Arjun Mathur on starring in Bejoy Nambiar's anthology Flip, and playing a gay character in Made In Heaven
'A digital release reaches such a wide audience in so many countries as opposed to getting some morning shows in some far out place and lasting one week in a theatre,' says Arjun Mathur.
It seems like everyone is talking about Arjun Mathur. His outing as Karan Mehra, one half of a wedding-planning agency Made in Heaven, in Amazon Prime Video India’s eponymous series has finally put the young actor on the mainstream map. You would have seen him before, of course. Earlier this year, he played Rahul Gandhi in the eminently forgettable film, The Accidental Prime Minister; and last year, he played a Delhi shopkeeper who fakes his death in Nikhil Bhat’s Netflix release Brij Mohan Amar Rahe.
Almost exactly a decade ago, the 38-year-old made his feature film debut as Farhan Akhtar’s ‘theatre type’ friend Abhimanyu in Zoya Akhtar’s directorial debut Luck By Chance. He followed it up with Raja Krishna Menon’s debut Barah Aana, where he played an ambitious cash-strapped waiter who is driven to a world of crime, and a supporting role in Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan, starring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan. After his initial forays in mainstream films, Mathur has thrived in the world of indie productions and on OTT platforms.
The actor will next be seen in Bejoy Nambiar’s anthology film Flip on Eros Now. It is no surprise then, that Mathur is a huge fan of this new medium that has taken the Indian entertainment industry by storm. “More than anything, there is a lot of creative freedom that this medium brings. Writers and directors are being able to tell stories differently, go deeper and chart out more developed character arcs and story plots, because they can tell the story over episodes rather than a two-hour film,” the actor explained over a phone interview recently. More importantly, he believes these give a "platform for all the talent that exists that hasn't necessarily been able to find its place in the confines of commercial Bollywood cinema".
Even as film industries across the world are grappling with the theatre vs OTT experience, Mathur appreciates that there is a new avenue for certain kind of films. “Take Brij Mohan Amar Rahe, for instance. We didn't know while it was being made whether it would have a theatrical release. In retrospect, the fact that it released on Netflix, at least for me, is so much better, because it reaches such a wide audience in so many countries as opposed to getting some morning shows in some far out place and lasting one week in a theatre. And it's still out there, and people are still watching it for the first time,” he said.
What drew you to Flip?
I am a part of one of the four short films in this anthology. The theme through all these stories is that the characters go through one experience that flips their lives upside down. My story is called Happy Birthday. I really liked the script, thought it was out there. Bejoy and I have been trying to collaborate for a while, and finally this is what worked out.
Your other big OTT release, of course, is Made In Heaven where you have played a gay character. You have played homosexual characters in the past. Have you seen a shift in how filmmakers handle these stories?
There is a certain sensibility some people have that has always tried to keep the narrative as authentic as possible. The last two times I played a gay character, one was with Mira Nair and one was with Onir. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't trust their sensibilities and the fact that they too would be handling it sensitively. That being said, there are definitely many people who have been presenting it in a caricaturish way, and one can only hope that they will stop and move towards presenting it better.
Since Made in Heaven dropped, the conversation that has come back into focus is how mainstream actors are still very afraid to play gay characters. Is that a sense you still get?
I personally don't have a problem with it. I feel that we all say we're supporting the gay community but unless these barriers are dropped in our own minds, I don't consider it real support. That's the main reason I took up Made in Heaven because I saw it as something where I could really lend support in the way that I could best, doing what I do. There are many things with mainstream cinema and the way that it functions, people have to be concerned with their image. The audience that is staunchly mainstream may not accept their heroes in any other form. So, that inhibits them a lot. But there are also three times the number of actors today that will not shy away from it because they're talented and hungry for parts. So, it's fine, the ones who are inhibited can leave those roles to us.
Talking about image, the fear of being stereotyped as the actor who plays gay characters must be real. Do you have people advising you to not do these roles?
People's advice and inputs are always around but at the end of the day, I've always done what I've wanted to do. That's what I'll continue to do. I'm not going to shy away from playing a gay character again provided I really like the character graph and the script. At the end of it, that's not what it's about; I'll play a transvestite, I'll play anything, I'm an actor. If I had to be typecast, it would have happened by now. What I'm actively and consciously trying to do is make a point that I'll do this again and again without getting typecast.
What is your take on the conversation around censoring OTT platforms?
I personally don't think there should be any censorship at all, there should be certification — you can certify films and approve them for certain ages. Artists should be able to put out whatever it is they want to say and the authorities should just be warning the public. But for them to decide what can and can't be shown, I personally don't agree with that. On these platforms, I think it's great because you can take a lot more freedom, but the point is not to abuse that either; not to show violence and sex just because you can. Then you're just creating more trash. Just the way the quality of television has deteriorated in our country, there is potential for that happening. And you can even see it happening, there is a lot of content in the digital space that has no quality control whatsoever. Made in Heaven, for all its intimate scenes and all, was done tastefully, and everything was beautifully shown.
Your breakout role in Luck By Chance happened exactly a decade ago. Happy with how the last decade has gone by?
There are definitely no complaints and no regrets. It's been a journey and it is what it is. Nobody's journey is completely free of difficulty. It's a journey that's brought me here today.
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