Cast Chat: Pankaj Tripathi, Ragini Khanna and Akshay Oberoi on Gurgaon
Thrillers as a genre are intriguing, but Director Shanker Raman has taken that interest a notch higher with Gurgaon, a noir thriller around a dysfunctional family. A father attached to his daughter, a dutiful daughter and a neglected son, the film is set to take you on a journey where the morality of these characters will be put to test.
Pankaj Tripathi plays Kehri Singh, a real estate baron, whose daughter Preet is the apple of his eye. Ragini Khanna is Preet, the adopted daughter, who is despised by her brother Nikki because she is favored by their father. Nikki played by Akshay Oberoi is the resentful brother desperate to prove himself to his father.
Pandolin caught up with the three actors to know more about their characters and while each role has its distinct traits, they all agree that this film has taken them to depths of their mind that they never knew existed. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
Kehri Singh appears to have multiple layers, how was it becoming this character?
This was a tough role to play. Kehri Singh is the head of the family and he is a layered character. As an actor, I got to experiment so much with this character. It allowed me to convey emotions without performing too many actions. With this character, there is a lot that you can see on screen, but there is a lot that is hidden as well. And as an actor, you must ensure that the audience gets to view those hidden layers of the character. In that sense, it was a difficult role.
There are tools that an actor uses, like adding punch lines or getting extra intense etc., but I have not used any of these. I have tried playing the character without bringing in these elements. That was difficult, but at the same time, I had to make it look effortless.
From the trailers, it appears that Kehri Singh is extremely attached to his daughter, how would you describe the dynamics between the two?
He is very attached to the daughter even though the place, which the story is set in, follows patriarchy. He loves his daughter more. One of the main reasons for this is that after the daughter came into his life, Kehri achieved success in business, therefore, he has also named his company after his daughter.
Playing Kehri Singh allowed me to convey emotions without performing too many actions
You’ve been very open to experimenting with characters, both positive and negative, what is it that draws you towards such varied roles?
Till now, I’d do films that would come my way. But now that I have gained recognition, I can choose films. For me, the story needs to be good, but at the same time you cannot get a lot of things in commercial cinema, however the reach is great, and so it is necessary to be a part of those films as well.
I want to balance things out; if there are two meaningful films, one is commercial with big stars and a big budget, then I’ll do that as well. It helps your name get recognized, people start knowing you. I like all kinds of cinema, so there is a balance that I’m trying to maintain.
Your debut film is a far cry away from the bubbly roles that you’ve been part of on TV. Was it this uniqueness that made you want to be part of the film?
That was the exact reason! Mukesh Chhabra (Casting Director) sent me the script and when I read it, I was consumed by the world that this film had to offer me. I happily tested and came on board ecstatically because I acknowledged the fact that the Casting Director and the Director chose to see me as an actor and not just a bubbly girl.
I wanted to break the perception of Suhana (Her character in the TV show Sasural Genda Phool). You create something and then you want to destroy it by creating something new, so it is not destruction, it is just evolving and that is exactly what I was looking for. This was the film I wanted to do after Sasural Genda Phool.
How would you describe Preet and her relationship with her family?
The beauty of this character (Preet) is that she has everything but she doesn’t own it. She just feels responsible towards it. She is in a position of power and wants to use it correctly. She wants to bring about changes in the environment and create a positive impact on the society. And that is so contradictory to the dealings that are happening in the family because it is inflicted with crimes.
Her journey is about being the change and not being rebellious about it. She never communicates what she feels. You will never see Preet expressing what is she feeling except for one moment when she talks to her best friend, and even that is so subtle. She is the most non-communicating person who is dealing with a lot and still stands up for what is right.
You create something and then you want to destroy it by creating something new, so it is not destruction, it is just evolving and that is exactly what I was looking for
How difficult is to play such an intense character? How do you think will the audience react to you in a role like Preet’s?
Imagination plays a strong part in every creative person’s life because you thrive on your imagination. As Indian children, we are raised on high moral grounds, in terms of our thought process, and it is not easy to accept this kind of dysfunctionality. We are raised with a strong sense of right and wrong and we judge ourselves more than anyone else.
It is moral conditioning that you are fighting as an actor and creative person when you are playing a critical role in a film like Gurgaon. It is the joy of discovering. We are our first audience, if it surprises us, it is going to have a similar effect on the viewers.
It is said that you didn’t even have to audition for your role as Nikki. How did Gurgaon happen to you?
Yes, I did not audition for the film. At that time, I was shooting for Fitoor where Mukesh Chhabra was the Casting Director and Ajay Rai (Producer, Gurgaon) was one of its producers. I really wanted to work with Ajay because he was making some interesting films and I wanted to work in that zone. We were sitting in Abhishek Kapoor’s room and Ajay told me that Mukesh wanted to talk to me about something.
When I met him, he told me that Ajay was producing a film and they wanted me to read the script. I took the script and I had one night to get back with an answer. I read the script and called Mukesh in the morning. What I asked him was, if they were sure that they wanted me to play this part. I even asked if they wanted me to do a screen test and he said no. The only thing he told me was to go meet the director. I flew back and met Shanker Raman and within a couple of minutes, we bonded and I was on board the movie.
Later, I found out that Ragini (Khanna) had also suggested my name. Another funny thing that happened during the shoot of Fitoor was when Aditi Rao Hydari and I were driving back to the airport. She told me that there was a film called Gurgaon being directed by Shanker Raman and she thought that I should audition for it. At that time, I had the script of Gurgaon in my bag, therefore, I think the movie was meant to happen.
Playing Nikki has made me less fearful
Your character is someone who despises his adopted sister, how difficult was it to understand the psychology of such a character?
It is difficult, but it is somehow thrilling to explore the dark side of the human mind. We are raised to be good, we are so used to talking nicely that if I would even cuss at somebody, my mother would shout at me. There is a great acting teacher, Sanford Meisner who talks about a concept called ‘fuck polite’. What he is trying to tell you is that as humans, we are conditioned, and if you are going to play parts that are beyond that condition, as an actor, you need to follow your instincts and go beyond your conditions. It was liberating and thrilling to play this character. It is great to be in a space where you don’t care what anyone thinks about you and I have taken that from the character.
As Nikki, you had to get the Haryanvi dialect right, how challenging was that for a Bombay boy? You also learned boxing, how was the overall learning experience?
Boxing was more about the character’s attitude, it shows that he never gives up and he is a fighter. But yes, I had to really work on the accent. I am born and raised in Bombay and America, so I have spent a lot of time abroad. Fortunately, I had done a film called Laal Rang, so I was a bit familiar with the Haryanvi accent, still I had to really work on it. There is a diction coach called Prakash Bhardwaj (who does a lot of work with Aamir Khan). For two months, I sat with him and worked on the script and language.
It is great to be in a space where you don’t care what anyone thinks about you and I have taken that from the character
Do you feel that this role and film will show audiences and the industry a new side of yours, a different image?
Somewhere, Nikki has become a part of me, I am not a murderous crazy person, but there is a certain attitude with which Nikki presents himself. While doing this film, I discovered a part about me, which I didn’t know I had. That attitude like I could possibly scare someone. But once I played Nikki, I connected with that side of mine. Playing Nikki has made me less fearful.