There were lots of times when I doubted myself – Tahir Raj Bhasin
He isn’t your typical pot bellied, paan chewing, making-you-squirm-by-his-looks villain. Instead what you have in Mardaani is a good looking, almost chocolate boyish Tahir Raj Bhasin essaying the role of Walt – a college dropout who masterminds kidnapping young girls and running a sex trade racket for the mighty and powerful. However in real life, Delhi lad Bhasin is as charming as they get. Here is his story:
How did acting happen to you?
I have been fascinated with acting since I was 13. But since I come from a middle class background no one would take me seriously if I said that I want to grow up to be an actor. It’s just not a viable, logical career choice you can convince your parents about when you are teenager. I studied at Hindu college but thankfully didn’t drop out in the second year like my character in the film. During college, I also worked in plays and with Aamir Raza Hussain. I studied acting at Barry John’s acting school where we were a batch of 7-8 people unlike the large classes in Mumbai. And Barry sir taught us himself.
After college my family wanted me to experience working in a full time job and manage my money on my own. So I hosted a talk show called ‘U Special’ for NDTV where we went to colleges. That experience put my acting school and theatre experience in front of the camera for the first time and made me comfortable facing the camera. I got a scholarship because of the work I did in television and did a Masters in Screenwriting and film criticism from Melbourne, Australia.
Did you continue theatre when you came to Mumbai? What were the first few years like before you got acting assignments?
I moved to Mumbai four years ago. I had to give up theatre as chasing films is a full time job. When you are on the outside, you think that one day you will come to Mumbai and sign your first film in two months, become a lead hero in four months. But life here isn’t a cake walk. It’s a funny thing that the first ad audition I went to I stood in line for four hours. When I reached the end of the line they looked at me and said no, you don’t fit the bill. They had rejected me on the basis of my looks. I don’t know if I was too young or too short but I remember that feeling of standing in a queue that long and being rejected. It was disheartening enough to get me to leave Mumbai. If I couldn’t even get an ad how would I get films, I wondered.
But it’s continuously standing in those queues that gives one the strength to give your big audition when you get the chance. I had met Shanoo Sharma two years ago at Niharika Bhasin’s house and she had auditioned me for a couple of roles. I always made it to the final few or the shortlist but didn’t get the role. For you to be cast in a YRF film, the producer, writer, director and the casting director – at least three of them have to okay you. That’s a large panel. Your look has to be right, you have to fit the character and they all have to say yes. That only happened in December last year.
Having studied films and film criticism did it help you prepare for your role better? How?
It helps a whole lot. It helped me to have a dialogue with the scriptwriter and director of the film at their level. Gopi (Puthran) and Pradeep da (Sarkar) did not patronise me just because I was doing my first film. They were very encouraging. I think for an actor to go on set and for them to respect and ask for your opinion feels very empowering. Also when you read the script you can make out the scenes that will make the character strong, what the audience will associate with the most. You can visualise the film, the points that should be accentuated and you understand the plot points of the film as well. Education in film helps a whole lot in being a good and informed actor.
Considering you worked on ads, did you ever get a chance to work with director Pradeep Sarkar prior to this? What was his and writer Gopi Putharan’s brief to you for your role?
I have worked with people who have been mentored by Pradeep da and heard loads of stories about him from them but my first experience working with him was on the sets of Mardaani.
Gopi and Pradeep da were very clear they didn’t want to cast someone who looked like a ‘villian’. When you see my character, the first thought in a girl’s mind would be that he could be my boy friend/friend and that he is so relatable makes it scarier that he could be living in our college/society. That was a very conscious decision to cast someone like me.
I had to understand the psychology of someone who has the guts to take ‘panga’ (pick up a fight) with someone who is much more senior in experience. Even in real life Rani is so much more senior. I had to build the confidence within my character so that the audience doesn’t look and say this guy is too weak to intimidate this woman. I went to Kamatipura – a red light area and observed people. Because of the life he has seen and been through, a 12 year old in that area has the same attitude and look in the eye that an 18 year old in South Mumbai may not have. It was a conscious decision not to reveal anything about Walt’s back story but force the audience to think why he is like this?
Have you ever met any good looking guys with an evil disposition?
I come from Delhi which is full of good looking boys with a dodgy side to them. But I haven’t met anyone who was dark to this extent. I drew a lot of inspiration from American television pop culture that’s famous these days like House of Cards, True Detective and Breaking Bad.
There was a four year gap between you coming to the city and getting your first big break. Did you ever doubt that you will get reasonably good roles or your ability? What kept you going?
There were lots of times when I doubted myself. You can find a way to make money in Mumbai in this line of work if you want. You could work in casting. When I needed money I did acting work in ads, web videos, voice over’s that kept me going. It was a conscious decision not to assist because those six months would be blocked and one couldn’t go to give auditions. The hardest part was when after a year family or close friends would ask, it’s been a year what are you up to, so you had to put up a fake smile and say lots is happening will tell you soon. Also not knowing where you are going can be troublesome at times.
– Priyanka Jain