Bollywood has always been a soft target: Purab Kohli
The Bollywood actor talks about his latest web movie 'London Confidential: The Chinese Conspiracy', surviving Covid and why he moved to London
There's much more to the actor, who played the drums in Farhan Akhtar's Rock On!!, than meets the eye. Apart from being a versatile actor, Purab Kohli also trained to be a pilot, was a VJ, a hockey and football enthusiast and also wanted to get into the hotel business at one time.
"Yes, I was a hockey and football player in school. Our school (St Stanislaus, Bandra) produced one of Mumbai's best players and former captain of the Indian hockey team Viren Rasquinha. He was our captain in school and I was part of the 15-member team. I also played football in college. But I really can't play anymore. I remember when I was shooting for Hip Hip Hurray in 1998, the St Mary's School boys were playing hockey on the field and I thought why not join them? I suffered a major back sore and couldn't stand straight for two days (laughs). I had not played for 2-3 years and that was it for me and hockey," the London-based actor revealed in a candid conversation with City Times over Zoom.
But Kohli has not given up sports totally and often plays cricket with friends, that's when he has the time, but nowadays he's more into swimming and cycling. Talking further about his early days he said. "I joined a flying school and had even done all my exams, but in those days there were just a handful of airlines companies in India so I didn't pursue flying, no one had imagined that the airline industry would grow to what it is now. After that, I wanted to do hotel management. You know, my dad (Harsh Kohli) was a film producer and a hotelier. I had attended a couple of interviews at Mumbai's Sophia College to get admission for the hotel management degree, but then I thought, that's not what I want to do and moved on to acting," he added.
The 41-year-old actor started his career on television as a VJ on the now-defunct Channel [V]. "I do miss music television. But I quit Channel [V] after realising that they were producing more reality shows and not music-based or trend-setting shows. That's when I decided I didn't want to be part of music channels. There's really no need for TV music channels anymore, social media channels have now filled in that gap."
Kohli plays the lead in London Confidential: The Chinese Conspiracy, a whodunnit, spy-thriller that's currently streaming on ZEE5. The story focuses on a group of RAW agents stationed in London, who are targeted by a Chinese spy. The film also stars Mouni Roy and Kulraj Randhawa. Explaining how being based in London augured well for him and the moviemakers during Covid times, the actor said, "When the movie was offered to me, it was set in another city. So I had turned it down because I was living in London and it would require me to travel elsewhere for the filming. Then they came back to me when London opened up in June, and they had decided to shoot the movie here. Only Mouni had to travel from the UAE for the shoot, the rest of the cast were here. Another reason I did the film is because of director Kanwal Sethi. I had seen his work and was keen to work with him. And now I'm sitting on a successful film that came out of nowhere."
London Confidential also happens to be popular TV and Bollywood star Mouni Roy's digital debut. When asked how the actress adapted to the new medium, Kohli was all praise for her. "It was a revelation to see her work. She's a television actor, and having worked in that medium before, I know it demands a lot more in terms of the level of acting. Invariably, when you see TV actors working in films, you may see them spill into some overacting, but that's purely because of the demands of the medium they are used to working in. I was expecting that from Mouni. But it was a revelation to see how smoothy she blended into the role and how she understood that less is more in the digital space. Of course, we were guided well by Kanwal. Mouni is a warm and loving person by nature. When you work with such a person, you like them instantly, there's a great rapport with them and your take them into consideration when you're acting with them. For me, acting is not about me, it's about the scene, and I focus on making that better. Both of us got on pretty well and worked hard at giving our parts a lot more weight than what was written."
London Confidential is a pacy thriller that investigates China's role in creating a new virus against India on the border, post Covid-19, a subject that Kohli reckons will resonate well with viewers given the current socio-political scenario. "It's the backdrop of the movie, and the world right now. The current situation has been intelligently used to market the film well. We are not saying something uniquely different than what's in the news. But the focus of the film is about the mole in our system, it's a whodunnit, spy-mystery film and that's what drives the story forward."
The Mumbai lad moved to London a couple of years ago intending to get more exposure in the West which he says is a work in progress.
"I did a Hollywood-produced show called Sense8 a few years back which introduced me to working for a Western production. After that, I was looking for more exposure in the West. My wife is British so it became easier for me to plant myself midway between London and USA. A lot of work happens in London. Let's see what happens from here. But I do miss Mumbai, initially, I used to fly down to the city every 10 days, but with time, the frequency has lessened and now it's been nearly 7 months since I've gone there. So moving to London, intending to get an agent here is still a work in progress. Let's see what happens from here."
Kohli, his wife Lucy Payton, daughter Inaya and son Osian, had contracted Covid-19 in April, but instead of being fearful after going through such a harrowing experience, the actor says it was a confidence-booster as he went on to shoot London Confidential without any fear.
"After recovering from Covid-19, I've felt invincible. I believe my body has learnt how to fight the virus. I have travelled to Germany and France and I've been in good health. Of course, I am taking the necessary precautions. I hate living in fear. One has to go on, you just can't keep sitting down."
So how did the Kohlis battle the virus? "The first thing we did was to switch off our phones. There was so much information coming in on what we should do and about the viurs. We realised that the only way to survive the virus was to not panic, be calm and take care of our bodies. It went on for three weeks. We didn't want anything to distract the sanctity of peace and calm and give our bodies the strength to fight the virus."
The actor believes OTT has been a guardian angel for the audience as well as the industry during the pandemic. "It (OTT) is a brilliant medium where people can watch anything they choose to watch, at any time they want to. It serves that need beautifully. OTT is really on top now because these services have become the top payers for movies. They are the guardian angels of Covid times for us because cinemas just cannot sustain themselves due to the pandemic and many of them are shutting down. But having said that, I truly enjoy the experience of watching a movie on the big screen. It's the outing opportunity that I enjoy most... going for a movie with friends or family, it's an event. I hope that doesn't go away."
Bollywood has been earning a bad name after the drugs expose following the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, but according to Kohli the media is equally responsible for this. When his uncle, the veteran actor Vishal Anand passed away recently, he was called by the media and asked how his late uncle was treated by the industry.
"I feel whatever is happening in Bollywood it's uncalled for. The world is going through such a tough time right now. Bollywood has always been a soft target, people go after them and they make news. News channels tend to absorb such stories and promote them. When my uncle (Vishal Anand) passed away, I was called and asked about how the industry treated him. I'm like, 'why you even getting into that conversation, just respect the departed person and let his soul rest in peace'," said the actor who is also the nephew of noted filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and grand-nephew of Dev Anand.