Jitendra Kumar on his new TVF show Cheesecake, and striking gold with Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Kota Factory
Jitendra Kumar aka Jeetu hints The Viral Fever will come up with season 2 of hit show TVF Pitchers only when the start-up scene in India picks up again.
A civil engineer from IIT Kharagpur dreamt to become a star. From mimicking actors in Kota to sharing screen space with Ayushmann Khuranna, Jitendra Kumar has now become a sensation. Excerpts from a chat below.
Cheesecake has all the potential of becoming the next viral show, with such an emotional and relevant story. What was the inspiration behind the series?
The story is from our creator- director Palash (Vaswani). He is a pet-lover. Akanksha (Thakur, his co-star) is also a pet-lover but this was Palash’s idea, to make a show on pets. He is inspired by a lot of films, which were based on animals as well. He took the challenge to make a dog act from India as here, you don’t have such trained dogs. But he took the task, and believed that he will act. So this is his vision, and I got the inspiration to do this show from his enthusiasm. So I agreed to do it. Akanksha was doing it so I got another reason to do it.
Are you a pet lover?
When it comes to pets, I’m neutral. Neither I love them, nor do I hate them. I like them, but from a distance (laughs). I tried to bridge the gap. We had a two-day training session with dogs so that we could look comfortable with them on the show. In the show, I’m not afraid of dogs so we had sessions to get that comfort level. We used to have huge dogs, and trainer used to scold and ask us to feed them. I was so scared at that time but by the end, I become more comfortable with dogs. Aryan, the dog who acted in the titular role, is a sweet guy. He used to come, shoot, and leave. He was not concerned with anyone, even a lover like Akansha. She loves dogs, but Aryan avoided her, and it fumed her.
Were you attached or sad when the shoot got over?
Akansha was quite emotional but even we talked about it, we had such a fun journey with such a team, and we even had Aryan, and soon, it will come to an end. So I felt dejection during the last week of the shoot.
Your last series, Kota Factory, has become one of the most talked-about shows, where people actually felt it should have been released in theaters. Did you except such a viral reaction to it?
I never imagined such a response. I had doubts, like who will watch it? Do we still have an audience for such shows?
I feel that the Kota I attended is full of studious children. No one has time to watch it. But we didn’t realise that everybody is on the phone. The reception for the show was on another level. After (TVF) Pitchers, we saw such a range.
We wanted to make a show as many of us are from Kota. But we didn’t expect this, it was very warm.
Do you believe Kota Factory gave you the recognition you always wanted?
If you are a part of any engaging content, you will get a push. But I don’t completely agree. Pitchers was a rage. Six to seven months later, it became a cult. People watch it with nostalgia. So Kota Factory will also go through this cycle.
How glad are you that you followed your heart and chased the dream of acting after civil engineering?
Even I didn’t realise things were falling into place. And I never thought this way. I always thought that I will get into films. I was in college and all we had was TV and films. OTT was nowhere around. I never imagined that we will create a digital platform, and YouTube will become so big, and it will kickstart other OTT platforms. This was never a part of the plan or this journey. It feels great when I look back but yes, bahut papad bele hai (I have worked very hard). Storytelling is a struggle. We can prove it only by presenting it. So the struggle will continue.
How did your parents help you in achieving your dream? Especially when you decided that you will go to Mumbai for a video of The Viral Fever (TVF)?
Parental support was constant, some way or the other. We neglect it. Even though you feel bad when they tell you, ‘Don’t go for it, you’ve done IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), engineering, don’t do it’. We don’t like that they do not understand our dreams. But they’re still supporting you. When I came to Bombay, I didn’t have money to pay rent. So that is also a good support from them. I was going through a phase where I had to prove myself to them. So even though they were unhappy, they were there, or else how would I survive? We often forget such things. Now, they’re happy and proud.
You shared your dream of becoming an actor in the GD of the placement? Were you so clear of not having a plan B?
(Laughs) The placement season in Kharagpur happens in December. From day 1, students with good CGs (Community Grades) were getting shortlisted. I had bad CGs but I thought that by day 7, I will crack it. Days were passing by, but I didn’t get any placement. On day 11, one company shortlisted me, and they kept a GI (Group Interview) instead of a GD (Group Discussion). So generally, we introduce ourselves, and share our qualifications, but the interviewer got bored, and he said to come up with something interesting. I was like, okay, so when I turned up, I said that in the next 10 years, I see myself as a big star in Bollywood. For a few moments, there was pin-drop-silence. My friend was controlling laughter, and looking at me with anger. But I shared my plan that will work for three years, earn good money, and then, will come into films. After the session, one of the senior officials met me, and said, ‘Your parents took a lot of effort for you to come here. Don’t go into acting.' He said that only Amitabh Bachchan could do that as he has a tall-height. He suggested this and left, and I was happy that someone took it seriously. His first advice was not to get into acting. I will suggest the same now: complete your studies first, and then try for it.
After web, you came into films with Gone Kesh (film on a bald woman). However, it did not hit the mark. Recently, Shweta Tripathi said a movie like that needs a strong producer like Dinesh Vijan (Bala) and Kumar Mangat (Ujda Chaman). How much do you agree?
I agree with her because for an experimental film, we need a producer who has proved themselves, and we need a popular face too. Then only you can experiment. Many doubts occur during the film so we need such a producer, who can invest to reach the maximum audience. People who watched it liked it, but it didn’t reach to the maximum.
Apart from Cheesecake, you will soon be seen opposite Ayushmann Khurrana in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavadhan. How was your experience of shooting in Varanasi?
It was a joyful shooting experience. I have worked with all of my amazing and talented co-stars, like Gajraj (Rao) Ji, Neena (Gupta) Ji, Manu Rishi sir, Maanvi (Gagroo), Sunita (Rajwar) ma’am. They always keep up the energy so I never get dull. They support so much, and carry you in the scene. It’s been five-six days, and we’re missing each other. We will meet up soon for the Bombay schedule.
How did you land this part, as many actors rejected the role since it is that of the second lead?
When I heard the narration for the first time, I wasn’t that interested in doing it. I was already shooting in Bhopal for a series when I got a call for this. I said that I will come after the schedule. Aysushmann met Biswa (Biswapati Sarakar, Creative Director, TVF), his friend, and told him to convince me about the film. After that, I heard the role, did readings. The director took tests. And he got confident that we’re on the same page. I like the script, the character, and the story. The emotion will be conveyed, and you’ll stop judging people after watching it (film is based on homosexuality).
What about TVF Pitchers 2?
Start-ups are out of season these days so as soon as the trend catches fire, we will come up. We can’t come with anything mediocre. If any interesting idea strikes, we will do it.
Cheesecake by TVF is now streaming on MX Player.
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