Posted on September 3, 2020 at 6:27 pm

Featured Interviews

Adi Chugh from ‘Shakuntala Devi’ shares his creative journey

We had a chat with Adi Chugh who played Kartar alongside Vidya Balan in the film Shakuntala Devi.

1) Tell us about yourself. How did you get into acting?

I am an Indian born, internationally raised desi actor, am currently based in London. I moved to Germany when I was around 8 and that’s when I started acting on stage. It was the only place where I was not made fun of because of my Indian accent. Hence I started doing acting and I fell in love with that, I could be goofy, I could be playful, I could pretty much be a child on the stage and not get judged for it. After school I continued my stage performance to date, I competed at University levels. Theni shifted to Pennsylvania State University to complete my degree in Economics and Finance but also did a few acting courses and did my first short film.

Post that, I moved to New York City and started working at a corporate and I really didn’t like it and then I zeroed in on something which I loved acting. Even during this phase I used to take a lot of acting classes, dancing classes and preparing myself for becoming an artists. Eventually I shifted to UK and trained at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. The school accepts only 14 students a year and has an incredible alumni of Oscar, Emmy & BAFTA winning actors including Daniel Day Lewis. I have working in short films, feature films in Bollywood and also doing theatre all over the world.

2) How did you get your role in Shakuntala Devi? What did you do in your role & how did you prepare for it?

It was not very complicated, in the sense I had already done a lot of work before I got a chance to audition for Shakuntala Devi. The casting director reached out to my agents as they wanted to see me for the role of Kartar, I had my mom saying the lines of Vidya Balan and other characters in the scene so I could perfect my lines. I sent my audition tapes and they really liked it and they offered me the role. Kartar’s character is older than me so I had to think that way and started training my mind thinking of the decisions I would make if I was older than my actual age.

My character is a friend of Vidya Balan when she moves to London and she lives in the guest house. I welcome her to the guest house and make her comfortable and relax the environment that a woman is travelling alone in 50’s especially a desi woman. So the preparation wasn’t too extensive but I did try to hold my body differently trying to depict my age.

The lines were not too long or difficult but at the same time there was also this idea of innocence and respect for woman and how men were back in the days especially desi men. I tried to bring happiness and bubbliness to the character. There was a party scene and me playing a Punjabi I made some small changes to my character by holding a glass in my hand and thought about how an older man would dance and move at a party especially in those times.

Adi Chugh

3) How did you feel working alongside actors like Vidya Balan? Tell us about the experience.

Working alongside Vidya Balan was a complete blessing. I had a chance to work with very good actors in the UK and India, apart from Vidya Balan had also a chance to work with Vinay Pathak on the feature film which will come out later this year or the beginning of next year titled ‘Three Dots and a Dash’ but I feel very privileged I got a chance a to work with these exceptional actors. I have been in awe of Vidya Balan’s work for a very long time and I think she is a brilliant actor. It was very exciting, thrilling to be on set with her and to speak to her between takes. She is so calm and so sweet, beautiful and has this great bubbly energy where she pulls you into a conversation and when the director calls for a shot she is again into her character.

These things I find very fascinating, they can switch in and out of their characters so easily and that doesn’t mean they are god given talent, they have worked on their craft for decades literally and their preparation is so solid. Vidya Balan knew exactly how she was going to portray Shakuntala Devi in those particular scene and hence she could switch into the character so easily. Other things that these brilliant actors do when the camera switches on for me is like education, I sit there take my notes because it helps me and it’s beautiful to watch and I feel fortunate that I got an opportunity to work with them.

4) Tell us about an unforgettable success in your life. What challenges did you have to deal with to get there?

Even though it’s a small role, Shakuntala Devi is an unforgettable success, as it is my debut in Bollywood. As I mentioned earlier I have played a lot bigger role in ‘Three Dots and a Dash’ with Vinay Pathak but Shakuntala Devi is the first film that released and it gave people an opportunity to see my performance and I have been working towards it all my life. The end goal is to work on good films, good subjects and be around talented people and this has been a big milestone I have been working towards for a very long time. At the same time it doesn’t quench my thirst for getting good roles especially in Bollywood as here I get to play central characters in shorts films and theatre. Am not satisfied just playing Kartar, I want to play 100 different versions of Kartar in 1000 different films.

I speak openly about the challenges I face in my mind, mental health wise I do previous history on depression and anxiety and I bow my head down to anyone and everyone who has to go through it. This industry is very challenging and you need to stay positive, energetic and full of life. For me overcoming these issues and never giving up is my biggest challenge and the battle I continue every single day. It’s not that I want to give up every single day, but sometimes it’s just so challenging that you wonder and that wonder you’re saying because it’s a slippery slope. I take pride in overcoming that regularly or irregularly that I need to push it down south through meditation, through friends or watching the work of people who I get inspired by. It’s challenging as hell but beautiful and it’s absolutely worth keeping on.

Adi Chugh

5) What is the most unique aspect of your acting career? What do you cherish the most about it?

I have the privilege of diversity, I can speak many languages and that is a big advantage for me. Having lived in 3 different continents and grown up in 8 different cities has given me massive exposure to these cultures. People whom I have met and who are close to me are all from different cultures, speak different languages and are born in different continents and having known them so closely helps me explore my characters better and I am able to borrow from these people.

I go on playing assassins to playing bisexual men at a very sexualized party to playing gay men to playing Kartar in Shauntala Devi and many others. As difficult as life can be moving continents to continent and cities to cities, the cultural change is so drastic but at the same time it makes you adapt yourself quickly and convincingly to somebody else completely different from me is what I cherish the most and that is the change that comes from diversity. What this does bring me is roles that I get to play around and the range that I can convincingly do. I enjoy playing darker roles as it pushes me to the other way, the darker role the better. A good written darker role has a sweet side to him but also an intense crazy killer side.

6) Other than acting, what do you enjoy doing? Any other passions? If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing?

Quite honestly I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I was not an actor because I have worked in finance, consulting, bartending and nothing interested me. Maybe I would love to do more singing as when I watch performance acting doesn’t give me goose bumps but singing literally puts me on an emotional journey. It affects me greatly and if not acting I would love to be a singer even though am not a great singer. I would love to hone my singing and work hard on it.

Adi Chugh

7) What are your acting aspirations for the future?

My aspiration is to work in an Aamir Khan film, I am a massive fan of Aamir Khan’ work and the projects he creates are stunning on so many levels. It would be great learning from him as he is exceptional. I also enjoy playing darker complex characters. The character doesn’t have to be an all-out evil character but also show different sides of his character. It to bring different facets of his life and character.

8) Any advice for aspiring young actors?

We all have our challenges in different ways, some are challenged financially, mentally, by family and also our circumstances we have to keep them at bay and make sure we should overcome. Keep pushing, keep working day to day, keep challenging to make today of you better than yesterday of you and you will get there. I keep telling myself the same thing and I am getting there. Don’t give up.

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