Mantra: A unique story that brings together an exceptional cast
When three diversely talented actors come together, you know it’s got to be something unique. Nicholas Kharkongor’s directorial debut Mantra is one such film that has several brilliant names coming together for the love of the story. We catch up with Rajat Kapoor, Shiv Pandit and Adil Hussain who will be seen in this independent venture on liberalization in India and quiz them on the film, their roles and more.
How did your association with Nicholas Kharkongor happen?
Well, to be honest I have known Nicholas for seven years. He worked on my film Fatso in 2008, and we have been friends since then. He has helped me with my scripts and I have had the privilege to read his scripts. So, even Mantra, I read some 4 or 5 years back, when he wrote the first draft of the film.
While selecting roles, do you look for factors that you can identify with the role?
I don’t need to identify with the role to be able to play it. That is not what I am looking at when I choose a role. I am looking for an interesting script, an interesting role and a director who has passion; talent is a bonus. But that is something one normally finds out only after you start shooting for the film, and realize whether a mistake has been made or not.
So what was it about Mantra that clicked with you?
First of all it was the script of Mantra. It is a fabulous script. You know, I read a lot of scripts – some come my way for acting work, others are sent by friends or acquaintances for a feedback. And I have no doubt in my mind that Mantra must be one of the top scripts I’ve read in the last five years. So, one does not say no to a film like that. And if you are being asked to play a very important role in this film – you just jump at the opportunity and grab it.
How would you define your style of approaching a role?
I read the script a few times and would like to spend time with the director of the film. And I do spend a lot of time with the costume and the look. I feel that if we get the look of the character right, then everything else falls into place as far as acting is concerned. The clothes you wear, decide everything else.
Since Kalki and you play father daughter in the film, did you’ll work on establishing a similar chemistry?
I have known Kalki for many years and we’ve done a play and another film together before Mantra. In fact we are working on another play right now.
She is fabulous in this film. I was very impressed by her work ethic and her sincerity. And you don’t have to behave like father daughter off screen to play father – daughter on screen.
With the canvas of Hindi cinema changing, what are the factors that will help films like Mantra strike a chord with the audiences? Do you see a rise in the potential of such films also making money?
I don’t know a thing about making money or what kind of films will make money; in fact nobody knows. People just have some data from the past – but as we have seen, the present is changing so fast, that the past pattern is no guarantee for what might happen tomorrow. It is true that audience tastes are changing but the process is too slow. I think all our films in the end would be labeled ‘before its time’. (Smiles)
What are your views on films like Mantra adopting the crowdfunding route? Do you think India as a market is open to the entire concept?
Well, people have raised money in this manner and if it has been done, it does mean that the market is open to this concept. Again, it takes time for an idea to gain acceptance. Everything moves slowly, but the good news is that it moves. So, there is always hope.
How did you land this film?
Nicholas and I have known each other for a few years now. He has directed me while I was doing theatre in Delhi. We share a great friendship and when he came to me with this brilliant script, it was natural and warranted that I was going to be a part of this film.
Tell us about your character in Mantra? Was there a specific brief that you received from Nicholas?
I play Viraj Kapoor, who is the eldest son of the Kapoor family and who represents the emerging aggression of Indian entrepreneurs today. He looks up to his father who has an orthodox approach to business, which is what causes clashes between the two. Nicholas, being the director that he is, was very clear about what he expected from Viraj and he briefed me accordingly. I built upon that brief to portray the character.
How was the experience of sharing screen space with veterans like Rajat Kapoor and Adil Hussain? Also how was it teaming up with Kalki again?
I do not share any screen space with Adil in this movie but have heard a lot about him and his work. I know he is an extremely genuine person at heart. As far as Rajat Kapoor is concerned, this is the first time I have worked with him and we shared screen space for a major part of the movie. He is extremely warm and cordial to work with. While shooting, Rajat would always make it a point to get everyone’s opinions about a scene and would try to accommodate and incorporate it in the scene. I think that’s one of his best qualities.
Kalki and I are collaborating together after many years. Since we had worked together earlier, it did not take us very long to reconnect. It is always easier to work with people you have worked with before.
You’ve been a part of very selected films since your debut. Are you looking out for specific roles?
Yes, that is true. I have been quite selective and choosy about the films I do. If you give so much time and put in so much effort into a movie, might as well do the right film. Although having said that, I am trying to experiment with different roles and making a conscious effort to do more films. I am currently working on three more films.
Commercial entertainers & critically acclaimed films, how do you desire to achieve a balance between the two?
Critically acclaimed movies will be more acclaimed if you have more popular actors. Some actors prefer acting in independent films or just commercial films. I want to find a balance between the two since I am still exploring myself as an actor. Like Boss was a completely commercial film but then I can do an independent film like Mantra. I have to keep my feet in both to maintain a balance.
One reason why you’d urge people to see Mantra?
Mantra is an earnest, intelligent effort from a filmmaker who is so passionate about his art. There are very few films that I have fallen in love with. Mantra is definitely one of them. Nicholas has really done a lot of research and has come up with a brilliant script. Mantra will be an interesting viewing with a good cast, intelligent content and excellent story. Do watch it!
What made you say yes to Mantra?
Nicholas and I go way back and I have known him for many years now. He is the kind of person who truly believes in his project. Mantra is a story about the downside of the Indian economy and very few people have spoken about this topic the way Nicholas has. It is an emotional, social story of New India and Nicholas has really cracked it with the script. That’s what made me want to do this film.
What sets Mantra apart from your previous films? What’s your character in the film like?
Nobody has ever talked about the impact of liberalization in India the way Mantra does. I play a very small role in the film due to my busy schedule. I play a man who migrates to Delhi from Jharkand and his character portrays unselfish acts of kindness, which is rare in today’s world. I could relate to the character in a lot of ways, since I felt like an outsider when I moved to Delhi as well and felt insecure about the future. But in order to prepare for this role, I drew inspirations from the experiences I have had in life.
You’ve worked with several debut directors. How is it different from working with established directors? What would say about your association with Nicholas?
Having worked with many directors and institutes, I feel that a first time Director has this innocence and this drive to tell their story. He will be a part of every process involved in making his vision come to life. From script writing, to raising funds, to shooting the movie, it is a struggle and I respect that struggle. Nicholas took eight years to make Mantra and it took so long only because he wanted every single aspect to be perfect.
Most of the cast and crew of Mantra has come on board without any monetary reimbursement. Do you think more actors should be willing for such collaborations even if monies aren’t a factor?
I am nobody to tell actors what they should do. But I can only wish that there are actors who are willing for such collaborations. It is a personal choice for each actor and I have immense respect for actors who do it without the money and solely for the art of acting. This contributes to artist upliftment and helps people evolve. Sometimes you have to do it for the ‘Dil’ and sometimes for the ‘bill’! (laughs)
Since your debut in the film industry till date, how have you seen things changing for you as an actor?
I started off as a theatre personality and learnt a lot from those years in terms of the technical aspect and expressing part of acting. When you do a film and are facing the camera, it captures what you are truly feeling. That’s the difference between theatre and films. In theatre, you have a stage and have to reach out to your audience but in films, the camera becomes the way to reach out to your audience. So in terms of changes, I have witnessed these technical differences. I can now say that I am more comfortable in front of the camera. I am extremely grateful and lucky to have been offered great scripts and movies, which have been appreciated by the audience. It only inspires you to do better.
In a world where people are running behind commercial films, what draws you to indie projects like these?
All independent films need not necessarily be good films. But the beauty about these films is that it is an attempt to show reality, which is more complex and real in comparison to commercial films. How one creates that fantasy and those relationships becomes more believable and convincing. It makes the film more truthful, relevant and relatable. This is what draws me to indie projects.
Mantra is currently crowdfunding. To contribute and for other details visit: https://www.