Ankur Bhatia is a Bollywood actor emerging in many well-known productions, for example, Aarya, Sarabjit, and Zanjeer. We sat down with him as he talked about the path of his career, the bumps in the road, and the responsibilities he’s had to uphold as an actor. Let’s hear about what Ankur has to say!
As an actor, you’ve gone through a path that not many people have the opportunity of experiencing in their professional careers. Being a part of this profession, that relies on its competitive nature to entice audiences, I’m sure you’ve looked back on your past to find the root and the true reason for pursuing your art form. The central passion and drive that drove you to the position you are in today. Could you share your experience so far down your professional path and the details of becoming an actor and how people in your early stages encouraged you?
“So I always wanted to be an actor back in school. It was not, the goal was not specifically to become an actor but I was always fascinated by drama in school activities or TV and all and I was always extremely fascinated by the whole cinema factor to it. And so I always looked up to the events in the school which involve drama or modeling or dressing up and all these stuff, but never actually had an opportunity to actively pursue it or be a part of it in the schooling time because you know, you have to be out there in the public eye. You have to be kind, you have to be on the stage and it is also a hurdle to be onstage in front of people and you know, people are shy in the beginning people are nervous and all those things. You know, I was the same kind of guy which included all those inhibitions and so, you know, I never actually took an active part in these kinds of activities, but I was always fascinated and you know hailing from a middle-class family. I followed the same norm of becoming like, it was computer science that was kind of like the most in thing. Everybody was pursuing Computer Engineering. So I followed that path. I studied computer science for my bachelor’s and then you know, but kind of that drive was not there in my mind, so I was not too enthusiastic about pursuing computer science at that point in time, but because I had nothing else to do, I followed it and most of my friends were doing it. And then in the college also again the same fascination was there about like, you know in the events of like the college annual function or something. So I start taking part here and there a little bit but then again everybody was following at that point in time, the thing was that you know, after pursuing computer science people are following Masters in computer science in most of the people used to come to America, so gave my GRE and TOEFL and everything and I got a couple of admissions here in the US and I came to you as to pursue my further education a master’s and I came to the University of Connecticut and I was doing computer science, but I didn’t like it then I was like, okay, and at that point of time people will order IT was actually having a kind of like a backlash. I followed mathematics and because I was good at that and pursued mathematics. I finished my master’s in mathematics and eventually, I became an actuary. I started working in stock in a company called BUCK consultants in Stamford then I moved to New York when I moved to New York. I was just suddenly exposed to theater, you know, I became a lot more outgoing than I was before and you know one fine day. I was just traveling back from my work. I used to work in PWC at that point of time and mergers and Acquisitions and someone actually approached me in the train just for like asking me if I’m a model or an actor and I was kind of like embarrassed but I was, I plainly told him that I’m not and then he’s like, no you’re looking for a model for I think they were looking for something for Gap or some commercial and he gave me his card. I didn’t take it seriously at that point in time. I was more embarrassed on the train, but then you know I said back to it. I told my friends pretty much everybody laughed about it, but you know that spark that I had in high school and college and all those things came back suddenly, you know, which were like the kind of like dormant and not active at all and suddenly I thought that why not, you know, so I went for that and even though I didn’t want to I prepared for it. I did my Google search. I bought new clothes and I went there and it turned out to be just a scam because when I was standing in the line, then I came to know that, you know, they were charging some money too, and they were in return giving some pictures and they were telling you how to become a model and they have stopped a lot of people on the train like that and there are a lot of people like me who have been being scammed over there and I really felt bad about it. I felt like, you know throughout my life, I’ve heard about these stories about people scamming here and there how did I get, you know, kind of like I felt like an idiot, to be honest, and then you know that night I was kind of like really down and so I searched again online. I was a techie guy. I figured out what a casting director is, how the casting processes in New York work, how to become an actor and all those things and I had some family pictures and I just Photoshopped myself out of it and I sent it to them. I kind of made a makeshift headshot out of those and I sent it to a couple of casting director’s emails. Luckily, I got a call just the next day, someone said there was a film from Bollywood from the Indian film Industry being shot here in Philadelphia, which was called ‘New York’ and it had John Abraham and Katrina Kaif and all those people and Kabir Khan was directing it. And so there’s a casting director Rita Powers who asked me to come for an audition. I had no idea what film this is. I went on to the audition, the lines were in Hindi, I was super confident So she was kind of like, you know, they were looking for an actor immediately. She’s like, can you come again someone, from the Direction team, will be here and I was like sure so I went back again. I was super confident. I came to know it’s that big movie with John Abraham and blah blah blah. I literally got so nervous and I couldn’t do whatever I did in the first audition. I couldn’t see the line properly, I couldn’t give the look properly and all and eventually it didn’t work out for me and that’s when I realized that you know it’s a craft. It has to be nurtured. It has to be studied. It’s not a shortcut to how the perception is that you know all one fine day, I want to become an actor just because I look a little good. Why not try it out when there’s more to it? So I went to New York Film Academy. I did a Crash Course out there. It didn’t do much to me. But then what I did was in that process I started doing short films and I did kind of like 17, 18 short films. The last one was Coconut Grove, which actually got me the best actor award in NYU Tisch. There’s a film festival there and that’s when I decided that you know how I’m going to leave my full-time job and try this full time because you know part-time it was not working out because the only thing I could do with it is, you know the short films and they, some of them I mean out of all these short films only two were taken seriously and they went for all these different festivals and you know, but it just was not satisfying enough in terms of like, you know in terms the money you make in terms of the people the audience there’s not the much-offered audience is only the so I as much as I love doing it, it couldn’t become a career. So it’s like, you know if I have to dive into it I have to go full time and I got a lot of backlash at that point in time from the family and the friends and all because you know, I’m a very lucrative career. I was working on Wall Street working in finance making a lot of money and you know pretty much settled in life. I was almost 30 when I was making this decision. “
2. You’ve acted in multiple films and TV that ensure your stability to handle a dynamic and powerful character on screen. In most films such as Sarabjit, you play a negative role. Though I’m sure, embodying the role of someone like Baldev and Sangram from Aarya is immensely challenging, could you explain the experience of immersing yourself into that character that is reliant on defeating your true mannerisms, and becoming a character audience are supposed to identify as the opportunist?
“See what happens if I tell you in my first film that I’ll take you a step back is Zanjeer, I actually played a bad guy in that. So I was a henchman of the villain in the film, right, so my job, and so in my real life, it’s totally contrasting. I’m not like that at all, but you know, but that part didn’t have that much of a graph so it didn’t come out as okay, he’s a bad guy. He’s a good-looking guy who’s a henchman that was the thing right? What happened inside of Sarabjit, Sarabjit is a biopic. So it was that the character, Mandvev, I played actually existed in real life. So, you know, there was a pattern to follow because Dalbir, by Aishwarya Rai. She was following her pattern of being Dalbir. So her husband couldn’t be, I couldn’t actually create her husband. It was already there. I had to take some of the usages from the actual guy, that okay certain event that happened. He had left his wife. He was jealous of the relationship between a brother and a sister. So the essential nature of this character was there I had to build up layers on that. So in Sarabjit, the character Mandev was actually not a negative guy. You know, he was a guy who was struggling with a relationship with a wife who he felt didn’t love him but loved her brother more, right? And it’s actually if you think about it in real life as an actor when I used to think about this, in his world he’s totally correct, you know who would want one spouse to like someone else more than you, you know, it’s like you, it’s your better half. That’s why it’s called the better half and the better half is not present in the relationship so that was constant. So if you see that character do not see him as a bad guy who is constantly struggling in his mind that is Dalbir and eventually, the last tipping point of that character was also you have to make a choice. It’s either me. Otherwise, if you’re leaving right now, then don’t come back. So, you know, it’s if you see that a lot of failed relationships in the Western World also, it’s like that. Okay. How long are you gonna be in a failed relationship at one point? But at one point you have to give it up. So according to me, it was not a bad guy at all. It was just a guy trying to conceive a baby having all these things the wife is not present in the relationship. So it was and actually if you see when the wife is going to Pakistan post interval to find the brother. He actually comes from nowhere and helps him and helps her and goes all the way to Pakistan even though this guy was like, you know, he has a different life now so that was the guy that was there and now in Sangram in our Aarya. If you see that character also this is how I perceive the characterization of a certain character. So if there’s everyone who is a bad guy in someone’s book. There’s no one in this, that’s how life is. I mean at some point you must have said no to someone or you must have said something that the other person didn’t like and you became a bad person in their book. Look, it’s as simple as that, so Sangram, you know, I had a coach in the series who is called Vinod Rawat who was my director. Also, I actually did some workshops with him before starting Aarya and you know the way I read the script and I thought about Sangram in a certain way who’s a very notorious psychotic and kind of like, you know I mean one person you look at one scene of Sangram and can say that he’s a bad guy, right? But then it was not that exciting to play Sangram. So then I sat with Vinod Rawat, and he actually asked me certain questions which helped me derive Sangram. He’s like, why do you think he’s a bad guy? Then I started thinking Sangram not everything Sangram is doing is bad. Again in his own mind, he is doing it with a very clean mind. He imagined the person who receives 300 crores who gets 300 crores by his own will whether he steals it or by hook or by crook he gets these 300 crores and he’s willing to divide it equally between the two partners.”
3. Being an actor essentially ensures your exposure to stunts and on-screen injury. In your recent role as Sangram from Aarya, your character is incarcerated and is put through moments of anguish and physical damage because of the environment Sangram was in. In one particular scene, Sangram is in jail and is bagged by orders from the rival boss and is bruised and incapacitated because of the multiple punches and kicks thrown at him. How would you describe the process of going through the stunts and injuries on-screen, and what’s the biggest challenge faced during that time?
” It’s a very tedious job to do stunts also, like when I started in the Zanjeer, I had stunts like I’ll have a fight scene with Mr. Sanjay Dutt and all and I was really bad at it. So because I was not trained in action. So a lot of people think that doing the action is like, you know, just use swinging hands and legs in the air. They don’t realize that actually, you know, if you miss it by an inch it can actually hurt someone, if the force is not right, you can actually hurt someone, if you follow the little right and left. You can injure your muscles, you can injure your neck you can have any kind of injury people have died doing the action, you know, so one has to be trained and very careful about not getting out and not hurting someone, you know, and while being in the character, so it’s like, you know, it’s a difficult job to do and it’s a very tedious process. So now that I’m, with my career as I’ve progressed I’ve learned action, I’ve learned the timing and timing is also a key. It’s more like a dance-like, you know, how you dance you have with partners and your timing has to match. It has to look smooth. It has to look like, you know, it’s not like your strong arm in the air and you know, the arm is 5 inches away and you can tell people that okay, it didn’t hit him and then also. Now if you see in Aarya, especially the place where I’m beaten out. It’s very gruesome. Like, you know, the blood is coming out and it’s all happening. So you have to make sure that you know, it’s all looking very real, but at the same time it’s not, if the timing is matching, space is there and the beats are following. So I’m you know, it’s the aftermath even after you not getting hurt in action and we have done this and this happens as a couple of takes, You know, it’s not like one take you’ll have to repeat the same thing over and over again for a couple of times. By the time you reach home every part of your body starts aching. It’s okay like you have worked out for maybe eight hours.”
4. As you’ve traveled down the road of being an actor, there are always those moments that remind you why you decided to pursue the art you do. Being in a position with opportunities that come your way at a frequent rate, you tend to find comfort in pursuing roles that you are comfortable playing, and that challenge you to be better as an actor. How would your ambitions growing up reflect the position you are in today?
“I’m from a small family from Bhopal. My dreams were to just be successful in whatever I do and a little bit like coming to the US so everything was happening, but I never imagined that I would see myself on a big screen one day acting alongside with all these people that I had probably been a fan of at some point of time in life, you know, so like I’ve grown up to see Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, all these people, and I never imagined myself. Acting alongside them playing husbands and brothers and all those things. So it’s kind of like, anything is possible in this world. ”
5. As we dive into your early ambitions of becoming an actor we touch on topics like your dreams and what sparked in you to go into a profession reliant on constantly upholding your talents. Growing up in an Indian family, the acting profession might have been going against the stereotypes at that time. You graced audiences in NYU with your acting talents that you were awarded the Best Actor Commendation Award. This pivotal moment in your early stages of being an actor encouraged you to stand out in the crowd. Like many South Asian young adults wanting to go down a similar professional journey and take on the challenge of going into an arts university, what do you think inspired you whilst in university, that contributed majorly to your profession?
“One thing that I feel was a blessing is that I pursued education very seriously so, even though I was pursuing engineering and computer science and then I was pursuing mathematics it very well equipped me in terms of making decisions. See, what happens is a lot of people dive into acting at a very young age, they’re not very mature in terms of how to tackle stress, how to tackle the struggle, because it’s a very competitive stream of business. It’s not like a regular nine-to-five job where there is stability. There is one project and another project because it just doesn’t depend upon you. There is a lot of variance in this industry as the movie will depend upon a producer and the audience, the dates it can be released. So there are a number of factors that, decide whether a project is happening or not happening. It’s not just you. So, you know, there are times when there will be nothing happening and you have to constantly make yourself in the up there in terms of the mojo you are in, in terms of spirit, in terms of learning, in terms of being there because if you’re not working for six months that doesn’t mean that you’ll be out of shape or not looking good or not be well equipped with voice and all those things which are required for acting so you have to constantly work but it’s not constantly rewarding, you know one project will happen then the project might not happen but a couple of months so, you know when you’re educated and you have had some amount of work experience or in college or any kind of a job you actually you don’t even realize that you are being equipped with certain skills that that will handle the stress that’ll manage your time. So that’s why I think education is very important. My education was in a totally different field. So I wouldn’t say that that has helped me in any which ways apart from this time management and communication and then working in the acting side because I had studied mathematics and computer science, you know, but again when you’re communicating with someone when you’re in a networking event when you are you have something more to talk about to make your personality interesting.”
6. As we discuss topics such as the faces and personalities we see in Bollywood today, it can eventually lead to the topic of diversity in the film industry. Over many years, as I have grown up, I’ve seen the faces that are represented in the films and TV shows. However, as Bollywood has slowly progressed in a less skin tone isolating industry, we still cannot shake off the moments of Bollywood film where they disregarded the discrimination of color in their productions. As late as the early 2000’s we were seeing background dancers who were Eastern European and actresses who couldn’t even speak Hindi, Tamil or Telugu appear as the star all because they were fair. As controlled as this issue maybe now, we still see it in many productions today. What is your take on this matter, and have you spoken out about this type of discrimination in Bollywood in the past?
“The way I look at it, this kind of discrimination is totally not called for it’s not appreciated by most of the people, certain people do it still and it’s not just in the film industry. It’s in pretty much all the industries you can imagine but because this is a visual medium it seemed more and kind of like talked about more and you know. It’s a love and hate relationship of people also like on Twitter and Instagram. These kinds of things will always get more important. I don’t know why people, it’s the audience who’s doing it. So if it has to do something with Bollywood or in the film’s it will be more hype because it’s, It’s visually being seen by people. There are people who, if you take any actor, for example, you’ll be loved by millions, but there’ll be thousands who will hate that guy also and you know for the same reasons that he or she is being loved right? So, I mean, obviously, it does, this discrimination of skin tone and all those aspects that you’re talking about does exist and it was more but with growing times, it has more and more backlash after people have started seeing that the audiences do not respect this and more and more people are against it. It has pretty much, I don’t see it happening anymore that often and there are still some idiots who do it and hold that importance to skin tone and that I personally find it very diverse. Now I see in if, if you take the current projects that have just come out there is nothing about darkness or light as in fact if you think about it there, trying to if you see the series is coming out on all the major OTT platforms these days you will see that the more and more diverse people there are more and more authentic people. You would be able to see that. Oh, I have seen that this kind of person in my neighborhood like it’s more real and more authentic, right because this medium is very much what the audience is accepting for the longest time in Indian culture also like if you see the recent Indian Match Making that has come out, people are talking about it. Why? Because that is, they have they can relate to it, that has happened to certain families that, that’s how you know, they have they that’s how things used to work at a certain point and in some families, it still works like that, you know, so and when it’s shown on the visual medium, then we start saying that oh, this is so bad, you know at some point everybody wanted like in school and all that’s how people were back in 80’s that people want it to be fair, it was more I mean it’s ridiculous. But I mean, you can’t, you can’t criticize that in this film. They’re doing in the film most of the time they’re showing the reality of what people are, films are being inspired by someplace or the other.”
7. As we speak about your platform playing a critical role in breaking those unjust mannerisms based on if you are fair skin toned or not, it brings up your responsibilities of being an actor or as a public figure. The ways and means to approach embedding your morals and beliefs in a job that is heavily influenced by public interest. As brands and companies approach you to advertise their products, how do you often go about combing through the options in order to find a company that has and always will resemble honest and inclusive products?
“See the way I look at it is, there are certain times when I’m sitting with the family and if their kids are around I would change the channel if something bad is happening or if a curse word is happening, right? That’s how I approach the products also, are they harming in any which ways? Then I would not do it at all like if it’s not doing it’s not for the betterment of, and it’s providing a negative to the society. Then I would not do that. I have not endorsed that project because that’s my belief in approaching this kind of a thing. There are a lot of people who approach you like, okay, can you post this Instagram story on this post? And this is we’re going to give you this and that. And certain times, I don’t want to endure something that I’ve never used or I’m iffy about. You know, I would never tell people to use a certain product which I have not been comfortable using, yeah, as I keep it as simple as that.”