tv & movies

I played Irrfan Khan’s lover in my first film, was introduced by Mira Nair: Arjun Mathur

This week's First of Many features Arjun Mathur. In the 78th edition of our exclusive series, the Emmy nominated actor talks about his first acting project, Mira Nair directed short film Migration (2008).

Arjun Mathur prefers roles that are out of the box and break the clutter, be it I Am, My Friend Pinto, Coffee Bloom or Fireflies, each film had Arjun playing parts that had a deeper meaning.

With a career that goes back 15 years, Arjun has over the years built a body of work that is worth taking note of. And adding a feature to his cap was an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor he received last year, for playing the main lead in Amazon original web series, Made in Heaven. The show is currently under production for its season two.

Arjun has become a regular face on the digital medium, having also done web projects like The Gone Game (Voot) and Silence… Can You Hear It (ZEE5).

All this is a culmination of where Arjun started his acting journey. Here’s what the actor shared about his first acting gig.

What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?

My professional acting debut was in a short film Migration, directed by Mira Nair. It was in 2007 and I was 25-26 years old. I played Irrfan Khan’s lover in the film. I was fresh out of acting school and had been assistant director for a couple of years. Then I started doing the rounds with my photographs and auditions and stuff. One day I got a call from Loveleen Tandon, who called me for the audition for this film. I remember her face lit up seeing the audition itself. So, I knew it had gone good. And then by the matter of coincidence, that very evening, I had gone to PVR Juhu for the screening of The Namesake by Mira Nair. There, during the interval, someone tapped me on my shoulder, and it was Mira Nair. She asked if I was Arjun Mathur and said she loved my audition but that they could not cast me because I looked was too young with Irrfan. But, the next day I got a call again. I guess they went back and forth about whether it would work out or not, and they ultimately decided to go with me. People ask me why did you choose that film. I say who would not.

I had only two scenes in the film and I acted  one of those during the audition. Cut to the same year at the Toronto International Film Festival. I won’t forget Mira Nair introducing me on stage as her discovery. That was a really proud moment.

What do you remember of your first day on set?

My first day of shoot was near Metro Cinema, at a run-down hotel. I think it’s called the Grand Hotel, or something. The first scene that I had to shoot had the situation where Irrfan catches me with someone else. He confronts me and I had to tell him to mind his own business, it was my life. And I had to scream at him. It was a big day and I know I did really well. Everyone also told me how well I had done.

Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?

There weren’t many retakes, if I remember correctly. I won’t say nervous because this is what I’ve come here to do. So, beyond all the nervousness, there’s only excitement. It’s surely unnerving to be standing opposite Irrfan Khan and being directed by Mira Nair in your first film. It’s overwhelming, but its okay, you have to get over that and be thankful for where you are and given it your best.

How was the rapport with your co-stars when you got to meet or work with them again later?

On my first day, it was only Irrfan. On my second day of shoot, there was Sameera Reddy too. I did not meet Irrfan sir a lot over the years , barring some screenings here and there and it was cordial. Mira and I have been in touch ever since. We share an unsaid and a very special bond. With Sameera, it’s been very long. That film was also written by Zoya Akhtar, whom I’m in touch with till today.

If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what would you like to change or do better?

No, I don’t think like that. I don’t look back and think this could’ve been better. Things are as they are. And they are special.

One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?

I loved Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor and all the three Khans as they came around. I grew up watching these people, and they definitely had an impact on what I do. I loved all Amitabh Bachchan classics – Satte Pe Satta, Ajooba, Mard, Anil Kapoor’s Zindagi Ek Juaa, Janbaaz and other obscure ones. I don’t watch enough Hindi films now, but I grew up as a real Hindi film buff.

When I came to Mumbai and started working as an assistant director, I started growing and evolving. Then, I got attracted to a different kind of skill.

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