Arjun Bijlani experimenting with OTT

Arjun Bijlani carved a niche for himself as a leading man on Indian television in the 2000s, playing youthful characters in shows like Kartika, Remix, Left Right Left, and Miley Jab Hum Tum.

In Image: Arjun Bijlani

His latest outing is an MX Player serial Roohaniyat, wherein he plays a 35-year-old man Saveer with a dark past. When he meets the 19-year-old Prisha, the dark past starts to reveal itself. The series also stars Kanika Mann, Smita Bansal, Geetika Mehandru, Yuvika Choudhry, Palak Purswani and Aman Verma in pivotal roles. 

In this interview, Arjun Bijlani talks about his association with Roohaniyat, the chemistry that he shares with Kanika Mann in the serial, his acting journey, the importance of fitness, and the rise of OTT platforms.  

Excerpts

Tell us about Roohaniyat. How did you get associated with the project?

When I first heard the brief, the first reaction was that this is not something that I have done before. For me, the initial hook was the character of Saveer which has so many layers. So, I liked the challenge. Also, since I had already worked with directors Ankush (Mohla) and Glen (Barretto) in the past, there was a lot of faith, and so, when they told me that they could visualize me in the complex role of Saveer, it also gave me the confidence which actually made things much easier for me. The first season is just like the tip of the iceberg. There is so much about Saveer which will be revealed slowly as we move towards the next few seasons.  

How do you look at your chemistry with Kanika Mann in the series, especially given the age difference between your characters?

My character Saveer is about 35 years old. He has gone through a lot in his life which has made him very realistic and practical. Kanika’s character Prisha is 19. So, she is much younger and her outlook on life is totally different. Despite all of that, I think there is great chemistry between our characters. The key is to create a certain level of comfort with your co-actor when on the sets or otherwise also. When there is comfort, there is chemistry. Of course, even without it, you can have some amazing performances but it’s really an important part of my process to build a certain level of comfort upfront.

MX Player is the first digital platform to bring original long format serials to OTT with Roohaniyat. What are your thoughts on this?

I think the medium is now opening up and we have some interesting ideas being explored by the creators. If you look at Roohaniyat, this is a bound story. We have a total of 52 episodes split across 4 seasons with 13 episodes each. So, the story arcs and characters will gradually build over the course of 4 seasons which will be released in a timely manner so you wouldn’t have to wait for too long. 

Your character in Roohaniyat seems to be fitness conscious. How do you look at the importance of fitness in life?

Fitness is really a journey and it’s not something you do once in a while. You have to take care of yourself each and every day. It takes a constant effort, and if you think that you can do it without following a regular routine, then it’s definitely not going to work. Over the years, I have consciously worked towards it. Sometimes, I do miss out on my routine in case I am not feeling well or there is some injury, but it’s important to get back to it as soon as you can. You have to stick to your routine and diet and there are no shortcuts here. 

How do you look at your journey starting with Kartika, Remix, and Left Right Left to Nagin and onwards all the way to Roohaniyat?

I think I am lucky and fortunate that I am still relevant after all these years. People support me and love me even now. I feel that the result matters a lot and so it’s important that people like your work. If you do something and it doesn’t work, then you may get a few more chances, but eventually, people will write you off. That’s why as an actor, it is very challenging to maintain that kind of work. I won’t even call it a success. It’s more about maintaining a certain level of consistency. You have to learn to deal with your insecurities and fears. So, at the end of the day, it’s about being honest, and I think that’s why I have kept on getting work to date. I think change is the only constant. So it’s also important to understand the market. What the audiences want. What they like. You gotta have that knack. For example, Ekta (Kapoor) ma’am understands the pulse of the audience so well. 

How do you look at the rise of OTT platforms? Also, as an actor, how do you look at the different mediums i.e. television, web, and cinema?

I think OTT platforms are great. We have such a diverse country and so there is so much scope for telling different stories. There are so many stories which we could never tell earlier, and so, it’s a great time not just for the actors, but for all those who have a knack for telling stories. And the thing with OTT is that we don’t just reach out to the audiences in India, but also abroad.

As an actor, my basic process is the same. I try and approach a character with utmost sincerity. Regardless of the medium, you have to do justice to the character you are playing. I think as an actor it’s important to convey the right feelings and emotions. The audience must be able to connect with the character based on the kind of emotions an actor is trying to convey. If I am crying and they are laughing, then there is a disconnect with the audience. I think that’s what an actor needs to do at all times: create that connect. You have to trust your director and have faith in the vision he/she is trying to put out.

Tell us about your upcoming projects. Do you have any movies lined up?

Right now, I am totally occupied with Roohaniyat, India’s Got Talent and Smart Jodi. Also, there are a few other things in the pipeline but I will only be able to talk about them once they get finalized. 

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Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic