‘I had to unlearn the way I played cricket in school’

Debarati Palit Singh
Thursday, 10 October 2019

Tahir Raj Bhasin, who got great reviews for Chhichhore, says that it is an honour and a responsibility to play the character of Sunil Gavaskar in’83

After playing a real-life character in Chhichhore, Tahir Raj Bhasin will be seen playing another iconic character in Kabir Khan’s ’83. The sports drama will bring alive Indian National Cricket team’s win at the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
Tahir who plays the character of Sunil Gavaskar, says his preparation for the character was extremely intense. “I don’t think I could have done it so well if the backdrop of Chhichhore hadn’t been there. Derek, my character in Chhichhore, needed the kind of preparation I had never done before. He was an athlete in college. So for four months, I was put under training. I had to train with endurance in different kinds of sports. It made me understand how sport choreography is shot. My respect for sportsmen went up quite a bit,” he says, adding, “By the time I moved to ’83, I had a clear process in mind what I wanted to train.”

Of course, he knows that playing and shooting sports are two different things. “What we have been focusing in ’83 is how to emulate Sunil Gavaskar’s batting style, the way he walked, ran. I have been training with Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who was a member of the real ’83 squad. I had to unlearn the way I played cricket in school and college to pick up how Sunil Gavaskar played because he is a cricketing legend. There was a little bit of pressure because sportsmen all over country are going to compare the style,” says the actor who won over critics and movie-goers as the antagonist in his debut film Mardaani. 

But he adds that at the same time, it’s an honour to play such a character. “Historians look at him as India’s first cricket superstar. If you look at the family tree of cricket, it’s Sunil Gavaskar, followed by Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. I am aware about the legacy and carrying it in the film is quite a responsibility.” 
How did he bring his own nuances to the character? “You can’t be imitating someone completely. Seventy per cent is the character you are playing and 30 per cent is your own interpretation. There are aspects of me in both Derek and Sunil Gavaskar,” the actor says.  
Shooting with the entire cast of ’83 including Ranveer Singh, Harry Sandhu, Saqib Salem, Sahil Khattar, Chirag Patil and others, has been quite intense, specially the UK schedule. “When the script demands you to bond like a team and you are travelling and staying in the same hotel, there’s going to be excitement and fun. It was literally like being back in school/college environment but at the same time, it was very demanding and it felt like I was living in a boarding,” Tahir says with a smile. 

As the conversation moves back to Chhichhore, which has earned more than 100 crores at the box-office, he says, “I love the way the film has been appreciated. It’s done so well on word-of-mouth publicity.” 
He can’t stop gushing about the Nitesh Tiwari. “Watching him work was like watching a magician. He was meticulous with his pre-production and planning. During the creative meetings, he was sitting with every department from make-up artist to costume designer and telling them what he had in mind and how they could contribute to it. So, we had a say in every creative aspect of the character. It was a very collaborative way of working,” says the actor.

From being the solo antagonist to being a part of an ensemble cast, how has the experience been? Tahir replies, “Terms like solo and ensemble, well that is something you see as a viewer. As an actor, my focus is on the part that I am playing, the story that I am telling, the direction my character is going in. Throughout my career, I am sure there are going to be moments of solos and moments that will demand more than one actor. But I believe that today content is the real star. The box office and critics will also tell the same thing. It’s great that actors are now judged based on the stories they are telling.” 

He further adds that another aspect that matters to him is ‘whose story it is’ or which director is making the film. “Working with Pradeep Sarkar in Mardaani, Nandita Das in Manto, Nitesh Tiwari in Chhichhore — this is something I would like to focus on.” 

Ask him how the sensibilities of the directors he works with, help him grow as an actor and he says, “No one has asked me this before. From the vibe on the set, to how you approach the character, how you prep — everything depends on the director. Nandita was very close to her material because she had spent three years researching on the subject. Also because she is an actor, her approach was different as she knew what all an actor could do or how much she could push them. Nitesh sir is very hard on his pre production while Kabir’s USP is in his eye for detailing and authenticity. He has been a documentary filmmaker and that kind of reflects in his work.”

Going by the roles he is playing, it’s quite clear he is gradually moving from playing the anti-hero to more positive characters, which Tahir says isn’t a planned move. “I am grateful that the kind of parts I am getting are very different. Look at the kind of films that I have done and am doing. For an actor, it’s great to be in a situation when you can’t be typecast or do only particular genre of films,” says the actor who will start reading scripts after wrapping up the shoot of ’83.

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