Bollywood actor Tahir Raj Bhasin on being the new-age romantic hero

As Satya in Looop Lapeta, he wears a nose pin, asks for help, isn’t scared of being vulnerable and even gets saved by the woman... The Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein actor decodes the modern-day loverboy


Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 8:53 PM

With four back-to-back releases, both on silver screen and OTT, Tahir Raj Bhasin seems to have become somewhat of an ‘overnight’ hit. But the journey— and years — that go into the making of an “instant” success often remain hidden in the peripheries. The actor first sprung into the limelight back in 2014, with his debut performance in Mardaani, playing the antihero, alongside Rani Mukerji.

Although he has delivered consistently since starring in the YRF project, be it in Chhichhore (2019) or 83 (2021), it seems to be his much-talked-about performance as a downtrodden loverboy in Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein (YKKA), that may have cast a different kind of spell on the actor’s trajectory. The show was also trending on Netflix in the UAE. In an interview, Bhasin, 34, tells us what’s different this time around and why playing diverse roles is of utmost importance in the OTT age.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

After almost eight years since your debut, it feels like people have only recently woken up to Tahir Raj Bhasin. What do you think is different this time around?

When Mardaani came out in 2014, you could either be a film star or you could be a TV star. Now, in 2022, we’re living in this very fascinating time when it’s the time of a hybrid star. You can be doing a film and you can be leading an OTT series at the same time. The audience gets to decide who’s the star, based on the kind of content you’re putting out. I’ve had a fantastic opportunity of doing a lot of diverse work in films, whether it’s in a film like Mardaani or a film like Chhichhore. 2022 has a had a very festive beginning for me. This year has become a year of romantic leads because that’s something I’ve never done before. Ironically, I would consider it my comfort zone because it’s the kind of cinema that I grew up watching.

Looking back at childhood, your father was part of the Indian air force. How did the acting bug bite you?

When your father’s in the defence, you move cities every two years and as a child, it can feel very disruptive because you lose friends. This is pre-Facebook and pre-social media. So, the only constant in my life used to be the movies. I often say that movies were my permanent friends. It’s not as sad as it sounds, I did have friends in real life. But movies were like my sense of permanence, an escape from my life. I remember when we finally moved to Delhi, I joined my first acting class and my acting coach Barry John told me, ‘Hey, you’re good at that.’ That’s how I started thinking this was something I could probably take up. From there, I joined a theatre group, went on to study film and acting in Melbourne and thereafter started the Bombay journey, literally from scratch, sleeping on a friend’s sofa.

You’ve candidly mentioned before that you’ve been rejected in 300 auditions. When all those people are saying ‘no’ to you, how do you say ‘yes’ to yourself?

That’s a really interesting question. I think having mind-numbing conviction is just one of the things that goes as a bottom-line when you’re trying to do something out of the box. This is so true for not only becoming an actor but even if you’re trying to be an entrepreneur or starting something of your own. Anything that isn’t considered by society as conventional is going to have its fair share of sceptics but you’ve just got to believe in yourself and for the lack of a better term, “fake it till you make it”. In our culture, we’re very good at celebrating the wins but very rarely do people focus on the journey and the process of what it takes to get there. That’s something that the phase in Bombay really taught me. People refer to it as a struggling phase, I always prefer to look at it as the aspiring phase because there’s a little more positivity to it.

Actors have different ways of preparing for their characters. Is there a method to the madness?

I would say I’m a 70-30 split. Seventy per cent needs to be prepped and thirty per cent, I leave it for improvisation. If I’m entering a world, which is far removed from my own reality, for example, for Sunil Gavaskar in 83 because I’d never played cricket before, I needed to spend seven months like a real cricketer training with a coach every morning at 7am. In Mardaani, I spent a considerable amount of time in red light areas just experiencing that world. I really believe that as an actor, you can’t mimic the role. You can never be exactly like a drug kingpin would be or play like an international cricketer, all you can do is get the essence of that world and give your own representation of what that is. The artist’s job is to try and understand the aura and essence of that world and the characters.

Your Instagram bio reads, authenticity over approval. Now that the approval is in abundance, how much importance does authenticity hold for you?

The challenge is how to live up to the expectation of an audience while maintaining that authenticity, and I hope to God that I retain that. I do have friends and family who are closest to me, who are my biggest fans but also my fiercest critics. And if they find something is going slightly wrong, I hope they pick up the phone and tell me straightaway. That really is the challenge: How do you grow as an artist but remain the same as a person?

How much of it is mentally taxing when you’re playing darker roles?

At the moment, you’re in the flow. It’s like running a marathon, there’s an adrenaline rush because of the dopamine hit that you get during the process. It’s perhaps at the end of that race, or the next day when you really feel it. Even with YKKA, it was a very emotionally turbulent role. It’s quite something to put your mind through and when you live that for a consecutive 120-150 days, by the end of it you just want to go on a solo trip somewhere and be in nature. That’s normally what my detox is.

You started your journey, playing an antihero in Mardaani, to now playing romantic leads in YKKA and Looop Lapeta, which is very different to the notion of romantic heroes in the 90s…

I’ve made a career out of choosing disruptive roles. The goal really is to maintain that streak and not let the market decide or recreate something that has been received well. What makes all of these roles nuanced or layered, is that there is a flawed humanness to all of them. Satya is vulnerable, he’s a lover boy, but he doesn’t know how to express that. There are a few parallels that I could draw to the 90s heroes like Aamir Khan from Rangeela or Shah Rukh Khan in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na. The term for them back in the day was ‘the flawed hero’, where you didn’t have the most confident person in the room yet there was something charming about him. That’s the tonality I liked about Satya. He’s vulnerable, he’s a loverboy, but he doesn’t know how to express that. The nose pin that he wears beautifully sums up the character of someone who blurs a gender defining notion. He’s that boho or comfortable with his masculinity and I think as a person, you need to be that way when you take on a role like this.

You mentioned how being an outsider in Bollywood feels a lot like skydiving from an airplane without any parachute. Do you feel like you’ve finally landed on your feet? And where do you intend to go from here?

A couple of years ago, YRF grabbed me when I signed Mardaani and I feel like I’m just nearing the surface and the parachute is about to open. The challenge now is whether I will land on my feet or not. That circles back to your question of whether I can maintain the authenticity in my roles and keep choosing disruptive parts, while facing all the challenges that come with it. The last thing that was announced was season two of YKKA! Regardless of what picture I put up on Instagram, it is the only question I get asked. So, I just want to tell people it takes a little bit of time to write good material, but it is coming.

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