‘Today, audiences are empathising with film villains’
Actor Neeraj Kabi who has played a negative character in his web film — Line of Descent, talks about his director, working with Brenden Fraser and how transforming into the character is the job of every actor
Neeraj Kabi loves to play complex, edgy characters like Dr Tandon (Talvar), police officer Parulkar (Sacred Games) or his latest character Siddharth Sinha in the web film Line of Descent, which started streaming on Zee5 recently. The Rohit Karn Batra directorial stars Hollywood actor Brenden Fraser, Abhay Deol, Ronit Roy and others.
The film sees Neeraj play a negative character and he says, “I haven’t done many villain roles except for one in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! I may have played one in Talvar, but I am not sure. I was looking forward to playing a variety of roles as a villain. I didn’t want to do the same thing again and again as a character. This character had a very nice shade — he wasn’t violently fighting with somebody. It was the psyche of a criminal which gave me a whole imagination on how I would like to play the character.”
These days, negative characters are being written differently. Neeraj agrees and says, “I think earlier, it was not about performing a character so much as putting up a character as a star. Therefore, villains had become stars in movies. They performed the same thing, the same way all the time because the audience came to see them do just that. That is not called performance. It comes under the banner of entertainment of stardom. Today, villains have more shades because of the writers. Today, audiences are empathising with the villains and are lured by them, which is very interesting.”
He, however, also sounds a cautious note. “Not that we have to celebrate crime. I cannot be playing negative roles all the time, because then, I am contributing to something wrong in society even if I am an actor. And that’s the reason I do different character roles,” says Neeraj, who recently played a romantic character in Once Again opposite Shefali Shah.
Coming back to Line of Descent, he says, “When Rohit (Batra) came from Los Angeles to meet me, I was impressed by his creative intelligence, vision, craft and performance level. It was quite clear that the man knew his work and had a hold on the craft of filmmaking. When you speak to a director, you can make out what is he trying to say. Because I pick and choose my roles very carefully, I had a very strong narration with him. I was sold completely the moment I met him.” They shot for the film many years later after the meeting though. Neeraj adds that Rohit is an intellectual and well-versed in his craft. “He is very sensible as a person and knows how to tell a story in a sensitive manner,” he says.
The film has created a lot of buzz because of The Mummy actor Brenden Fraser. Ask Neeraj how it was working with him and he says, “It was very interesting. I had a few scenes with him. He is a very trained actor and it’s a joy to work with trained people. He has done much more work than me. I quite like the way he was giving his performance. The kind of work he has done as an actor is very textured, nuanced and layered. We just got into working because he had his own craft and so did I. It was a jugalbandi.”
Neeraj also has a few good things to talk about his other co-star, Ronit Roy. He says that Ronit is an instinctive actor. “We connected as human beings and became good friends on the set, which helped. He plays my elder brother in the film and there was a beautiful sense of ease working with each other,” the actor adds.
Neeraj is known for transforming himself into the character that he is playing and he says it’s the job of every actor. “Transformation is our profession and that’s why we are called actors. The meaning of acting is to able to come out of the person you are and transform yourself into that character,” he says, adding, “It’s the transformation of the mind, body and heart of the actor into that character. The transformation process requires years of training and understanding of the craft. When I am playing a character, people should not recognise Neeraj anymore,” he shares.
There may have been times when he disagreed with the ideologies of the character. At such times, how does he play the role with the same conviction? “Sometimes, I feel that an actor is like a doctor. A doctor cannot choose his patients. He has to work on every patient coming to him. He may not agree or like a patient, but that cannot affect his professionalism. He has to treat everyone. An actor is also like that -- every role given to him is not his personal choice. He has to figure out a way to believe in the entire ideology of the character,” Neeraj says, adding, “But if it’s affecting a social norm or thinking, then I put my foot down. I say, ‘I will not do this or speak this’.”