I want to shrug off my chocolate boy image: Aftab Shivdasani
The Bollywood actor, who started his career as a child actor, talks about how he’s out to showcase his serious side as he makes his OTT debut in 'Poison 2'
He began his adult career in Bollywood as a 20-something romantic hero opposite the more experienced Urmila Matondkar in Ram Gopal Varma’s musical Mast in 1999, but much before that, he was a child actor who had appeared in advertisements and movies like Mr India and ChaalBaaz, among others. However, as he looks back at his more than two-decade-old career as an adult actor, Aftab Shivdasani is still seeking to shrug off the chocolate boy image that has followed him since he took a plunge into mainstream Bollywood.
However, call it luck or destiny, as the actor was seeking that one role that would help him showcase his serious side, he was offered the chance to portray his dark side in the ZEE5 Original Poison 2, which, Aftab says, may help him finally break the mould.
“I want people to have a different perception of me. It’s something (romantic image) that’s stayed with me ever since I started working (as a mature actor). I want to brush off from this romantic, cute, chocolate boy image, and I think Poison 2 is a show that’s going to help me do that. I hope people appreciate my work after watching it. It’s very important for me and I hope to get their positive feedback,” Aftab told City Times over a Zoom chat.
The actor is excited over making his digital debut and his role in the thriller series that’s currently streaming on OTT platforms. “It’s an amazing feeling to finally take the plunge into the digital world. I was excited about the story, set-up, and of course the edgy character that I’ve always wanted to play. It worked out well for me and I am glad to have made my debut (in the digital space) with the crime thriller Poison 2.
Playing a character with grey shades is something the actor has done with aplomb earlier. In Vikram Bhatt’s Kasoor (2001), which was only his second film, Aftab won multiple awards for his compelling performance in a negative role. But after that, serious roles were far and few. He was offered roles in romantic and comedy films like Hungama, Masti and Kya Kool Hain Hum. The audience too had accepted him in those roles and would have perhaps disapproved of him in any other character.
“As much as I would have wanted to play more dark roles earlier in my career, people were not willing to perceive me in a negative character. Though they liked me in Kasoor, they were still not ready to accept me as an antagonist. I guess then I had no choice left but to accept whatever options were offered to me,” said the actor, who recently recovered from Covid-19
In Poison 2, Aftab plays Aditya Singh Rathod, a man out to seek revenge on people who have wronged him in the past. The actor said he worked closely with director Vishal Pandey to bring his character to life. Talking about how he prepared for his role, Aftab said, “It all depends on how a role is written for you and also the director’s perception. You have to marry both those thoughts and try to do your best and add as much value as you can to the character. I find it thrilling to play a negative role because I believe that there’s a bit of grey in all of us. Everything is not black and white, and then you inject a bit of that greyness into your character and bring it to life, of course you have to do it within the parameters of what’s been allowed (by the director).”
Poison 2 is a revenge-based thriller-drama, and according to Aftab, such shows have their own charm. “If the show is done well, it’s sure to keep the audience hooked. The drama will engage you, and you’ll be curious to know why the character is doing what he’s doing, and what the revenge and his motive is all about. My character in Poison 2 appears mysteriously out of nowhere, but he turns the whole game on its head and changes the course of the narrative. He has a lot of charisma as well as a dark side that nobody knows much about. But as the show progresses, you get to know more about him. Playing Aditya helped me explore another side of me as an actor.”
Aftab firmly believes believed that body language is vital to any role and he spends a lot of time perfecting it. “I do believe that it’s (acting) is not all about facial expressions, it’s also about your body language. I study and watch people’s body languages and try and incorporate them into the various characters that I play. Whenever my character doesn’t have much to do in a scene, it’s the body language that helps me deliver the message to the audiences. But I do it within the parameters of what is allowed in my character. The director and the writer have a certain perception about my character I add my own set of values after that. When it comes to the director, he is not only thinking about my character, he envisions the entire show in his mind. He knows exactly how he wants his characters to play out.”
Coincidentally, Aftab’s co-star Raai Lakshmi is also making her digital debut in Poison 2. An extremely popular face in the southern film industry, Raai has worked in several Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada films and has also made her Bollywood debut in Julie 2. Aftab is all in praise of her talent.
“Raai has worked in a lot of big films down south and some Bollywood films too. Though this is her OTT debut, she’s not new to the camera and pretty much knows her craft. Raai had a challenging role which had lots of layers. She plays Sara (a cunning and greedy hustler). Every character role was layered well in show so it was a challenge for all of us. It wasn’t easy for Raai to bring out the layers in her character – from vulnerability to ruthlessness to being in command and control to looking glamorous and looking the part and behaving the part. Overall, I think she has done an amazing job.”
Talking about the audiences’ fascination for thrillers, the actor feels it’s the intrigue factor that draws people to such shows. “You always want to know what’s going to happen next, but you really can’t, I guess that’s the way life is. With thrillers, you have to keep guessing and that what keeps people’s minds stimulated. You tend to get engaged and hooked to what you are watching. That is what makes crime thrillers interesting.”
Ever since the pandemic broke out and cinema halls closed down, OTT platforms have been the main source of entertainment worldwide. But the type of content filmmakers are experimenting with is debatable. While a section of the audience is liking it, there another camp that find the content too bold to watch. But Aftab feels that content on Indian platforms has gone through a major shift in the last few years.
“You can’t argue much about it (content) because finally it’s the audiences’ verdict. They are liking these (OTT) shows. Whether we’re are going the right way or not is something that I can’t predict, but what I can say is that it (movies and shows) has come a long way in the 21 years that I’ve been in the industry. The kind of films made between 2000 and 2010 had conventional scripts, but a lot of shift happened after that,” he said.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen OTT platforms producing radical content. Filmmakers are pushing boundaries and coming up with new content, and the audience is enjoying it. The way people think, how stories are conceptualized, written, and enacted by actors has changed a lot,” added the actor.
Explaining where he stands in the new medium of entertainment, Aftab said, “We are in an age where talent on OTT is being nurtured and appreciated. However big you may have been in the film industry, and no matter what your body of work is, when you work on OTT platforms, your past achievements mean nothing, it won’t work for you. It really doesn’t matter what you have done before, It’s all about what you’re doing now. So a lot of change is happening in the way things are being done and I am sure it’s going to change even further. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of world we will be stepping into in the future.
Technically, the Western film industries are far more advanced in terms of technology and filmmaking, felt Aftab. But, Bollywood is not lagging behind, he said. “They (Hollywood) have larger budgets and reach. But content wise, I think we are at par with them. We have so much to offer to the world. We have a rich culture and history that few other countries have, and if we promote that, audiences will lap it up. There’s no dearth of talent in India and we have some of the finest actors around. I think if we are put on an equal stage with them, we might perhaps shine and outperform them.”
Aftab has been advocating about fitness and health ever since he beat Covid. "I think your body can fight off a lot of things if your general immune system is strong. I've been telling people to consume more Vitamin C and zinc, they will strengthen your immunity. Even Indian healing property is like turmeric, ginger and honey are good. Ancient Indian wisdom has always advocated the goodness of herbs, but we've never really taken the advice seriously in the past. However, now it’s time to go back to our roots and indulge in natural therapies. The cure is in your hands. Have a balanced diet and work on your fitness because at the end of the day, if you don’t have health, you don’t have anything. That’s what I've learnt from by bout with Covid and I advice people to work seriously on their health because you could be having all the money in the world and all the success, but who will you enjoy it if you won’t be around. One should really focus on fitnesss and be grateful to God every day that you are alive. That your hands and legs work and you've got a functioning mind and don’t have any disabilities. We often take our bodies for granted, it's times like these that remind you that it's the most important thing in your life."