Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi was a turning point for Sanjay Mishra, whose talent was never doubted but who never quite got into the big league. But for Ankhon Dekhi, not only did Mishra win the Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Critics) for his part in the film, but he also managed to finally convince directors to trust him with bigger and more substantial roles.
Mishra has since gone on to essay major parts in films like Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa and Harish Vyas’ Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain. An alumnus of the National School of Drama, Mishra is next set to star in Dinesh S Yadav’s Turtle.
In this interview, Mishra talks about his journey and finding new ways of reinventing himself.
Q. You are playing the lead character in Turtle. What’s the film all about?
A. Just like Kadvi Hawa, Turtle is another relevant film about climate change. It talks about the water crisis. I play the role of a man who tries to bring water to his village. The odds stacked against him are enormous and so it is really a do-or-die situation. I really hope that a relevant film like this will get some support from the government. Sadly, Kadvi Hawa didn’t get the kind of support from the government we were hoping for.
We aren’t making films to make crores of rupees at the box-office. It is just some theatre owners who support us by making some screens exclusively available to us. Climate change has become more real than ever today and as artists, we are trying our best to spread awareness. The onus is now on the government to come forward and support us.
Q. How do you strike a balance between commercial and offbeat films?
A. Every time I get tired of essaying characters like the ones you have seen me play in films like Dhamaal and Golmaal, I start looking for something refreshing. The characters that I have played in films like Ankhon Dekhi, Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain, and Kadvi Hawa are actually characters that you will see around you. The real challenge is to keep on doing such roles without ever looking repetitive.
‘We aren’t making films to make crores of rupees at the box-office. It is just some theatre owners who support us by making some screens exclusively available to us. Climate change has become more real than ever today and as artists, we are trying our best to spread awareness. The onus is now on the government to come forward and support us.’
Q. You graduated from NSD in 1989 and have struggled for long…how do you look back at those years?
A. It wasn’t easy to find work; and getting good work was even more difficult. Gradually, I started appearing in a lot of television commercials. Then, during the late 90s, I got to do some interesting stuff on television.
I also got the chance to travel with the Indian national cricket team to England during the 1999 World Cup. I would appear as ‘Apple Singh’ in between the breaks and crack witty one-liners alongside the likes of Geoffrey Boycott. I got so emotional when India defeated Pakistan during the Super Six stage. It was a feeling I just can’t describe in words. Subsequently, I got associated with Office Office where I met some amazing actors like Pankaj Kapur. I believe the long rehearsals we did on the sets of the show helped me greatly in understanding the dynamics of acting.
Q. How did you then land up those early roles in films like Dil Se and Satya?
A. Mani Ratnam, who is among my favorite filmmakers, had called me about Dil Se. Incidentally, Ram Gopal Varma was also present there but I didn’t recognise him at first. Mani Ratnam was a bit surprised to learn that despite being a struggler, I didn’t know Varma. But, he was kind enough to introduce me to Varma and that’s how I landed up the role in Satya. Although, it was just two days of shoot, I received a lot of appreciation for it. Varma took me with him and showed me the edit. Even Shah Rukh Khan told me on the sets of Dil Se that Varma was quite impressed with my performance.
Q. You have been associated with theatre, television and also cinema. How are they different?
A. As far as theatre is concerned, it is certainly a great place to learn and I owe a lot to the medium. But the medium has its limitations for an actor like me who could only do Hindi theatre.
As far as television is concerned, I believe its potential hasn’t yet been fully explored in India. There is more to the medium than just primetime family entertainment. But it is certainly good in terms of money and so an actor can really hope to achieve some financial security while working on television.
Cinema is all about the camera and the lenses. An actor must always be aware of the shot’s magnification, whether it is a close-up or a long shot. The actor must adjust the intensity levels as per the nature of the shot. And so, as you become more experienced, you start understanding the nuances.
Q. There was a time when you were struggling to get small roles but today you are invited to play cameos. How do you see this turnaround?
A. The cameo in Newton happened because Manish Mundra is a good friend. I thought it was an interesting role and I really enjoyed doing it. When I did Satya, no one really knew me but today when I do a small role, the makers mention it as a cameo or a special appearance. But, technically speaking, not much has changed the way I approach a role, whether small or big. For me, it has always been about trying to get as close to the character as possible.
Q. Who were the people that inspired you the most? Also tell us about your upcoming projects.
A. Amitabh Bachchan was an obvious influence. I think he used to be everyone’s favourite in those days. After getting associated with NSD, I started looking up to Irrfan bhai a lot who was my senior by a couple of years. It was really amazing how he used to transform himself for every new role.
Other than Turtle, you will get to see me in movies like Kaamyaab, Hashtag Mahatma, and Ekkees Tareekh.