Avinash Tiwary has been one of the very few young actors in Bollywood who has not only aced in mainstream roles, but also done considerably well on the OTT space. His last release ‘Khakee’ on Netflix, went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year.
Having started his career with a cult film like ‘Laila Majnu’, Avinash Tiwary has come a long way. With so many projects in his kitty, he opens up candidly while talking to Prateek Sur about ‘Khakee’, his respect for cops, his debut film ‘Laila Majnu’, the OTT space in India, facing failures in the film industry, and lots more. Excerpts:
Your show ‘Khakee’ garnered a lot of praise. How did the role land on your plate?
I remember Vickey Sidana, the casting director, reached out to me and he wanted me to go ahead and do a meeting with Bhav. There was a brief narration for about 20 mins and I liked the episodes and wanted to read more. I was really petrified and scared but in the end, Neeraj sir and Bhav showed a lot of love and praise for my skill and they made me believe that I can do this role. It was their belief that made me do it. They have filled me with an immense amount of confidence that is going to stay for my life.
So, your character is someone who cannot be classified as good or bad. Do you enjoy playing characters with a hint of grey shades?
I personally feel that they are humanised characters. It’s only then that you can bring layers and nuances and I absolutely like playing these characters. It’s all about exploring their conditioning and their desires and thankfully web series have a longer format that gives you the freedom to explore.
The story revolves around cops. In India, however good a cop tries to be the people think he is corrupt and is ready to take a bribe at the drop of a hat. What do you think can be done to remove this stigma or taboo against the police force?
I don’t think everyone thinks the police are corrupt. My father has been in government service and I have a lot of respect for him. I do feel their annual income compared to most private firms is meagre. It definitely should be increased for their financial independence and security, considering they are part of the same capitalist society that we are heading into. I think once that is taken care of the stigma and the perception will shift. I also feel that the people of Mumbai have a lot of fear as well as a lot of belief and faith in the police force and not everyone thinks that they are corrupt.
In your personal life has there been an occasion where you have been troubled by the cops or maybe sometimes where you have randomly been helped by the police force? Can you share any such incidents, if there are any?
I have had great interactions with cops and they have always been kind. Even if I have been on the wrong side, they have spoken to me and guided me to make the necessary changes. I have had amazing experiences with cops.
You have been hugely successful on OTT and even Khakee has come on Netflix. Do you think OTT is giving the actors their due, especially the ones who are not getting enough work from mainstream movies?
I am working on a Neeraj Pandey show. I don’t know how much more mainstream I should be. I have worked with Karan Johar, Dharma and even Clean Slate which has been on OTT. These were all by mainstream makers. The only thing is that these stories were more suitable for the web format. But I don't look at it as a medium. I feel an actor cannot be bounded by mediums. It’s important that people understand that we are free-flowing artists. I am grateful that ‘Laila Majnu’ was on the big screen and I have had many shows and projects that were a success. Hence, I feel I am blessed when it comes to this.
Your debut movie ‘Laila Majnu’ had received great reviews, and people to date call it a great movie, but it bombed badly at the box-office. How did you pull yourself up from that point where you knew your work is getting appreciated but the money is not coming in?
All the work I have today is because of the credibility I have earned out of the work that has been released. ‘Laila Majnu’ was the one to give me a lot of love and credibility. Yes, it did not do well on the theatrical release but that's because we could not find a way to make it reach the people. But once it did, people loved it and they showered all the love that was there. If my job is to convey a story that has been set by the director, it doesn’t matter if it is on the big screen or on the OTT. My journey has been slow but strong. I now have opportunities coming in from the best of the best in the industry and I am very grateful. I am happy that I earned the credibility of an actor.
Does failure of a project hurt or do you take it as part and parcel of the job?
I don’t see failure and success in numbers. For me, failure is not being able to create a space in the heart of the audience and very few parts I have not been able to connect with the audience. But it’s all about pulling your socks up and always doing the best you can for every opportunity.
The song ‘Meri Laila’ from ‘Laila Majnu’ became a massive hit on Instagram reels, especially with its mashup version. Do you get compliments for that song even now, because it’s one of the most popular reels?
I keep getting messages for ‘Laila Majnu’. This film has been growing on a daily basis. I have been told that it’s a cult now. I get thousands of messages for ‘Khakee’ but hundreds of them would be for ‘Laila Majnu’. Even after 4-5 years of its release. I feel the film has the potential to keep growing and even when I end my career, people will still talk about ‘Laila Majnu’. Hats off to the creators, the music the film and I’m really grateful that they thought that I can be a part of their great story.
You have not been someone who has always been too aggressive on social media. But many consider social media to be a necessary evil in today’s time. What’s your take on social media?
I would say I initially used it as a means of entertainment and sharing with the world but soon it became a platform to entertain and monetise. I could not look at it like that and I don't like putting myself in front of people daily. I do believe social media adds to the equity and to the brand you are. If I am looking at it as a professional and not artistically, I should be building on this but it doesn’t come organically for me. But I am learning and growing.
On a serious note, do you think films or shows have the power to alter people’s minds? Can movies influence society?
I think films and series can give you insights into life and they are important. I have been influenced by films but it doesn’t mean they will make me act upon things in life. A good example is Covid. It gave us a lot of insights, but once it was gone, I don’t see many people executing the insights. Films and shows have the power to create empathy in others' life as well as sensitivity, it gives you a different perspective on the way you see life.
I read that you’re a fan of football. Where do you think Indian football is going wrong that we’re never able to reach that level that we end up playing a World Cup?
I think it is the infrastructure. The sport is growing and we are finding players. We are a country of around 150 crores and I’m sure soon we will find players who can play internationally. We have been able to honour our Indian captain who has one of the highest goal numbers in the world. In the next 3 - 5 years we can find players to play internationally.
On the work front, what next can we see coming from you?
I’m going to have a very interesting 2023. I have at least 3 releases. A couple of them are on OTT platforms and one is theatrical. We can talk about it once it has been announced and is closer to its release.