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Chandan Roy Sanyal: "I don’t want to do films in which I can’t make a difference"

This interview was first published in The Telegraph by the same author.


Chandan Roy Sanyal became a household name after playing Bhopa Swami in the MX Player web series Aashram. Cinephiles know him as Mikhail from Kaminey. The actor talks about his new film Woh 3 Din, his craft and acting choices, what OTT has done for actors like him, and the parallels between two of his most successful works.

What compelled you to do Woh 3 Din?


What compelled me was that the film is a social comedy. It’s a story of a rickshawala played by Sanjay Mishra, who sort of asked me to act in the film. I am very fond of Sanjay Mishra. He is a great actor and I really love the comedy genre. And when I heard the story from the director (Raaj Aashoo), I really liked it and I thought that I should do it. Mostly, people know me for playing villains and heavy-duty roles. So, I wanted to try a different genre.

What is the character that you are playing in the film?

I play this guy named Walter White. It’s a fictional character. He is a passenger who asks the rickshawala to give him a ride from one place to another. But everything is shut. So, he says that if you drop me, I’ll pay you three times more than what you charge. And the rickshawala agrees. So, the film is about what these two guys go through in those three days.

You’re part of a lucrative business. One can easily get carried away or bogged down by the way the film industry works. How do you make up your mind about your acting choices and the results that they might get you?

Actually, it’s very simple if you just focus on what you want from it (film) rather than what it can give you. Will it give you fame, money, big cars, and a flashy lifestyle, or will it give you satisfaction? Will it give you the opportunity to bring certain expertise to a character or story?


For me, it’s very simple. I look at what kind of story it is. Will I be able to enjoy it? I work in this kind of a framework. I have done that all my life. I have played small parts in various films but those parts have struck a chord with a lot of people. Although I have failed a lot of times, my choices are working for me now.


Because of the kind of films that I have grown up watching, and having been a part of theatre for a while, I want to be part of good cinema. And in that bargain, if I get fame or good money, then it’s good. OTT platforms have worked very well for me as an actor. I get to work with good directors and be a part of good stories. Whatever success, money or fame I have got in return is automatic.


Kaminey had released in 2009 amidst a big wave of swine flu, which affected the film’s prospects. Cut to 2020, your show Aashram was released when the world was affected by the pandemic and it is watched by a lot of people sitting at home. Tell me what was happening to you in 2009 and in 2020.


It's an interesting observation. Actually, both roles did very well for me. Mikhail from Kaminey was one of the most iconic roles of my life. A lot of people I meet even today talk about that part, that song (Dhan Te Nan), and what a great film it was. Another observation that a lot of people have made is that there was Bhope Bhau in Kaminey, played by Amole Gupte. There I did the whole ‘Bhope Bhau, Tope Bhau’ thing with him in a scene. And in Aashram, the character that I play is called Bhopa Swami. Kaminey and Aashram are two of the most successful works of my life.


What has changed for the better for actors with the emergence of OTT platforms?


It has changed a lot for us. The roles that I’m getting are much lengthier. There’s so much to do in terms of the graph of the character. When I used to do a film, the whole length of my role used to be probably 10 minutes. A show is nine hours of work. People watch you for nine episodes. There’s a personal graph as well. That works fantastic for actors like me.


Films are more about heroes and heroines. For actors like me, there was nothing much to do in films. Because it was just playing a character for a certain time and trying very hard to impress the audience in that much time. But now I get roles for which I have all the time in the world to design the character and play it well.


Acting in front of the camera is perhaps the same in films and web series. What is different in terms of the technicalities of maintaining the emotional/physical graph of a character?


The emotional continuity of a character in a film and a series is very different. Maintaining emotional continuity while shooting a series is difficult because sometimes, you’re shooting a scene from Episode 9 and then probably a scene from another episode. So, you have to be aware of the emotional continuity of the character. That’s when the director and various other people pitch in to help you.


Also, a show happens over two or three seasons, so you have to keep it fresh. An actor has to be intelligent and observant enough to play it like that. Otherwise, it will become repetitive and boring. So, when I did Aashram — it has three seasons — the popularity of my character only grew with time. People still want more of Bhopa and there will be more of Bhopa.


In the Hindi film industry, is there a lack of vision to make gutsy casting choices or is it something else?


I think there are some filmmakers who have made gutsy choices. Like Vishal Bhardwaj, who made Kaminey. It was gutsy to trust a newcomer with that role (Mikhail). He gave me a face on the poster, a song to dance to and a lot of other things. And that sort of shows the integrity of the man. He gave me the chance to play that part because he knew what the story needed. And it happened a couple of times later, too. But then in most of the films, casting choices are driven by commerce, you know.


When you watch an American film, half of the time the story is driven by casting. Sometimes you can see Brad Pitt playing a secondary role to a newcomer. Because it’s the story that stands for them. But here, it’s always about movie stars. Everything else comes later.


Are you happy with the kind of work that’s being offered to you now?


I’m very happy and grateful for the work that I am doing.


Is there anything that you don’t sign up for as an actor?


I’m not doing films at the moment. I am only doing shows. Because there are no roles for me in films. And I don’t want to do the type of film roles that I’m being offered. I say no to them. I am very happy doing shows. I did Woh 3 Din because it was a parallel role with Mr Mishra where I could make a difference. I don’t want to be a part of a big film where I can’t make a difference. I have stopped doing such films. The last film I did was Sanak because it was an interesting part.


Do you plan to direct anytime soon?


Yes, I definitely want to make films. And I’ll do that very soon.

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