Shaheer Sheikh: Playing Arjun in Mahabharat was emotionally draining for me

EXCLUSIVE: The actor talks about changing his personality, his looks, body language, and dialect to play Arjun. He talks about his equation with the Pandavaas and Draupadi and why he is still single

To see Shaheer Sheikh aka Ananth from being this thin simple guy to a brawny hot dude was a sight for sore eyes. We were on the sets of Mahabharat when Shaheer walked in hiding his newly developed paunch. We put him at ease and told him that there were no cameras. The dishy dude was in his best element laughing and joking with us like long lost friends. With only fifteen minutes to spare from his call time, the actor made the most of it by answering all our questions with a naughty smile and enthusiastic approach. Read excerpts from the interview

From being a lanky boy next door to the brawny dude – how did the transition happen for you?

I took about a year to prepare myself for this role. Right after Navya, I was not ready to do this character. Thankfully I got some time to prepare.

How did you prepare for the role?

I did a lot of training for this role. I learnt horse riding, sword fighting, dhanurvidya (archery), hand to hand combat and things like that. It was not easy to get the body language of warriors; I had to train for that too. We had to get comfortable with ourselves, the language, our weapons – it was not easy but over time we did it. I trained for about three to four months before shooting for this role. I attended acting workshops as well.

Were the stunts too difficult?

Yes, but that was thrilling. It was exciting to jump from a chariot holding a baby fighting the enemies and doing things like that.

How did people react when they learnt that you were playing Arjun?

It was difficult for people to accept me as Arjun. It took me a while to understand the character and how to portray it. Of course criticism was there but people have accepted me now.

Did you believe you could play Arjun when it was offered to you?

Ideally no! I always wanted to play a prince but with Arjun people had so many expectations. Everyone was of the opinion that Arjun is supposed to be this massive guy and I was very lean that time. I was not sure if I could prepare myself to meet people’s expectations of Arjun. Producer Siddharth Kumar Tewary actually had faith that I could do it when he narrated the whole story to me. He showed me how emotional Arjun really is and how they were planning to portray him onscreen; that convinced me to accept it. This is the first character in my life which didn’t let me sleep at night. I constantly kept thinking about the character, what I could do, how I should portray him – that is all I could ever think about. I ardently started reading about Arjun.

How did your friends react to you playing the great warrior Arjun?

They have been watching the show. That’s the best part; everyone has been watching this show. All the people I know like my performance. Initially no one was sure I could play Arjun, not just me. But today it seems like the perfect role for me.

How draining was it emotionally, physically and mentally to play this character?

It was only emotionally draining for me. I actually started relating myself to the character , which often drained me emotionally. It is very difficult for me to come out of it then. Even after the director says cut, I am still in the zone for 15-20 minutes.

You’ve worked with Rohit Bharadwaj before; does it feel like coming back to the family?

I was more excited about the show because Rohit was on the show and because Swastik was producing it. So I know 80 percent of the staff already. (Swastik produced Navya) And now Siddharth is a good friend, so if I have any problem, I know can call him up and he will be there to help out.

How is your equation with Pooja Sharma aka Draupadi?

She is a nice person. We hardly interact on the sets except for when we have scenes together. She is nice and an intelligent person. I shouldn’t be saying this but she is beauty with brains.

Among the Pandavaas, who are you closest to?

Bhai and Bheem. Actually I am close to all of them, we stay together after all.

How difficult or easy was it to play a female?

Before my scene I would talk to a girl for five minutes and then imitate her mannerisms and voice in my scenes. It can be any random girl.

Among all the characters you have played, which was the most difficult one to do?

Arjun – initially it was difficult to understand Arjun. It was important to understand what he felt in those sequences. It took a month to figure him out.

Are you dating anyone?

You think after shooting for 14 hours a day, I can afford to date anyone? No way. Koi chutti nahi milthi (I don’t get a holiday). I am dying to go on a holiday.