The actor gets candid about his upcoming film, Billa 2, why he wants to do more Tamil films and the hierarchy in Bollywood
Usually B-towners make certain that they meet mediapersons in the most plush surroundings. We met Sudhanshu Pandey at his office – the room contained a conference table and a few chairs. That’s it. Basic, efficient and no artificial frills attached. As Sudhanshu settled down for a chat, we realised that a room could say a lot about its occupant. Dressed in a black T-shirt, black jeans and dark sunglasses, Sudhanshu spoke frankly about his reason for doing a Tamil film, the setback his career received when two of his Bollywood films were shelved and what acting means to him….
What is your character like in Billa 2?
I am a purely negative character. I play a don called Abbasi. I don’t want to give away the entire story but, yes, Billa (played by Ajith) does join my gang.
Have you seen the other two Billa movies?
No, I haven’t. Thank God for that, because it always helps when you go with a certain approach, when you can self-interpret the character and the whole setting, the plot and the atmosphere. Your mind gets a chance to work on it on its own.
Any language troubles?
Language was not a problem as they (the producers) had arranged for a tutor for me here in Mumbai to come every day to teach me Tamil. The pronunciation was important because they wanted me to say the dialogues in Tamil. That way when they dub, the lip sync will be a match. I worked pretty hard on learning the language, though now I don’t remember the words any more! Short term memory (he laughs)….
How would you compare the way they shoot in the South to the way they do it in Bollywood?
In Bollywood, usually when there are big stars or big directors, there is a nervous energy around the people who are lower in the hierarchy. They are always worried and stressed. When I shot for Billa 2, I noticed that you don’t feel the hierarchy there. You don’t feel that there is an Ajith up there and everybody else below him. They are all chilling together, eating together, joking together. You don’t even know who the spot boy is and who the star. Actually, Ajith is the most humble person I have met. It was a fantastic experience.
Will you do more South movies?
Of course I will. I am looking forward to doing some really good cinema.
You think cinema there is better than in Bollywood?
It’s not about better or worse, it’s about just being able to explore all sorts of cinema. There is crap coming out of everywhere, but if you check the ratio, I think Tamil cinema has made good stuff. There are lots of Tamil films whose remake rights have been bought by Bollywood. They are huge markets and they’ve started merging – there’s so much interchange of ideas and technicians. The merger is only going to get bigger.
How would you describe your career so far?
I am very happy with my career. One can always think that it could be better, but I guess your career or your results are proportionate to your efforts. So I will say that whatever I have achieved today, is totally proportionate to the efforts I have put in. I am making more and more efforts now and am getting better results.
You are not thinking of going behind the camera?
No. But I do intend to produce a film. That’s as ‘behind the camera’ as I will go (laughs). But wanting to direct is something very instinctive. It’s a creative field. You can only plan business here, not creative decisions. Creativity can only come with inspiration, with circumstances that you are thrown in to. If I ever make the decision to direct, it will be due to my instinct, saying ‘Dude, it’s time to get behind the camera’.
What does acting mean to you?
(thinks) For me acting is like a school. When you go to school, you study various subjects.Every teacher who comes to you teaches you a different subject. It is like working with a different director who has a different subject which he wants to shoot. You study the character, study the subject and you become a part of it and you learn. Then you move on to another subject, another teacher. This is one field where it’s not like you graduate and you are done. It is a lifelong process.
There have been times in your career when your performance hasn’t been received well by critics. How do you get out of that and move on?
I never regret it. As an actor – not as a human being – I am very selfish. Whenever I act, it is a learning process for me, something I want to do for myself. Critical acclaim is not in my hands. This is something that happens to every actor. Obviously as a human being you will feel bad, but I think I have done my job and I have learned and gained experience. I will get better and move on to something else. That’s how selfish you have to be. You should be happy you have done a character, that you have entered a mind, learned a new perspective and then move on.
You’ve had a steady career, but you didn’t have any releases between 2008 and 2011. How come?
I was doing Sanjay Gupta’s Alibaug and JP Dutta’s film, both as the main lead. I thought once these two films were out, they would put me in a different league altogether. Unfortunately, both films, after two-three years in the making, were shelved. That’s the reason I picked up Murder 2 and Singham. I just wanted to refresh people’s memories. Post this, I am planning my career very very carefully. I have already finished Billa 2. Then there’s Rajdhani Express, a socio-political thriller.
Do you think you had a tough time with your career because you are not from a filmi family?
(thinks) I don’t know if I should say yes to that or not. Anybody can have a difficult time. Even the star kids can have a difficult time. Ultimately, the public is God. If they like you, they can make you. If they don’t, there is nothing you can do. Yes, if you are a star kid, obviously you will get the best launches you want, which is very unlikely in a scenario where you come from a background like I did. I have just waded my way through. But if I hadn’t had my journey so tough, I wouldn’t be what I am today – a strong person, clear headed and sorted.