Sudhanshu Pandey’s hotel room overlooks the blue sea and Chennai’s skyline. “So pretty,” I say. Instead of replying, he shows me a picture on his phone. It’s a top angle view of tall buildings, and narrow roads curled around them. “That’s the view from my home in Mumbai,” he says. I tell him, “To me, any day Chennai looks the best.” He laughs and nods.
Sudhanshu Pandey may be only four films old in Tamil, but he’s a known face up north. He began his career as a fashion model, working with top designers like Rohit Bal, JJ Valaya, Ashish Soni, and Hemanth Trivedi. Later, he found his true calling as an actor. Thirty-odd films and several TV series followed. In Tamil, his career began as Abbasi in Billa 2. A day before he starts shooting with the Rajinikanth for Shankar’s 2.0, we catch up with him for an interview.
Just as I pull out my dictaphone, tea arrives. I notice he adds brown sugar in his tea. I ask him if the pressure of staying fit and eating healthy ever get to him.
I consider being fit not just a part of my job, or just because I’m in the film industry. Health is a part of my life. Physical fitness reflects on our mind. I do binge once in a week or once in ten days. I cannot deprive my body of all the good things in life. So I think it is important to go on a binge trip once in a while.
Sudhanshu is frank about why he never went to acting school when he changed careers.
I started working as a model when I was 19. And once you start making money, somehow you stop paying attention to what you want to study further. I thought the best way to do it was to train myself on the job. The transition was very smooth. I didn’t even realise I switched into something that is a little more demanding. I think I’ve become better with all the experience I’ve gained so far.
Surprisingly, he didn’t not have to face ‘the struggle’ that most newcomers talk about.
Thankfully, I started with something big – both in modelling and in cinema. In Khiladi 420, I was a parallel lead along with Akshay.
I think that the real struggle in cinema is with oneself.
The fact that you have to keep working on yourself, stay afloat, stay motivated – that is the real struggle. It’s not about just getting one or two good films. It’s about keeping yourself fit mentally and physically, honing your skills constantly, getting better with experience, and trying to be better with every film that comes your way.
Do people react to you differently in real life? Do your characters in films rub off on you or affect the people around you?
It does not affect my personal life. At the end of the day, people know that it’s all an act and not the real me. And when it comes to me, I’ve been in Mumbai for two decades, I have always been in films, or modelling, or singing. So people know what I am. I have earned respect and slowly, thanks to the media and public appearances, even people who don’t know me personally know that I am not the guy they see in films.
Although, I have had people come up to me and say “Why did you do that in that film, it was very mean!“ People do get emotionally attached to characters, and actually such comments are a sign of job well done. As long as I get a reaction from people, I am happy.
So even if they hate the villain that messes around their hero, I take it as another form of love.
In fact, I get inspired by the reaction i get from the audience. I was on 24 – the TV series co-starring Anil Kapoor. I played a cop – a good guy, with some tough qualities. I got a phenomenal response for it, and that makes me want to do a lot more, in a better way. And it makes me evolve as a better actor. A better person, in fact.
For someone who has played so many negative characters, do you ever get bored? How do you keep yourself motivated?
Villain or hero, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get to do a good character. I may be a villain in ten straight films, but if each time it is a different approach to the character, I am satisfied. Many actors have played only negative roles all their life. They haven’t gotten bored. More importantly, the public hasn’t gotten bored. So it’s all about how we approach the character.
Having acted in both Hindi and Tamil, do you feel that not knowing a language negatively affects your performance?
I would be lying if I said that I understand the language, but I dubbed for myself in Billa 2, and it took me all of six hours to do it. I take time with the Assistant Director to understand what every word means, so that I know which word to stress on.
Language is never a barrier in cinema, as long as you understand the emotion. You don’t cry differently in Tamil and in Hindi!
In most of your numerous negative roles, you had to do a lot of stunt sequences. Did you ever feel that some of them were simply superhuman, or felt embarrassed to perform in them?
Most are unreal. The job of the film is to make your believe by portraying everything so convincingly. When you see Rajini sir as Chitti doing a stunt, you obviously know none of it it real. But it happens in a convincing way, and the audience enjoy it. So yes, stunts in films are very unreal. Nobody simply fights like it were a combat. Real life violence, I think is limited to slaps. But as actors, we need to have conviction that however crazy the stunt may seem, it is a real thing. Only then will it convince the audience as well.
It’s time to address the elephant in the room – 2.0. Sushanshu plays the son of scientist Dr.Bohra, the antagonist in Endhiran. With secrecy shrouding almost every Shankar film, I’m curious about how he deals with all the questions people ask him about the film.
In Bollywood, we work differently. Each time we start some project, we go telling everyone about it. Here it is a different scenario. So initially, I did talk a little about my character and the film, and then I was asked not to, which is fair enough. If the director thinks that closely guarding the details on the film is important, then it really is.
I jokingly ask him about my chances of getting a scoop about the film from him.
You will get almost nothing out of me. (Laughs) I can only say that it is a negative role and I am up to some mischief in the film.
Working with a legendary director like Shankar sir and the single-most biggest star Rajini sir – 2.0 will go down as one of the most important films I’ve ever done. Rajinikanth is beyond the number game, or anything else that other actors depend upon. He is in a different league altogether. So even to be in a few frames together with him is a great honour.
Almost everyone down south is introduced to the term “actor” by a Rajinikanth film. We grow up on him and his films. How nervous are you about shooting with him tomorrow?
I have never been nervous about facing anybody or a challenge in life. This is somebody who I’ve looked forward to working with. I have a lot of respect and love which I want to share with him.
Shankar sir is very meticulous, and I think he has the knack of hiring the right people for the job, and that shows how intelligent he is. To have a great vision for a film as large as this is one thing. But to execute it, to make it really show on screen is a whole other deal.
What were your ideas about the Tamil film industry at first. Did anything surprise you?
I always knew that the Tamil industry is commercially very successful.
What I did not know and what surprised me was the humility that the actors and technicians had. That is incomparable to what we see in Bollywood.
I do not know why, but Bollywood has a lot of façade, a make-believe scenario. It’s unfortunate but that’s the truth. Here, I have seen people who are very real, and there is so much warmth here.
Ten years from now, what do you want Sudhanshu Pandey to be known as?
Ten years down the lane, I’d want to be known as a good human being, for starters. I don’t want anyone to say “I don’t like him” behind my back. Career-wise, I really don’t know. Acting is a limitless art form. There is so much to explore and try that it can never end. The more roles and films you do, the more you introspect on what your dream role it. And to me, it is not a set thing.
We come to the end of the interview. Our photographer is busy clicking a few more photos. I ask him what he’s going to ask Rajinikanth when he meets him tomorrow.
It won’t be a question, but a request. I’m going to ask him to bless me.”