshi Sundereshwar (a Netflix original film), Chidi Balla and a couple of other projects that I can’t mention right now. All I can tell you is that one is a short film and the other is a feature film.

(Cover image: Actor Chetan Sharma)

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