Barun Sobti on choosing shows like Halahal and Asur, and coming a long way from his TV career
Barun Sobti’s role as a grubby and lively investigator in Eros Now's Halahal marks a departure from his popular frame as a broody romantic or the troubled CBI agent in Voot Select’s Asur.
In Halahal, actor Barun Sobti essays the role of a rather shady, but honest cop Yusuf Qureshi whose services are employed by Shiv, the desperate father of a young girl presumed to have committed suicide. Through director Randeep Jha's narrative, Shiv, portrayed by renowned actor Sachin Khedekar, and this quirky cop attempt to expose the corruption within a college admissions committee and decipher whether his daughter Archana’s death was suicide or murder.
Sobti’s role as a grubby investigator in the film marks a departure from his popular frame as a broody romantic or the troubled CBI agent in Voot Select show Asur. It was his portrayal of Arnav Singh Raizada in the StarPlus serial Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? that first propelled the actor to fame, bringing the quintessential Mr Darcy (Pride & Prejudice) trope to Indian TV audiences. Now, the character continues to be well-remembered eight years after the show ended.
In an interview with Firstpost, Sobti talks about his craft, appreciation for writers of the thriller genre, and why he chooses to be a silent presence on social media.
Edited excerpts below:
Could you tell us how you picked up the role of Yusuf Qureshi in Halahal? What was your experience of working on the film – the shooting must have taken place before the coronavirus lockdown?
We shot the film in Ghaziabad and Amroha in North India. So the shoot was a lot of fun actually. It didn’t have to do with confined spaces a lot. In fact, the locations also play a very strong part in the film. The experience for me was very good because the script was very exciting. The reason I picked it up was because it was an attempt for me to do something different which I knew I could do really well.
Your roles in both Halahal and Asur belong to the suspense and crime genre. Do you enjoy such scripts? Do you, in fact, watch a lot of crime films?
I do actually watch a lot of crime films. With respect to thrillers, there is not a lot of good writing happening in India. So I am actually very lucky to be a part of two things that are probably right up there on the top with respect to the writing of the thrillers.
Because the problem is that when people start writing thrillers, there is a lot of promise. But writers write themselves into a corner. And eventually, it doesn’t make sense. That’s why the viewer feels disgusted because it’s obviously an investment gone wrong.
So I have a lot of respect for thriller writing. That’s why I picked up both these things.
And which are among some of your favourite crime thrillers?
There’s a lot actually. In India, obviously Wasseypur (Gangs of Wasseypur). Then there’s Prisoners, Zodiac, Seven … it’s an endless list.
Could you walk us through the effort that goes into getting into the shoes of the character you play?
It’s not a mandate that you have to keep performing in every frame – that’s one thing I have told myself. The primary thing initially was that ‘you have to forget what the camera is,’ and that, thankfully I’ve been able to achieve. You have to perform with honesty. And you have to ask the reason, psychologically ‘why is the character is doing that?’ Then, I make a roadmap: at this timing, this is going to happen.
Sometimes I am wrong also. So my directors ask me to do things differently. Then the challenge, I have told myself, is to adapt quickly. That’s very, very important.
Adapting quickly does not come from ability but it comes from ego breaking. If I keep thinking I am doing the right thing, I won’t be able to adapt.
You are one of the few actors who have been in the OTT space for a long time. From Tanhaiyan to Asur, could you trace how online streaming platforms have developed over time?
Tanhaiyan was a very different thing actually. I was extremely surprised that we were making Tanhaiyan because there was no investment in that space, at that time. And it was not a low-budget, doston-ne-mil-kar-bana-liya (friends got together and made it) deal. It was a very high-budget show, and Hotstar wanted to put their face on this show. So it was a totally different ballgame.
With respect to Asur, the biggest triumph was actually the writing. Our writer, he has had this concept for years, imagine! And web gave him that space to open it up. It comes out and becomes an absolute winner. So OTT has given courage and experimentation. Agar experimentation nahi hai toh creativity dead hai. (If there is no experimentation, creativity is dead.)
In terms of the recognition you have received, does the success, popularity or scrutiny ever get to you?
Oh no, definitely no. Everyone thinks about the image and forgets about the human being. So that is the most important part for the human being who’s an actor – that you have to maintain your sanity whether you are not doing well, but more importantly, you have to maintain your sanity when you are really doing well.
You have stayed an arm’s length away from social media. Is that a deliberate effort?
Actually, I was very reluctant to come on to Twitter also. But one of my films was coming out, and my producers said, you know, 'Please it’s going to help.’ So I came onto Twitter. It was strictly a work-related decision. It was not for any social interaction. The people I need to do social interaction with, I do it any way over the phone.
It is deliberate. It’s a very toxic world. Power is very difficult for people to handle. And clearly people can’t handle their power on social media. And I don’t want to invest my time trying to figure out the right or the wrong thing. There is no need that I have to go out, seek any kind of external validation or approval or a debate.
After Iss Pyar Ko Kya Naam Doon? ended, and you were picking up other roles, was there ever a struggle to get out of that image since your character was so popular?
My attempt was not to get out of that image so that was not the struggle. In fact, the bigger struggle was that the people from the film or web industry actually wouldn’t give me work initially because I was from television.
How do you navigate that?
You wait. That’s what I have always believed. You come into acting, look for your first break, and when you get that, easily or difficult, your career is going to depend on how much you rise up to the occasion. And everybody gets a chance.
Everybody gets their one moment where they can go to the next level by just performing the hell out of a character.
So rising up to the occasion is very important, and that’s what I tried to do.
How did you rise up to the occasion when you had decided that you wanted to be an actor and enter the industry?
I think with my first break, I messed up a little. I was not in the same fundamental. I was 12 years younger than now. That was a show called Shraddha on StarPlus. It was not entirely my fault as well that the show ran only for two and a half months. I rose up to the occasion when I did a two-month cameo in Dill Mill Gaye, and thankfully, I realised how important it was to act when you were trying to be an actor.
Halahal is streaming on Eros Now. Watch the trailer here:
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