Ishaan Khatter has had what some would call a promising start to his film career. “Beyond The Clouds,” his debut film by Iranian director Majid Majidi, earned the 22-year-old a lot of praise when it released internationally last year despite the movie getting tepid reviews. Back in India, Khatter plays the lead in the upcoming “Dhadak”, a Bollywood remake of Marathi blockbuster, “Sairat”, about star-crossed lovers who have to contend with toxic caste and class divides in rural India.
Before the India release of “Beyond The Clouds” on April 20, Khatter, who comes from a family of actors (parents Neelima Azim and Rajesh Khatter are actors, as is half-brother Shahid Kapur), spoke to Reuters about his debut film, working with Majid Majidi and why Bollywood isn’t making enough movies for young actors like him.
Q: Growing up, did you always want to be an actor?
A: Yes, as far as I can remember. I am most passionate about dancing and acting, so performing was my focus, always. Even before I was old enough to be serious about it, I was always meddling with things – dancing all over the place and performing for my family. But as I grew up, I watched a lot of cinema. I haven’t studied acting formally, so my university was watching a lot cinema. My mother would introduce me to classic Indian and western films. When I was 16, I watched a lot of world cinema. I borrowed a lot of my personality from cinema. It has been one of my biggest teachers.
Q: what was your biggest learning as an actor from your first film and from Majid Majidi?
A: My biggest learning from this film was not as an actor, but as a person. It was one of the first conversations we had, when he (Majidi) said: “I know you want to be a good actor and a good artist, but strive towards being a good human being first, because everything will come from that.”
As an actor, craft-wise, there are things to learn from him every day. A lot of times, they are sub-conscious bits of information that stay with you. There are also values he imparts. For example, this one time I was doing a very tough scene, a very emotionally taxing scene. We did the scene in various magnifications, several times, and I remember having lost my voice by the end of the scene. The still photographer asked if I could repeat the scene because he hadn’t been able to shoot it. And I would always re-do the scene, but this one time, I requested the producer if I could skip this one time and rest it out. She agreed, but when he (Majidi) saw the stills at the end of day and realized there weren’t any from that scene, he called me back on set.
He said: “This is your duty as an actor. Tomorrow when he we send this film to festivals, this would have been one of the stills I would have wanted to use to represent our film and we don’t have it because you decided not to do the scene again.” He made me re-do the scene the next day… even though we had a flight to catch. These are the things that make you realise as an actor that you have responsibilities and you better own up to them if you want to be of any consequence as an actor.
Q: Do you think being in this film has opened up avenues outside India for you?
A: It most certainly has, and I would like to be part of good films, no matter where they are.
Q: It’s a conscious choice you have to make, isn’t it?
A: The thing is, you have no way of knowing what your journey is going to be, no matter what choices you make. I am not clairvoyant and I don’t know where this is going to take me. I only know what the possibilities are. I would be open to doing cinema anywhere in the world. I wouldn’t want to restrict myself to a certain kind of cinema, or a certain language or get typecast.
Q: Why is it that Indian filmmakers are writing such few stories for people your age, when half your audience is the 18-25 age bracket? In the scripts you get, do you see that changing?
A: I would imagine that a lot of them are written and not made because they (filmmakers) aren’t able to find fitting personalities and actors.
When I was starting, I was told that I was very young to be a movie hero. There is this image of an Indian movie hero, and I use the word “hero” thoughtfully – that is of a man. And I think it is important to understand that these stories, about heroes, are not the only ones we have to tell. Not everyone is a hero. Case in point is “Sairat”, which communicated directly with people, because they related to those characters. Why can’t an 18-year-old who goes to school or junior college have a compelling story to tell?