Art & Entertainment

Abhilash Thapliyal: OTT Has Given Me An Identity

Abhilash Thapliyal opens up about the struggles he faced, the character choices he has made, his success on OTT, and lots more.

Abhilash Thapliyal

Abhilash Thapliyal has been one of the most popular names when it comes to radio jockeys. However, in the past few years, he has become more popular as an actor in quite a few web series and even mainstream films now.

His journey has been tough to get to where he is now. In a candid chat with Prateek Sur, Abhilash Thapliyal opens up about the struggles he faced, the character choices he has made, his success on OTT, and lots more. Excerpts:

From playing the character artist to now having a show centre on you how does it feel?

It doesn't matter. It's always (good) as long as you get to be a part of a good story whether you are playing the main character or just one of the characters, as long as you get to be a part of a good story (it’s enough). Whether you play the main character or just one from some of the cast, it has never been a concern for me. So, it's great that, from ‘Aspirants’ it has become the first character. That’s a great feeling because I remember that I was the smallest face from that poster and now I have my own poster so that's a special feeling. But apart from that, I think you know as long as the story is good, the part, the number of scenes, your screen length, it doesn’t matter.

Have you always wanted to play the lead hero in your own film or series?

Never. I did not even ever know that I’ll get to play such amazing parts or to be a part of the industry. I came to Mumbai to be a pat of the Kapil Sharma Show. So, whatever I am getting right now, it’s a bonus for me, be it ‘Blurr’ with Taapsee, or Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s ‘Faadu’, or be it ‘SK Sir Ki Class’ – all of this is a bonus for me. I never expected anything like this, because I am not a trained actor. I never thought that I’ll get parts like this so, it’s all a bonus for me.

You were also a radio jockey for many years. What prompted you to take this plunge into acting?

I still am an RJ. It’s just that I got some good stories, people reached out and it just happened. I am still a radio jockey and for me radio is my first love. I won’t be able to let it go off so easily, whenever I am shooting, whether it’s ‘Blurr’, ‘Faadu’, ‘Aspirants’, ‘SK Sir Ki Class’, I am parallelly doing my radio gig. I host a 4-hour show in the evening on Big FM Mumbai, and it’s my roti and acting is my Boti.

Needless to say, you’ve had quite the journey up till now. How has being an actor changed you on a personal level?

You become more observant; I think. You start observing people more. You start observing yourself more. At times its more intrinsic. It's more internal. You start looking inwards for emotions because you know in normal life, we don't see it as to how we regard to things in our own options but when you are an actor and you have to portray those emotions on screen. You become more conscious of your emotions and how you react to them. So more inward. Also, you observe a lot of other people. For instance, when I was doing ‘Blurr’ where I was playing a psycho killer I had to really think and get into that mindset. When I had to play a drunk person’s character in ‘Faadu’, I really had to look for people I have been with who were in that space and how they would behave. So, it’s both actually internal and external.

There’s always a perception that no matter how successful you get on OTT, theatrical success is what really counts. What’s your take on that?

My first film was theatrical, to be honest, you won’t even know the name of the film, it was such a big flop. It died out. OTT has given me an identity, people are saying that I can play a wide range of characters to a psychotic killer to a drunkard to a teacher, and I have been able to perform all of this just and just because of OTT. I personally feel be it OTT, be it television or theatrical it doesn’t really matter, as an artist an as actor you want to tell a story and not focus on numbers, and I am not in that race of urge. I would rather want to be a part of a good story and let the numbers be a part to the producers and to the people who have to do with it.

I am sure you must have been auditioning for a really long time before you landed on OTT. Is it too troublesome for an outsider to make it into the mainstream films, and it’s slight easier to get into OTT?

It is a tough competition and it isn’t like since there are more stories which being made, they are taking average actors. Everyone who has written a story, who is directing a story, they want the best of cast for themselves. So, it's not easy for sure. It's still tough because you know there are lot of actors who are fighting for the same part and I think there are better actors than me and it's just pure luck that I got the parts. I don’t think it's easier at all. It’s very tough. It's even by fluke you can just get a part but to play and perform, then you will have to show your calibre. So, you can get a part for once or twice but more than that I think you have to be capable enough.


Is it easy for outsiders to become an actor or to make it into the industry?

Being an actor isn’t that easy. It’s very tough as an outsider, the struggles are more because when I came to the city I had no idea who to meet. I was trying to figure out my own ways, my own contacts, talking to people, getting in touch with people on my own. So, the struggle definitely is more because you don't know people, you don't know producers, you don't know directors. You only have heard their names and to reach out to them is the struggle and post that then you audition and then you get shortlisted at times. Even when you get shortlisted, you don't get the project many times. So, the journey is long and it is troublesome but I think you have to believe in yourself. But if you have the talent and you believe in yourself and luck favours you, you will get what you are trying to get.


We are in the midst of an OTT boom in India. You’ve been working consistently on OTT, so you’ll be perfect to answer this. Are there any downsides to this OTT boom?

I don't think that there is any downside. I mean we are getting to see so many stories of different genres. I don't see any downside. It's just a beautiful platform where you are getting to see so many stories. Via OTT a lot of genres have been explored and not just in our country but internationally you have access to a lot of content which you wouldn't have otherwise. There is content produced in Korea or American shows or series you could download earlier from some sites, but now you are exposed more to a lot of content because of option. So, I don't think there is any downside. Also, actors are getting to explore more because of OTT. Initially it used to be either TV or films and the perception was that eventually the actor want to do films and that was the only objective of any actor earlier. Be it TV or theatre, everyone wanted to be to films. But now, you have OTT which has carved a niche for itself and is telling great stories and actors want to be a part of it. A lot of writers, directors are getting to tell the stories of different genres and different genres are being explored. I don't think there is there is any downside to it.


Is there something that you believe OTT offers and cinema doesn’t?

I don’t think so. We have to look at them as platforms of storytelling, and not platforms or competitors. It isn’t OTT vs Cinema. They are two individual platforms and their revenue models are different too. They are platforms where stories are told. In cinema, if you don’t have a good story, you won’t make money. Similarly on OTT, if you don't have a good story, it won’t work. They are 2 different platforms of revenue models but the common thing is that they focus on storytelling. I don’t think that there is any OTT vs Cinema debate or anything. If it’s a good story it will work on Cinema or OTT – both the platforms.


I can’t let you leave without asking you about ‘Blurr’. It was a very complex character. Was it emotionally taxing to get into the mind space of that character?

Yes, it was. Every time that people ask me, which is your favourite character or which is the most difficult character to crack, I think Chander would be the one. I have not seen anyone like that. I didn’t have any reference of that sought. If before the film, someone would have questioned if you would be able to do this, I would have said no, I won’t be able to. I don’t see myself in such a character. In the film because you know you really get into the dark mind space of your own. You think about a lot of things you shouldn't otherwise as the character is killing his mother and his girlfriend. It is a complex character. So, of course, it takes a toll but yes it's a conscious effort and I have decided to be a part of this industry, so I have to go through this rut over and over again. It is an emotionally taxing character with complex situations. Yes it was tough to crack Chander but I think Ajay Bahl was my biggest supporter while creating Chandar and every praise every compliment I get is because of Ajay Bahl.


It was one of the best negative characters I have seen in the last year or so. Do you love playing characters which are in the grey-zone and not defined in the quantum of good and bad?

It’s perception of good and bad. What is good for you could be very bad for me. So, I don't think I want to stick to any genre. When I was offered ‘Faadu’, it was a very different character. When I was offered ‘SK Sir Ki Class’, it was a very different character. So, I don’t want to stick to any. Now it is like, there no restrictions that he is a hero, he can’t be a villain or he is a villain he can’t be a hero. You get to play different parts now. I just played lead in ‘SK Sir Ki Class’. I played a villain in ‘Blurr’. So, I don't want to stick. I don't want to restrict myself to this notion that I want to play all dark characters or just very good characters. Whatever comes my way, as long as the story is good, I would love to play that. For instance, right now in my next film ‘Maidan’ which is directed by Amit Sharma, I am playing commentator’s part. So, because I have been doing radio all my life that was a very easy part for me to do. If you see the trailer, it starts with my voice and more than 50% of the teaser is in my voice. So, that was again a different experience for me. So, I don't want to restrict myself as an actor towards certain genre or certain character. If a story is good, I would love to play that certain character.


Every actor has a method, or a process that they follow in order to get into a character. How do you approach the roles you play?

I realised that method is not my space and that is something which I cannot. Observation is more of my space. I have also realised one thing that whenever I am saying something whenever I am delivering my dialogues, if I don't feel them, if I don’t think them to be true, it just shows on screen. So, my process is just feel whatever I'm saying. If I do that, if I know why my character is saying what my character is saying, and the intent of the character, the layers of the character, I think it gets sorted. I don't think too much of method. It did not help me when I was playing Roxy because I don't drink and I tried drinking 2 days before the shoot and I have no idea of that night. So yes, method I am not a trained actor, so I don't know all those techniques and just I react to my co-actors. I think having good co-actors like Pawan, Taapsee, Saimee, also helps me a lot because you just know, all you need to do is react to the situations. So yes, a lot of things leads to that, a lot of factors too, but I think for me if my intent is correct as a character, if I feel what I say, I will sail through.


We’re seeing a massive emergence of films that are finally mirroring real people, real lives. Stories have moved to rural parts of India and smaller towns. Is it a good change from the glamorous outlook that we used to get to see in every second film?

No, it is always the case. I think from Mother India we feel that the times now have changed. You have already had stories which are real in nature, you always had stories like this, you always had stories of common man, aam janta, and about middle-class people. I think the whole 1970's was about these real stories. It's not just now. Now since you are getting to see these stories people are saying and speaking about it. Films have been a very good competition of glamour and real stories. It has been the case from the very start. You had very real stories and you always had glamour, of course. So, it was a combination of all. It’s not a new thing and it's a beautiful thing. I think it is a democratic setup where your stories are heard and see by all. If you want to speak about fictional stories, you tell the fictional story. If you want to tell us a sports drama, you tell a sports drama. If you want to tell a crime thriller, tell a crime thriller. So, I think it has been the case from the very start. This is nothing new.


You’ve been in so many TVF shows. They’re known to have a cool modern working culture there. Is it a very chilled out work space on the sets when you’re doing a TVF show in comparison to what we get to see in normal film sets?

Right now, I have only done 2 shows with TVF, not that I have done a lot of shows, only 2 shows with them. I think it completely depends on the people you are working with. So, it’s great everywhere. It has been great on Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s set as it has also been great on Ajay Bahl’s set. It has been great on Navdeep Singh’s set when I was doing the Amazon show. I don’t think it would be fair to compare 2 different sets. There are people who are different. They’ve different stories. Different directors are different and the way they see the story and your character is very different. So, I think it doesn't matter. We go there to work. So, if the story is good, the director is good, the writing is good, it doesn't matter what’s said. You are on as long as you get to tell good stories. It has been great with all the directors I have worked with including TVF.


What next can we see coming from your end?

Using all my radio skills as a commentator for Amit Sharma. He had called me one day and he was like Thapliyal commentator chaiye ek, will you like to do it? I was like yes, I would love to do it. So, I'm playing that part in this story. We were waiting for the story to come out for a long time now and finally the dates have been announced with Ajay Devgn. I still remember in 2014, I think I had done some sketches with him and after that I did a couple of ads with him. Now I'm getting to do a film with him. We don't have any scene together but you know just to be a part of that film it’s a great feeling. Apart from that there is one Amazon show with Navdeep Singh. He is the director who directed ‘NH10’. So, its again a crime thriller, which will be very different character for me. Also, Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Kennedy’. I am still basking in the success of ‘SK Sir Ki Class’. So, yes that's what's happening right now.