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Interview Hindi

Used to walk 50 kilometres every day to give auditions: Pataakha's Tharki Patel, Saanand Verma

In an interview with us, the actor spoke about his struggles, the Pataakha journey, and the pleasures of being a loner.

Saanand Verma

Mayur Lookhar

There are those who have starry dreams, and then there are those who are passionate about a craft. Saanand Verma is a name not may be familiar with, but the word 'Paglait' may ring some bells. This word, coupled with his famous dialogue in the show, 'I like it', has defined this actor, almost become his identity.

Fans of the &TV show Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain lovingly know Verma as Paglait (madman). His character Anokhe Lal Saxena has lost his bearings. He is ready to lose all his wealth, smiles each time he is reprimanded or slapped. Each time, he just says, “I like it.”  Most would mock his conduct, a few might be inspired. Rarely have we seen such a character on television.

His passion is reflected in his tone when Verma speaks about Paglait, cinema and the craft of acting. Contrary to Paglait, Verma will be seen playing a satyromaniac called Tharki Patel in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha that hits the screens on 28 September. 

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Born in Patna, the Delhi-raised actor has a remarkable story to share. While it’s no rags-to-riches story, his real struggles began after he quit a lucrative corporate job to pursue his passion in acting. In an interview with Cinestaan.com, Verma spoke about his struggles, the Pataakha journey, and the pleasures of being a loner. Excerpts.

For a man who said 'I like it' to the prospect of being devoured by a lion [in the TV show Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hain], I wonder whether the Paglait in you would be saying the same now that he's playing a ‘Tharki Patel’ in Pataakha?

[Laughs] Let me tell you one thing. I strongly believe that actor are paglaits [mad]. This madness is easily visible in some, while it remains hidden in others. Most of us are mad to do such roles. Personally, I feel if you don’t have this manic passion, then you will not be able to do this job. 

As far as ‘Tharki Patel’ is concerned, after watching him, I won’t say once but I’d say 100,000 times that ‘I like it’. The reason for this is that Pataakha is the most important film and role of my career.  The reason for that is that is being made by a big filmmaker like Vishal Bhardwaj. It’s dream for very to work with Bhardwaj.

Can you talk about the experience of working under Vishal Bhardwaj? 

This is nothing less than a divine experience for me. Years ago, I'd met him when I was a journalist, I have worked for a big publication like Dainik Bhaskar [a daily]. Back then, I was working for the Hindi Blitz [a weekly tabloid]. Bhardwaj’s Maachis (1996) had released then. He had scored the music for it. I sing, too, and so after the interview, I performed a few songs for him. He appreciated it but asked to me to take formal training, he referred me to Suresh Wadkar’s music academy [Ajivasan Music Academy].  

 Is there any particular anecdote to share from the sets of Pataakha? 

While filming, a director would often praise and encourage you. You will never hear any foul word from him. To me, he is like this sage/monk of the industry. The moment, I pack up I rush to my house/ hotel room. One fine day, I headed to my hotel after pack up. We were shooting in Udaipur.

As I was rushing to my room, I heard someone take my name. I thought it would be a fan, but to my surprise, it was Vishal Bhardwaj, standing at some distance. I went up to him. He said, 'Saanand, you’ve done a great job in the scene you shot today.' Only a genuine, good-hearted human being will show such a gesture. There was no need for him to come to me. It just shows how he respects every artiste. I got emotional and touched his feet. 

Can you talk about how you got this role? 

I had to clear three auditions. There was a gap after the first audition as Vishal sir was to begin work on another film with Irrfan Khan and Deepika Padukone. So, Pataakha got pushed. Unfortunately, Irrfan’s health went down and so that film got pushed and Pataakha was back on track. I was called for a second audition. I was called again and after a few days and told that Vishal ji has selected me.

We shot in the summer. I think the whole film was completed in about 29 days. 

If we look at a typical Bhardwaj film, it often has stars or established names. This is his first film without any stars. Isn’t it a good space to be in for actors like you to get the right exposure?

Well, each individual will look at it in their own way. I have always wondered how do you define a star? Probably, for some Sunil Grover, may not be a star but to me, he is a superstar. It takes two hands to clap. 

Suppose a director gives an opportunity to an actor. What matters is whether the actor deserved it or not. If he deserved it then the vision/ judgement of the director is correct. I don’t think one can question the judgment or vision of Bhardwaj. He has given artistes like us a great opportunity. So every artiste will benefit from this.

Ram Gopal Varma had made Satya (1998). Now, it didn't have any superstars and yet it clicked. We’ve seen such films where a director has worked wonders with newcomers. It is always a teamwork. You can get the biggest superstars, but if that artiste is not able to understand the director’s vision, screenplay, then the film will not click. 

Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) is a great example. Gabbar Singh was the biggest character in the film. So, I like to thank Vishal sir for giving opportunities to actors like us. I think it is also a [welcome] change for Vishal sir to be working with new talents.

Given the rise in crimes, especially against women, we have a character like Tharki Patel. Isn’t there a responsibility on the director, and the actor to get the humour out of such a character, but also ensure that he does come off as offensive. Your thoughts. 

 A scene from Pataakha (2018)

Whenever we tell a story it is one, that is borne out from what’s happening in our society. When we play a particular character, it often is a reflection of an individual from our society. When you create such a character, it is not important that such a character should be deemed offensive to the audience. What’s important is how realistic is that character?

If he has been able to strike a chord with the audience, therein lies the actor’s success. Appealing to one's heart doesn’t necessarily mean making the audiences cry, but even if the act has offended you, it is a sign of the artiste's success. Laugh, cry, or offend, the audience should be feeling an emotion after watching an act. If I’m playing a rapist, then it’s natural that you would hate me. If you don’t get that feeling, then I’m a failure.

What was the atmosphere like when Sunil Grover and you got onto the sets together? 

We enjoyed like madmen.

Oh, so you made a Paglait out of him too?

Absolutely. He is an outstanding talent. He’s an old friend. I have worked with him before. We had shot a pilot for a short film around fives years back. I don’t think we had seen him as Gutthi [popular character from the TV show Comedy Nights with Kapil]. Nor did you see me play Saxena [in Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain]. We had lot of conversations that had nothing to do with work. For example, I sang some songs for him. I told him that maybe he should have played Tharki Patel. He said, no you are doing it better.  We have some interesting scenes together in the film. 

We met with Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan recently. While Sanya is this shy girl, we found Radhika to be a firebrand. What was your experience of working with the two? 

I’m a loner by nature. I don’t talk much on the sets. I’m mostly lost in my work. With Radhika, though, I had one memorable moment. As I said, I’m a singer too. On the sets, someone had connected their mobile phone to a wireless Bluetooth speaker. Mohammed Rafi songs were being played. I wonder who is playing them? You wouldn’t associate young kids to tune into classic songs. Vishal Bhardwaj wasn’t present on the sets. I’m a Rafi, Kishore Kumar fan. I thought why not meet the person who is playing the classic songs. I was surprised to discover that it was Radhika Madan who was playing them. She said I have many shades, this is one of them. You don’t expect a young girl like her to be listening to Rafi songs.

You did Mardaani (2014) and in 2018 we saw you in Raid and now we will see you in Pataakha. I wonder whether this rise in your film career is a result of the popularity you have gained as Anokhe Lal Saxena in Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hain? 

Not at all. Saxena didn’t exist when I did Mardaani. I was doing ad films before. Raj Kumar Gupta [director of Raid] had never watched Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hain. He had selected me based on my show in the audition, and not because of the Saxena character.

The same thing happened in Pataakha, too. Vishal Bhardwaj, too, hadn’t heard much about my show. Only after I was selected, that Vishal ji was told that I’m a popular TV actor. If I hadn’t done this TV show and continued with ad films, I still would have got these roles. Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hain has no contribution in me playing Tharki Patel.

When I look at Paglait, I’m just amazed at the punch line, 'I like it'. Now Saxena ji says this repeatedly in the show yet one doesn’t get tired of it listening to it each time. I guess that only shows the quality of that character that he makes it feel fresh every time he says it. Do you agree? 

Yes, absolutely. Success and longevity of such a punchline depends on the quality of the artiste. I must tell you though, before this, I never took up characters that were repetitive. I only accepted this show because I felt that that never before in the history of television, has there been such a character. Saxena derives pleasure in painful situations. This is so unique. He has a positive energy that he’s always smiling, even in a negative situation. 

Paglait is a carrier of positive energy.  I felt I could create a wealth of positivity through this role. And I was proved right, given the positive response from the audience. Credit goes to writer Manoj Santoshi and the show’s director Shashank Bali. 

You earlier spoke of being a loner. Is there any particular reason you want to be one? Do you not like having too many people around you?

It’s natural. I have always been like this. By the time I was 10 [years old], I’d written three novels, each about 1000 pages. I enjoy being alone. That is when your creativity comes to the fore.

Can you talk about your background? 

 I was born in Patna, raised in Delhi. After 10 years in Delhi, I went to Patna for a few years and then returned to Delhi. My father didn’t have a stable career. So, the family had to struggle. I have done my graduation in Bachelor of Arts from Delhi University.

I always wanted to be an actor. To fulfil this dream, I quit my lucrative job, where I was earning Rs50 lakh annually. When I left that job, the only thing I had in mind was to do films. I was obsessed with feature films. I started off as a journalist. Thereafter, circumstances were such that I had to take up a corporate job. I worked for Sony Entertainment Television as a supervising producer and spent quite a  few years in this field.

One fine day, I realised that I came here to act, and that is what I needed to do. I left that job in 2010. Whatever money I made, savings, provident fund, gratuity, I invested all of it in buying a big house in Mumbai. I was used to a luxurious lifestyle, and so,  I struggled to travel in local public transport: buses, trains. I didn’t have much money to travel in auto rickshaws and taxis. So, I used to walk 50 kilometres from Mira Road to Andheri [to and fro]. All this to meet people, give auditions.

But given that you walked for 50 kilometers, by the time you reached the studios, you must have have been exhausted.

It was tough. Once I reached Andheri, I had tea and spent an hour around there. I have been through hard times. I used to wake up at 6.00am, and reached Andheri at 1.00pm. I spent 3-4 hours out there, and then I walked back home. I was too stubborn and didn't travel in buses and trains.

Now were your parents aware of this? Were they living with you during this phase? 

My family is the world’s best family. They have supported me throughout. I never told them about my marathon walks then. Now when she learns about it, my mother cries. They stay with me and are very happy. 

It’s quite fascinating listening to your story. I’m reminded of this Hindi proverb, 'Bhagwan ke ghar der hain, andher nahin'.

Guru, you have to believe in good karma. Your good deeds will eventually work in your favour. It is important that you delete all the negativity from your life. Delete ego, greed, anger, and just keep positive things with you. If you hurt anyone, it will one day come back to bite you. I always strive to do good deeds. I shouldn’t be hurting. I live happily in my world.