Neeraj Kabi, currently in spotlight for his latest web show Avrodh – The Siege Within, is the only actor to have featured in two of the biggest hit Indian shows on the OTT platforms – Sacred Games and Paatal Lok. After playing a corrupt cop in Sacred Games and a journalist in Paatal Lok, the actor has now returned as a national security advisor in Avrodh, which is based on the Uri surgical strikes.
Neeraj also teaches acting and is a firm believer that everyone, whether a star kid or an outsider, should get equal opportunities in the industry. In an interview with Hindustan Times, Neeraj opens up about his work and the acrimonious insider-outsider debate. Excerpts:
Watch: Paatal Lok actor Neeraj Kabi returns with Avrodh, talks about nepotism
You are the only link between Sacred Games and Paatal Lok. How do you see your massive success on the OTT platforms?
I am happy that the audience have liked my performances. From Sacred Games till now, it has been a wonderful journey. I have also been covering various characters — from Sacred Games, The Final Call, Paatal Lok to Taj Mahal – and each of the character had very distinct characteristics. I have received overwhelming response for Paatal Lok. I am very happy with whatever has happened on the OTT for me.
How is Avrodh different from Uri: The Surgical Strike?
Uri was a feature film, which had a limited amount of time to tell a story. Avrodh has got about four and a half hours to tell you the entire story. We have more time for many more details that you have never known till now. It is based on a book – India’s Most Fearless by Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh. It is based on authentic facts that have been shared by the armed forces in research. It has a lot of authenticity and a lot of details. It’s not just about the attack but also about all that happened before the attack – the planning, the psyche, the kind of departments the decision making goes through, the state policy, government intelligence agency, armed forces – they all have to collaborate to be able to take one decision for national security. Luckily it’s a web series, we have the space and time. You get to see each character’s arc in much more detail.
Is your character inspired from National Security Adviser Ajit Doval?
No. The research was done on previous NSAs — right from Mr Ajit Doval, who was the NSA in 2016, and those who preceded him. The focus was not on the people who have been NSAs but on the position – it’s a very defined, highly responsible position in the government. It’s a huge burden and to be able to do that, I had to read about many NSAs on the internet. This way you get their psyche and process all this information and from there you create Shailesh Malviya.
Do you think star kids get more opportunities than the outsiders in Bollywood?
I don’t give it much thought. My thought is about creating more talent when I do workshops. The fact is that star kids are getting more work than others, but you don’t know why. I don’t use words like nepotism because I don’t know what the reality is. Maybe they like to take star kids because the audience likes to see them or maybe they do good business. Filmmaking is not a government organisation, it’s private. Producers have the liberty to cast whoever they want, you can’t point a finger at them. You can’t file a case against them, it’s their choice. If everybody wants to be a part of this, then there are many ways of doing it than to just fight with them. Raise your talent instead, there is no way that you will be eliminated.
Make yourself so powerful and good as an actor that whether it is a commercial film or parallel cinema, you will be invited to be a part of it. I believe in this completely. It’s like reservations. You can’t argue about those things, you just have to make yourself very, very good. And you have to bear the fact that certain producers are making films and prefer to take their children. It’s a very personal decision.
Having said that, if you only take star kids all the time, you will never be able to create huge amount of cinema with great talent. You will definitely lose on talent. That’s like politics, if one family rules, you will never have great politics.
OTT has proved that huge amount of outsiders are coming in and showcasing their amazing talent. OTT is not showcasing star kids. Not just actors but even the directors, writers, costume designers, art directors — look at the talent, look at the content and look at the quality on the OTT!
We shouldn’t point at the star kids, that’s very unfair. Maybe there are so many star kids who are so good. But because of this game of nepotism, each one of them is being blamed, again that is unfair. There are so many of them who are very good, they should be given that chance. You don’t sideline them just because they are star kids.
Do you believe the film industry will evolve for the better?
I think we will always coexist together. There will be more space, OTT is creating that space, it’s showcasing to the producers that there are many talented outsiders, please take them. It will happen.
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What kept you busy during lockdown?
There were so many recordings, interviews and promotions for Paatal Lok and then Avrodh. I am reading a lot of scripts for forthcoming projects that take up a lot of time. There are also a lot of theatre performances. I am also showcasing theatre performances online for major organisations in the country. Every day is a busy day.
I went to my first shoot after 3.5 months recently. What occupies my mind is what changes we should bring in ourselves. Once all this gets over, do we go back to same lifestyle? Are we looking at some change in each one of us? This pause has happened because we need to rethink. It’s not a pandemic, its nature’s pause. All of us have to now think about how to behave with nature. How do we now behave ourselves! Our behaviour has landed us in the mess we are in today. We have to find more collaboration with the universe and the planet and live more cohesively than just living for ourselves.
Do you have an exciting project lined up next?
Many projects are in pipeline. The immediate one will be a feature film – Freedom by Dibaker Banerjee, that’s coming on Netflix. There is also a Hollywood web series — that’s a very important project I am looking forward to. I have begun work on that already.
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