I have the potential to do more, says actor Kumud Mishra

The actor who played vital parts in four big hits this year – Airlift, Sultan, Rustom, and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story – on life, theatre, the movies and his aspirations.

Keyur Seta

An interesting meme about film actor Kumud Mishra went viral on Facebook recently. It showed how the characters played by him had helped the central characters at crucial moments in films like Airlift, Sultan, Rustom and M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, all of which were released this year and all of which did well at the box office.

He might have become famous this year with his great supporting acts, but Kumud Mishra has been an actor for over 20 years now. In an exclusive interview with, he spoke candidly about his career, his journey so far, and his experience of working with superstars like Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan. Excerpts:

How and when did you become interested in acting?

My grandfather used to recite Ramcharitmanas. While reciting, he often had tears in his eyes. So, he had this performance element. My father used to do Ram Leela. He was in the army. He used to actively take part in extra-curricular activities. So, there was an atmosphere of performers at my place. I went on stage for the first time when I was six or seven and sang ‘Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge’ with a friend. I don’t know how I sang then. Right now I am besura. I have studied in a military school in Belgaum, where there was a good atmosphere for theatre. Our teachers were professional theatre actors and artistes. I got great help from them. 

When did you start doing commercial theatre?

I still haven’t made a start in commercial theatre. When I was studying to be a graduate in Bhopal, I attended a drama workshop by director Alakhnandan. He was my first guru. This is how I started proper theatre. I worked as a casual artiste in Bharat Bhavan Mandal for some time. I did some ballet with Prabhat Ganguly and Gul Bardhan’s Little Ballet Troupe and also performed in Russia. 

Which are the plays that have influenced you the most?

I have grown up watching plays at Bharat Bhavan. They used to stage some amazing plays. They provided me with knowledge about performing. I got a chance to witness some great performers like Alok Chatterjee, Dwarika Prasad, Amar Singh, Sanjay Mehta, Vibha Mishra, etc. The plays that inspired me the most were Skandgupt, Mahanirman, Phaedra, Father, etc. Chanda Bedni was a folk form play by Alakhnandan, which I found fantastic. Ranjana Tiwari was amazing in it. She also used to sing and dance on stage. I grew up watching her perform.

Do you believe those who start off with theatre end up being better trained than those who start with films?

No, I don’t think so. Theatre and cinema are different genres. The understandability of both is different in my opinion. Although the art of acting is the same, schooling is different. The art of acting keeps changing. It is different now than in the 1970s and 1980s because society has changed. There is a change in people’s language and body language. The language that we used to speak before is not spoken any longer. The Hindi and English we speak now is different from what we used to speak 20 years ago. These days we use WhatsApp language. This also affects your performance and style. Earlier people used to watch two-and-a-half-hour plays. These days watching a one-and-a-half-hour play becomes too much. 

Doing theatre alone isn’t sufficient for survival. What is required to improve this situation?

In the days of the kings, they used to have a team of performers. In a democracy, it becomes a big responsibility of the government to give security to art. Whether they do this is up to them. When it comes to survival through theatre, people working in Marathi and Gujarati plays are able to do that through commercial plays. Hindi theatre doesn’t hold such possibility. Firstly, the audience isn’t big. Since recent times a lot of Hindi plays are getting staged at festivals. But they focus mainly on comical and light-hearted plays. Serious and thought-provoking plays don't get much scope. If you are doing a light-hearted play, you will be invited to 10 places. But if your play is serious, you will struggle.

From the time I came to Mumbai, I have been doing plays. But I have always got support from films, television and ads. There was a time when I used to do theatre in the evenings and earn money during the day from TV. But you can still run a theatre group. The situation isn’t that bad. Those who are saying we can’t survive by only doing theatre are still surviving.

I have heard from a number of actors that theatre provides more satisfaction than films. Do you feel the same?

I would also like to say this. But there is a certain amount of arrogance in saying this. I completely agree with all those who have this opinion. But still, I find some arrogance in this statement. I am doing theatre in Mumbai since 20 years by choice. As compared to TV and films, I have done more theatre. This shows what I prefer more. But this doesn’t mean I am doing some great work in one medium and not-so-great in another.

Cinema isn’t lower than theatre. Both mediums are different and both have their special qualities. It is my choice that I like theatre more. That space makes me happy. But I am not someone who is against films. I like films and they give me good money. And last year I got to do a lot of good work. Earlier, too, I got a chance to work with very good directors. But even if you ask me in my sleep, I will prefer theatre. 

The Facebook meme that went viral.

How did your entry in television and films happen?

When I came to Mumbai, I went for the audition of Shyam Benegal’s The Making Of The Mahatma (1996) for the role of Mahatma Gandhi. It was an amazing experience to meet Shyambabu. Over there I came to know what a weak actor I was, although I reached the final stages of the audition. In the end it was me and Rajit Kapoor, who eventually bagged the role. I feel embarrassed to say this, but I was a bad actor then. Even if they had selected me, I would have delivered a bad performance. Thank god they didn’t.

As far as television is concerned, I did the show Zameen Aasmaan which was directed by Tanuja Chandra. I also did Swabhimaan. There wasn’t any struggle as such. I kept getting work. I have been very fortunate. 

You have played a wide range of characters. Do you prepare differently for each character?

There can’t be the same pattern for every character. I won’t falsely boast that I have a special way of preparing. This might be happening in the subconscious. I don’t think about it. For every new project, the director, subject, team and atmosphere are new. If you surrender yourself to these things, you will manage to do something new. A lot of things get solved by doing this.

Things can go wrong too if the director is wrong. There might be a difference in understanding between you and the director. 

Do you believe that character actors have better opportunities now as compared to 10 years ago?

Firstly, I have a problem with the definition of character actors. Even a hero plays a character. We start thinking that he is a star, not an actor, and a character artiste is an actor, even if he is a donkey. A lot of character artistes are donkeys. And there are a lot of stars who are brilliant actors. But we don’t include them in the category of actors because we like seeing them as stars.

Secondly, earlier, if a man played a police inspector and a woman played a widow, they would continue playing the same characters forever. But today, directors themselves wouldn’t want me to play an inspector after 2-3 times. Today, an actor would repeat himself in the same role only if he has no other choice. So, there are interesting opportunities available. 

As you said, you got a chance to work with very good directors recently. Therefore, you were seen playing important characters this year in successful films like Airlift, Sultan, Rustom and M.S. Dhoni. This year has been special for you....

It is quite funny to think that this year has been special for me. Every year has been special. The thing is that I have done more films this year and they have done well at the box office. But even before this year, I had done some very good films like 1971, Rockstar, Sardari Begum, Filmistaan, etc. But films alone don’t make my year. It is made by my theatre too. And for 15 years, I have done memorable work in theatre. I have been a part of almost all Manav Kaul plays. I have also done plays with Sunil Shanbag and Abhishek Majumdar.

The kind of experimental characters that I have played on stage are hardly offered to me yet in films. It is just that I got to work with interesting directors in interesting films that people are noticing me now because the reach of cinema is wide. But if asked, I would say this year has been better financially than previous years. But creatively, I have been having the same emotions for 15 years. People still remember me from Rockstar. In these hit films, my contribution hasn’t been much. I am just a part of a car. The car is moving at a good speed and I am liking it (smiles).

You said you felt you weren’t a good actor when you auditioned for The Making Of The Mahatma. So, when you did start feeling that you are a good actor?

I have still not felt that. I am not saying this to appear humble. Whenever I have said that I have done good work, that is just my comparative study with myself. But if you ask me if I have ever done something that I would describe as, 'Boss, kamaal ho gaya hai', then I would say ‘no’. I have seen Naseerbhai [Naseeruddin Shah] and Alok Chatterjee on stage. I am nowhere near them. Maybe I am being too critical of myself. But I am able to be neutral about myself. I am not saying I am a bad or silly actor. I am not bad. I feel I have the potential to do much more, which I might be able to do in the future. 

You have acted with the likes of Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan. Did you feel special working with such superstars or did you feel they were just like any other artistes?

Whenever you work with a superstar, he doesn’t bring any experience for you. Instead, you take an experience for them. He is big in your mind. But he doesn’t even know who you are. He is just doing his work. For you, he is a superstar. But they have the same qualities as me. So, my experience with them is the same as with any other actor.

If someone asks me, how did I feel working with Akshay Kumar, well, I felt the same like he must have felt with me. I don’t do a film because of Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan. They don’t even know who I am. The director casts me. It is a coincidence that a film has Akshay, Salman, Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan. It might also have some Vidyadhar. But nobody will ask how I felt working with Vidyadhar.

If you like my performance with a superstar, it means my experience must have been good. When I am working with them, I don’t wish to see them as superstars, although you can’t see them in any other way. After all, Salman is Salman. But if I work while being in awe of them, I won’t be able to work well. It is their humility that they behave like artistes. 

What are your forthcoming films?

I am doing Subhash Kapoor’s Akshay Kumar-starrer Jolly LLB 2 and Nitin Kakkar’s Ram Singh Charlie, which also stars Divya Dutta.