Divyenndu on his journey from Pyaar Ka Punchnama to Mirzapur: 'Artists only work for their own happiness'
'My advice to anyone coming to Mumbai, come here only if you have love, patience and respect for the craft. Don't continuously compare yourself with others. Come for the love of acting, don’t come here to ‘become someone’.'
It took the courage of his convictions and an absolute faith in his craft for Divyenndu to navigate the stepping-stones from playing Liquid in Pyaar Ka Punchnama to inhabiting the mercurial Munna Tripathi, the beleaguered heir to the throne in Mirzapur.
The 37-year-old actor believes it was an earnest manifestation to play such a determining role that brought the part of the troubled and trigger-happy Munna to him.
“I was manifesting this so hard. My soul was suffering from this desire to do something different and show what I am capable of. Credit to the makers who thought a person like Divyenndu can pull this off because I don't look harsh or like a Mirzapur character.”
Munna bhaiya is a far cry from Omi in Chashme Baddoor or Narayan in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. “I hope others see this as an example of a guy who can play Liquid and be Munna. I hope people will be more imaginative with their casting. Makers should not look at the last character the actor played, but rather look at the DNA of the actor,” says the actor.
Thrilled with the response to his performance and to the show — he’s lapping up the fan theories too, until the next release. Divyenndu will next be seen playing Akhil, an aspiring writer in the series Bicchoo Ka Khel (releases 18 November on ZEE5 and AltBalaji) and then in the feature film Mere Desh Ki Dharti.
The tools for moving on from characters, however disturbing and consuming, were imparted during his theatre days and training at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). This has helped him expunge Munna from his system.
It’s a gradual process, says the political science graduate from Delhi, adding, “Sometimes characters, like Munna, can deeply affect you at a subconscious level. Fortunately, we are equipped with different acting exercises, such as relaxation exercises, to help us come out of that zone. I was actually thinking of going to a shrink to see how I am doing and to perhaps do a basic assessment of my sanity."
Rather than physics and maths, as a school boy Divyenndu, who was then called Divyendu Sharma, found an affinity for literature, poetry and the stage. “I got very bad marks in my 10th Board exams and moved to the Humanities. I studied political science in college and fell in love with the subject and concepts of equality, liberty and freedom. Then I thought of becoming a lawyer, until I did a play in which I acted as a lawyer. That experience made me feel very satisfied and I thought, Ho gaya lawyer ka (I am done with being a lawyer). That’s when I realised that acting is my calling and my fascination with cinema brought me to FTII’s acting programme."
The days of struggle in Mumbai were made easier thanks to the all-round education at FTII where he learnt about editing, camera, sound and so on. In those periods when he was not employed as an actor, Divyenndu would assist an editor friend. “I knew it would take time to get a break,” he says, “Especially as things don't work on merit here but are quite random. Things were also not as organised before as they are now. Now at least you can go to a casting director and give auditions.”
So how did he keep himself optimistic during the early days? “I am a very lazy person and was never hyper-competitive,” he says. “More than anything, I had faith in my training. I am an optimist, but also a realist. I don't delude myself that I can be an action hero, for example.”
Then, when success came calling in 2011, he didn’t stick to the safe space of rom-coms. And now, having nailed the part of a gangster from Uttar Pradesh, he’s ready to disrupt the pattern again. “That’s the fun part of it, right? There are two ways of going about it. Either you get success and continue on the path and consolidate it. Or then, stupid people like me — and I represent those who say I have everything eg Pyaar Ka Punchnama and Chashme Baddoor but I don't want it. So my struggle started after I became successful, and it was a very conscious struggle because it takes a lot to turn down big banners, big directors and big money.”
All it takes is a part like Munna to turn everything around. “Yes. As an artist you feel complete and satisfied. It also proves that you were not being stupid back then when you said no to those people or when people questioned your decisions, however humble you were. But I have always had confidence in my training. I understand the craft of acting and I know I can pull off certain characters,” he says.
An admirer of versatile actors such as Om Puri (“A great actor who could pull off anything”), Farooq Sheikh (“I wanted to grow up and become an actor like him – who delivers seamless, flowy performances”), Amitabh Bachchan (“He was at the core of commercial cinema and yet performed and justified every big filmy dialogue”), Dilip Kumar (“A fine, learned man”), Balraj Sahni and Sanjeev Kumar, Divyenndu describes himself as a “selfish” actor. He says, “Artists only work for their own happiness.”
He offers this advice to aspirants with dreams of making it in Bollywood. “My advice to anyone coming to Mumbai, come here only if you have love, patience and respect for the craft. That will give you the confidence that you will arrive one day. Don't continuously compare yourself with others. Come for the love of acting, don’t come here to ‘become someone’. And secondly, when seeking roles, think about whether you have something new to experiment with, and if you are convinced, then you go ahead with it.”
With UP, being the flavour of the season, Divyenndu too often finds himself offered different characters, such as Akhil in Bicchoo Ka Khel, based in the same region. “Your surroundings could be same but, as an actor, you try to make your character different.” Training and a constant focus on craft have filled his arsenal with a rich selection of tools. “You need a specific situation to use your tools in. You need new characters, new surroundings, new stories, a new situation.”
The web series and OTT space has opened up worlds for actors and it is no longer incomprehensible to imagine Divyenndu as an action hero. “If someone said they are doing an action based show and said you have four months to build your physique, well, that’s a possibility. At the core you just need to know that you can pull off any character. It’s a wonderful time to be an actor because the OTT space is based on merit where your competition is not weekend box office numbers but it is shows like Fargo, Game of Thrones and Ozark. If you have to make content of an international standard then you cannot compromise on actors, technicians or storylines. You have to bring your A-game.”
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