Vishal Jethwa is thriving on Lady Luck!

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Vishal Jethwa in Salaam Venky Photo: Trailer Video Grab

He is best known as the creepy villain of Mardaani 2 (2019), but began his career about a decade back as Akbar in the 2013 TV serial Bharat Ka Veer Putra – Maharana Pratap. Vishal Jethwa also did some more serials and cameos in films and made a post-Mardaani 2 mark also with the web series, Human (2022). Coming up is Tiger 3. But he will probably garner his hugest accolades for his just-released Salaam Venky, in which he plays Venkatesh, a young man suffering a fatal muscular ailment.

Cheerful and loquacious, Vishal answers questions with fluid candor. Excerpts from an interview follow.

What was your reaction when the film was offered to you?

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I was just told that this film has Kajol, and Revathi will direct it. I didn’t need to know more! (Laughs) But I needed to know something about my role as after Mardaani 2, expectations from me have risen.

Rani Mukerji there, her cousin Kajol here. You have a yen for the Mukerjis.

I know! Do you know that I was a part of only one album and that was composed by Arko Mukherjee?

But seriously, I think that I have something called Lady Luck, because I have got Revathi ma’am and Shefali (Shah) ma’am also—who did Human. In real life too, I am very close to my mother and sister. And a lot of females in my family—my maternal and paternal grandmothers and my paternal aunt have been very close to me, have supported me.

How was your experience with Kajol?

I am always nervous when working with a big star. One has to respect them and keep a distance, as I always think they can be unpredictable. Both Rani ma’am and Kajol ma’am would joke with me, ask me to chill, but frankly, I am still nervous with Kajol ma’am! If she was here now, I wouldn’t be talking so much! (Grins) But I must say that even after 30 years, she is a star and a successful one! That’s the key word, for many actresses are around, but only carrying on!

Also, she knows how to make a co-actor very comfortable, and just think—I am 28, so she has more years of experience than my age!

What about Revathi?

Revathi ma’am understands an actor’s perspective as she is one herself. She looks at scenes emotionally and does not go too much into technicalities because of this. She told me to come without preparation and just react to Kajol ma’am. She would explain all my scenes and ask me what I could add to them.

What was your own research like?

Do you know that as a TV actor, I never went deep into my roles? But from Mardaani 2, my director, Gopi Puthran, made me do several acting workshops. In most of them, it was not about performing as much as about getting into my character, how he thinks and so on. For Salaam Venky, most of the research was done by my director. But she gave me a lot of videos of patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the ailment my character has, and how the disease progresses. According to me, the most important part I had to learn was how a patient feels when he knows he is dying, bit by bit as his different muscles start failing.

You once said that you worked a lot on Sunny, your character in Mardaani 2.

Yes, I took him home! For three months, I wore my character’s clothes and that dark zone was very disturbing and actually gave me headaches. I became uncomfortable later when I finally wore my own clothes! I was asked to think what he thought about at night, or of which animal he resembled. I thought of a chameleon, but Gopi told me that he brutalized his victims before killing them, so it had to be a python! Gopi also advised that I had to become like water—mold myself to the shape of each role.

Do you also think real-life experiences help an actor?

Definitely! For my age, I have had big experiences and seen ups and downs. I am very proud that my mom would work as a housemaid and also sell sanitary pads, purses and clothes. My father, who passed away early, worked on machines. I was also a background dancer, did tiny roles, and often had no work for months. I would cry, even got into depression. Diverse experiences like these help any actor, so my approach to any role is not just the 5 days of prep but my life.

And it is my opinion that while clothes, dialogues, hair and mannerisms are all external things, they too help. But for an actor to make an impact on you, a whole team is there behind the camera people, which is why, films are about teamwork! An actor is only representing the show. I am just the final product.

So what was the most challenging part of this role?

That I had no body language to resort to in most of the film and had to show everything with only my face and eyes. That was the biggest challenge, to make my smile very nice, as after a few retakes, it is very difficult to keep it still genuine! I also had to prove that I could do a pure positive role after the black shade in Mardaani 2 and the gray character of Human.

 

 

 

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