His intense portrayal of a prisoner of war in the TV show P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke won him praise from several quarters. He also reprised his popular role as KD the drummer in Rock On 2. And in between all of this, actor Purab Kohli has also been part of an American sci-fi series called Sense8 for Netflix. In an industry where it is easy for an actor to get typecast, Purab has consciously and patiently chosen characters that are completely different from each other. With his recent release Noor, the actor dons a new charismatic avatar of a famous war photojournalist.

What does he look for in a role? How did he prep to play a photojournalist? Why should people watch Noor? We get chatting with the dynamic actor to know all this and a lot more.

Purab Kohli

Purab Kohli

Tell us about your character in Noor.

My character’s name is Ayan Banerjee and he’s a war photojournalist by profession. His backstory boasts of this iconic photographer that he took during the toppling over of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. But that’s essentially his backstory and there is just a mention of it in the film to establish why he is so famous.

Ayan is passing through Mumbai when he stumbles into Noor Roy Chaudhary, Sonakshi’s character. And they fall in love with each other. The film is about Noor and I think what attracts Noor to Ayan is his lifestyle; it’s probably the lifestyle she aspires to have. Noor is a journalist who feels that she is doing not so important things. Her journey of becoming an experienced journalist is what the film is about. And Ayan coming into her life gives her life an important turn. Ayan is a very attractive character; in fact, one of the most attractive characters I’ve played.

How similar is the character of Ayan to your real self? Was there something that you could relate to?

One of the things that Ayan and me have in common is that both of us enjoying taking photographs. We like looking at life through a lens. As much as it would excite me to be in the front line of war, I think it would also be very frightening for me as an individual to take it up as a profession, whereas Ayan is a lot more fearless. He has gone and done that. Some of the ideas that Ayan and I have as people are quite different. He is a cynic who looks at life quite differently whereas I am a positive person.

Ayan is a very attractive character; in fact, one of the most attractive characters I’ve played

While saying yes to a role, is it important for you to draw similarities between the character and yourself?

I enjoy doing things that are completely unlike me. In fact, I consciously look for roles that are different. In our industry it is extremely easy to get typecast. For instance, after doing a big, successful film like Rock On, every second film wants you to play a similar part; they want you to play KD with a different way. And you need to keep saying no. Then suddenly out of nowhere, an Ibrahim from Airlift comes your way. And once you do that (role), people suddenly start looking at you differently.

I try very hard, I’m not an actor who is in a position to command the industry where I ask for a role and it comes on my plate. So I have to wait, assess what is coming and then pick from there. More than often, the character is already written before hand, it’s not written for you. Very few filmmakers in the industry will tell you that they want to cast you in a role and if you agree to it, they tweak the character for you. In fact, that’s what Sunhil (Sippy, Director) did. When we met for the first time, he just made me read the scene. When we met the second time round, he had tweaked the character a little bit, just to suit me. I think it is great to have a director and a filmmaking team that is so driven to make a film correctly, make it passionately like Sunhil and Abundantia as a production house have.

So yes, choosing a different role is something I strive to do, but also the kind of people that you’re working with is something that I give thought to.

Purab Kohli

Purab plays a war photojournalist in Noor

Considering that Sunhil has put in so much thought in your character, how did he help you prep for the role?

Sunhil himself is a great photographer. He’s definitely fascinated by photojournalists. One of his heroes is Sudharak Olwe who is an excellent photojournalist and has done some fabulous work in Mumbai. I looked at a lot of Sudharak’s work in preparation for Ayan, besides other photographers who have taken photos in Iraq. Photojournalism is an interesting profession because they are saying so much with just an image, or a bunch if images put together, it’s like an art piece.

Sunhil has personally shot Mumbai very distinctly. In the film, Ayan has an exhibition and all the photographs that you see are actually Sunhil’s photos. And they are fantastic photos of Mumbai.

But most of this is the backstory. We spoke intensely about the relationship between the two characters, how Ayan feels around Noor and vise versa. That’s what we mainly rehearsed and discussed.

I’m not an actor who is in a position to command the industry where I ask for a role and it comes on my plate

After an intense role in the TV show P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke, was Noor a refreshing change?

I did P.O.W. for nine months, then shot bits of Rock On 2 in between, then shot Noor and also shot some bits of Sense8 (Netflix series) in between. It was a joy to step away from Sartaj (His character in P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke) and play these other characters because Sartaj was such an intense and heavy character. He had so many complex things going on within him. The character is suffering from a lot, the guilt, the torture, the physical pain that he’s going through, and then there’s so much mental pain. He cannot even speak about it because it makes him so uncomfortable. Having said that, it was very liberating to play Sartaj because when you come back home at the end of the day, you feel emotionally so light, because you’ve given so many emotions through the day.

Then you come on the sets of a film like Noor, play this character who is charismatic and sexy; it feels good.

Purab Kohli

With Sonakshi Sinha in a still from Noor

With female–centric stories and women heroes becoming common, how do you as a hero welcome this change?

I am not really doing any ‘hero’ films to start with. Every actor at some level wants to do a hero film, which is centred on his character. But at the same time, you have to be smart and sensible and choose well. Sometimes a project is great, or it’s a character that is great. All over the world, there are actors who do small parts, because they really like the story or want to work with an interesting director or interesting actor. I’m lucky to have Noor, it’s a great project to be a part of, a director who is a wonderful person to work with and a lovely co-actor, who is not only famous but a good actor and thorough professional to work with. And the part is so lovely that you want to play it, so I’m lucky to be part of a project like this.

It was a joy to step away from Sartaj and play these other characters

What message you’d like to give the audience about Noor?

What do you say about a film like Noor! It is is a wonderful film and I hope that people don’t miss it, it’s an intelligent, fun film, sensible and engaging, something that people will take home a lot from.