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An Interview with Pavan Malhotra

'Acting is a thinking process'

Since his Nukkad days, Pavan Malhotra, through a judicious selection of roles in tele-serials and movies, has eked out a place for himself as a versatile and committed actor. A face that viewers now look forward to after critically acclaimed roles in 9-Malabar Hill, Mrityudand and Kahan Se Kahan Tak, among many other serials.

An arts graduate from Delhi, Pavan's first foray into acting came through theatre. By chance actually after he was cajoled into helping a friend on stage. He has not been seen in theatre for over a decade now after his association with television serials began in the early '80s. Malhotra is quite particular about the kind of roles he takes up and has done only 10 serials till date, two of which -
Alag Alag and Partho Mitra's Patang- are currently airing on DD Metro. "It's the first time that I have worked in serials simultaneously," he says, putting it down to the kind of roles he has portrayed.

Even if the serials are coming on the same channel, each character is distinct from the other. If in
Patang he plays a role of a man in his early thirties, in Alag Alag he plays an aging fallible father who loves his family. "Coming in lots of serials is not important, but to maintain each character's individuality and make them stand out on their own is of more value," he says.

Malhotra's seriousness at acting comes through in his conversations. How true this is of the kind of characters he portrays also come to the fore with the pivotal role of
Aamir, an illegal Asian immigrant of the 60's holed up in a derelict house in Britain, in the BBC movie Brothers in Trouble, as well as in Saeed Mirza's Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro. "But I am not a serious person in real life," he is quick to point out.

To find out more about Pavan Malhotra, indiantelevision.com's Harsha Khot caught up with him at Prithvi Theatre, a fitting ambience to have a chat with someone doing seriously good work. His forthcoming projects include a television series
Khushi directed by Lekh Tandon and a Hindi feature film Mukhabhinaya by Shyamanand Jalan


When did you realise you had an inclination towards acting?
Quite by accident really. I had no idea about theatre at all until one day my friend pulled me along after one of the guys on the show played truant and said I would have to fill in for him. He assured me that theatre wasn't as tough as it was made out to be. And he was right. Later, being with the group, my interest in acting developed and I began to do theatre in right earnest. Earlier, I had no clue that I would do such roles, but eventually after moving with the theatre troupe and after coming to Mumbai, the idea of acting and a desire to do something on my own became stronger. I did not wish to simply take over my father's machinery tool business. I wanted to act. That was the only thing on my mind.

What about acting do you especially like?

What about acting do I like? I find it is very interesting. It makes you think. Everytime you take up a role, you are accepting a new challenge, and the thinking process starts. Acting is a thinking process. You begin to sketch out the character and the way you would go about fleshing out the personality in the script is what acting involves. Five people could enact the same character in five different ways and yet all of them could be right in their depiction.
Even Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Naseeruddin Shah or Om Puri cannot say that they played a character to its perfection, as there could always be better acting and better ways of enhancing a character. I consider myself to be very lucky for what was my hobby has become my full time profession. And I enjoy it immensely.

How did you first get into serials?
The theatre group I was with was going to tour Mumbai for a fortnight and I decided to go along mainly to satiate my curiosity to see a new place, plus a desire to do something I like. Those three weeks became three months and later I took up a job as an assistant on the sets of Yeh Joh Hai Jindagi. It's then the offer of working in Nukkad came along. I had done a few appearances in other serials before but it is this that brought attention.

How do you sketch out the character that you are going to play?
Well, it depends on when I get the script. I cannot sit at home and dream about playing a character without a script. At least I don't see it that way. Then it depends on the kind of character you are playing. Sometimes I can relate a character to somebody I know. Sometimes you simply have to create an imaginary character, while at other times you just have to observe people and their mannerisms, the way they live and try to sketch it out.

How do keep a track from scene to scene while acting so that the spontaneity is not lost?
I keep reading the script and make notes on the scripts for the scenes are not shot in a sequence. At times scene 13, 29 and 50 are done back to back at a stretch but scene 21, 39 and 51 could be shot some other time. I make some markings on the script as a clue to myself so as to maintain a sequential perspective.

Have you actually gone and observed somebody to play a role?
Yes, for quite a few roles actually. For Salim's role in Salim Langde Pe Mat Roh Mac (Makarand Deshpande) and me loitered around the (Muslim-dominated) Dongri and Chor Bazaar areas of south Mumbai observing people. The other character was of a drug addict. I spent time closely observing their ways, but lost out on the chance to act in the serial.


Is acting easy for you?
It is anything but easy. You are constantly occupied with thoughts, contemplating, analysing how you would enact the character. People should be convinced that it is the character that is feeling sad or happy and not Pavan Malhotra.


Do you get into the character, under the skin so to speak?
No, it's a myth. On the set I am conscious with thoughts like okay this is the way I have to walk… reach there… and stop… say dialogues. All these thoughts are going on in my mind.

Do you feel there is a certain character that you just cannot play?
Yes, Johnny Lever. I admire him. He has a certain way of acting. He makes faces and makes people laugh. I doubt if I'd be able to do something like that. If I try the same people who love Lever might perceive me as a man with a distorted face.
Have you seen the Pepsodent ads? It is about two siblings in which the sister in an authoritative tone quizzes her younger brother on history for which he has been preparing for some upcoming exams. Towards the end of the ads the boy gives a peculiar look of triumph after his sister agrees with his alternative answer. I could never get that particular expression.

Did you try it out in front of the mirror?
Er... yah … but, I couldn't manage to do it in the proper way.


What are your hobbies? Do you keep a certain time aside for them?
No I haven't developed any hobbies as such. Occasionally I play badminton, watch movies but no, I haven't really been able to keep time aside.

Which are the roles that are close to you?

Salim in Salim Langde Pe Mat Roh and Bagh Bahadur. Both of them were made in the same year and the characters are absolutely different from each other. Salim is a flamboyant character who is nicknamed Langda (lame) not because he is handicapped but due to a stylish walk. While Bagh Bahadur is a folk dancer with a painted body. He is wild and has a certain rhythm in his body movements.

How do you work on your acting skills?
I try and visualise the character, the person's background. How would the person's mannerisms be, how would he react in a certain situation like for instance.


Do you focus on your make up?
If the role requires it yes. Like for instance for Salim I had grown side locks and had stylish hair. During the time the movie was made it was the trend among the youth to grow a small droopy moustache like the one that underworld don Dawood Ibrahim had. But in Patang since the character is already in his thirties there is no make up.

How do you improvise on the character?
I discuss it with the director, writer. The more we discuss and listen the clearer the image becomes. Sometimes the characters are discussed in the same set-up while in other units workshops are held. It depends and varies from set-up to set-up.




Atul Agnihotri,Pavan Malhotra andRenuka Shahane in Mrityudand
How would you work around a metal-block while acting?
I don't face a mental block, but I do get scared whether I'll be able to enact what is required. You want certain emotions to come through but they simply don't come all the time, even though during rehearsal you may have got it right. Well I do get frustrated. Earlier, I used to get depressed, even cry sometimes, but not anymore.


Any actor that challenges you in a positive way?
Naseeruddin (Shah) in Pestonji and Paresh Rawal in the role of a eunuch in Tamanna. I wonder will I ever be able to play such a character?


Are you a director's actor or actor's actor?
Both. I do my homework and if the director expects something it is my job to deliver that. The director has the last say, for he is the captain
.

Which is the character closest to Pavan Malhotra?
I think the character in Patang which somewhat like the way I am in general. I like to talk a lot when I am with friends, have fun, and flirt a bit.


Is it easy playing yourself?

To maintain a character and bring it out is not easy. That is why you often see certain actors who come in many serials and their mannerisms have a lot of similarity between them. That is not called acting. Every individual has certain inborn mannerisms or body language. For instance the glint in Jack Nicholson's eyes, that tends to be repetitive. That is why a conscious effort has to be made not to repeat or bring that out.



Pavan Malhotra with Kanwaljeet in
Kahan Se kahan Tak

What is your view about today's television serials?
Earlier the quality of serials was very good for instance Tamas, Yeh Jo Hai Jindagi, Buniyaad, Discovery of India, Hum Log. However, such quality series are not seen any more. It is the same monotonous family dramas that are brought out in sitcoms. People say that there is no audience for such serials anymore. And that these serials were hits then because DD was the only channel. But I don't buy that argument. TRPs are of course important but so is keeping say at least a half-hour slot for such serials, even if it means catering to two per cent of audiences who like it.

How has it been working for films in India and abroad?
There were lots of things in common. With the kind of films I did, the scripts were with me way in advance. Bagh Bahadur, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro and Brother in Trouble. In both set-ups we had similar discussion sessions. Workshops were held before actually filming.

…and the difference?
They have more money so they were more organised. Films there have a slightly different way of shooting, which I cannot exactly describe. You have to be there to feel the difference. There are no last minute castings. Changes in sets, scripts and people don't happen there. Everything is planned way in advance.


Which are your forthcoming projects?
I am doing a Hindi feature film Mukhabhinaya by Shyamanand Jalan. The movie means 'mindplay' but the protagonist is a silent observer unlike what the title may suggest.