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Kennedy actor Abhilash Thapliyal on being cast by Anurag Kashyap and his Cannes moment

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


Actor Abhilash Thapliyal is living a dream. The first red carpet appearance of his life happened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy, which received a seven-minute standing ovation at a midnight screening. Abhilash chatted with us about his experience of receiving adulation on an international stage and his upcoming projects.


How was your experience of the Cannes screening of Kennedy?


Abhilash Thapliyal: It was the biggest high of my life. My first red carpet was at the Lumiere Theatre at Cannes. Before the screening, I had only seen pictures from the Cannes Film Festival from the other side of the red carpet. Finally, I was walking the red carpet and met so many people including the director of Cannes.


The high point was when the standing ovation started. It was just not ending. The applause went on for seven minutes. I have never received so many taalis in my life. An actor’s work is primarily about taali or gaali.


How did you bag the role in Kennedy?


Abhilash Thapliyal: I was shooting in Nainital for Ajay Bahl’s film Blurr with Taapsee Pannu. It was a month-long schedule. On one of my days off, I got a call from an unknown number. It was Anurag Kashyap. He said, ‘I’m sending a script to you. Read and let me know whether you’ll do it or not.’


I read the script and it was amazing. I called him back and said that I loved the script. He said, ‘Loved it vagaira chhod. Mujhe bata film karega ya nahin karega.’ So, obviously, there was no question. You can’t say no to Anurag Kashyap.


When I came back from the Blurr shoot, I asked him why he chose me for this role. He said, ‘Main jab likh raha tha mujhe tu hee dikh raha tha.’ (When I was writing it, I could only see you.) That was like an award for me. I even told Anurag sir, ‘Don’t tell me such things. It will go to my head.’ (Laughs)


Tell us something about your character in Kennedy.


Abhilash Thapliyal: All my scenes are with Rahul (Bhat). I can’t talk much about my character Chandan because he gives Kennedy (Rahul Bhat) a major shift in his personality in the storyline. If I tell you more than this, Anurag sir will beat me!


How big a validation is it to work with Anurag Kashyap?


Abhilash Thapliyal: Where I come from, I do seek validation. Though I am very aware of the fact that it doesn’t matter because eventually, it is about what you like and how you see things. But when someone appreciates your work, it does feel good. I seek that validation. It’s not a very evolved thing to do but I can’t help it.


You wore an Aipan motif stole at the Cannes screening of Kennedy. Was it important for you to represent your roots through your outfit on the red carpet?


Abhilash Thapliyal: I come from a media background. I have been a journalism student and I know that the media talks more about clothes than films. So, why not utilise that opportunity and do something good for your own art form? Aipan is an old art form and it’s a dying art form. I wanted to revive it. I wanted to take these artists with me who are still trying to revive that art form. If the media starts talking about films more, actors will also start talking more about films than their outfits.


Your projects TVF’s Aspirants had an instant connection with the audience whereas Faadu and Blurr have slowly found their audience. How do you deal with both ways of finding recognition?


Abhilash Thapliyal: No one knows which project will get you what. I expected a lot from my first film Dil Juunglee (2018). But it did not work. When I did Aspirants, I thought a few thousand people would watch it and that’ll be all. I didn’t know that the character would become a hit. TVF created a spin-off of Aspirants called SK Sir Ki Class.


Nobody knew that Kennedy would go to Cannes. All you can do is do your work with sincerity. Neither is every project going to be a success nor is it going to be a failure. Be consistent with your hard work and dedication.


What are your upcoming projects?


Abhilash Thapliyal: Maidaan starring Ajay Devgn will release in June. Football lovers will totally enjoy this film. I am doing a Prime Video series with Navdeep Singh who earlier made NH10. Aspirants Season 2 in all probability will release this year. And there’s a demand for season two of SK Sir Ki Class.


What are your aspirations at this stage in your career? And what are the steps you’re taking towards fulfilling them?


Abhilash Thapliyal: My aspiration is only that I want to be known for the characters I play and not for the clothes I wear. I want to be as honest as I can with my character. Stardom might happen or not but I want to be a very good actor. I want to work on my craft because that is going to stay and be remembered.


And what I am doing to fulfill those aspirations is that I am meeting people and giving auditions. I am making a list of all the directors I want to work with. I was amazed at Cannes that Vikramaditya Motwane knows my name. That’s a big achievement for me. I want to be happy with these little things and at the same time keep moving forward and create more characters.

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