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Interview Hindi

Exclusive: TV is a more demanding medium for an actor, says Daya Shankar Pandey

The well-known actor speaks about his passion for theatre, the challenges faced while working on daily soaps, and how the digital medium has come as a boon for artistes like him who do not fit in the 'good-looking' category.

Suyog Zore

Daya Shankar Pandey made his Hindi cinema debut with Ashutosh Gowariker's Pehla Nasha (1993). Pandey, who began his acting journey at intercollegiate competitions in Mumbai, has gone on to act in numerous Hindi films and television serials over the past three decades. His roles as Goli in Gowariker's Lagaan (2001) and a farmer ostracized by the villagers in Swades (2004) are still remembered by avid cine-goers.

In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, Daya Shankar Pandey, 55, talked about his passion for theatre, the changes he has seen in the Hindi film and television industries over the decades, the difficulties of acting in daily soaps, and his own debut in the digital medium. Excerpts:

How did you start acting?

The bug bit me when I was in the ninth standard. Later, when I went to college, I aggressively pursued theatre. In Mumbai, we have a lot of intercollegiate competition so I participated in Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi theatre. By god's grace I was appreciated and also won a few awards.

It was 1989. At that time the outlets for acting were only two — cinema and Doordarshan. Once I got out to face the reality of the world, I got to know that awards and certificates matter very little. After a few years of struggle, I started assisting Gyan Sahay in direction. I used to also do small roles.

After a while, I got my first break in Ashutosh's Pehla Nasha (1993). It was a tough time actually because I didn't have a good physique nor was I a handsome guy and in those days it was imperative for an actor to be good-looking.

Were your parents supportive of your decision to pursue acting as a career?

Yes, I had full support from my parents. When I told my dad that I wanted to become an actor, he supported me wholeheartedly.

Since your debut in Pehla Nasha in 1993, what has changed over these 27 years?

There is one change that I have noticed. Earlier, whenever the casting for a film used to happen, the director was directly involved in the process. He knew the actor and his/her capabilities and, according to that, he would cast his actors. But now there is a casting agency. So it has become a little difficult for actors like us. We are not against giving an audition, but it makes things a little more complicated.

You also worked with Ashutosh Gowariker in Lagaan (2001) and Swades(2004). What was that experience like?

Ashutosh is a great director. We were friends even before he started his career [as a director]. But he was never partial towards me in the casting process. I was not in Panipat (2019). I never had to ask him for a role. If there is a role that suits me, he will offer me.

You started your acting career in theatre, but you are one of the few actors who continue to do theatre even with their busy film and television schedules.

I love being on stage! I recently did a play called Popcorn by [well-known writer and satirist] Harishankar Parsai. It's a one-man play where I act for an hour and thirty minutes without a break. I play 28 different characters in that play.

You started with theatre, then got into cinema, and then television. What is the difference in these three mediums from the point of view of an actor?

You have to act irrespective of the medium. You have to work hard in all three mediums, but TV demands more hard work because you have very little time to give the desired output. In cinema, you get time to understand the scene and its finer details. In my opinion, TV is the most demanding medium for an actor.

You have worked in TV shows in the 1990s and you are also working now. How has the medium changed over the years?

In the 1990s there was no daily soap. We used to have weekly episodes, so there was less pressure on the actors. But nowadays, because of the daily soaps, there is a lot of pressure on the actors and the crew. We have to give a daily result to the channel and our producers. So it has become a lot more hectic job now.

Your serial, Mahima Shani Dev Ki, was recently retelecast on Dangal TV. We have been seeing many mythological serials being telecast again. What is the reason for this, according to you?

First of all, I'm really thankful to Dangal TV for telecasting Mahima Shani Dev Ki again. Whenever there is some calamity, we humans naturally become more religious. Be it [the teleserials] Ramayan, Mahabharat or Shani Dev, it helps to calm our nerves. Some are now saying that whatever is happening now is because of Shani Dev's curse.

I poured my heart into this role. Generally, people like us don't get to play the lead in television serials, but in Shani Dev, I got to play the lead and it was a big thing for me.


Do you need to prepare differently to play a mythological character?

Yes, definitely. Like when I play Chalu Pandey in Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashmah I have the freedom to improvise in the middle of the shoot, but I can't do that while shooting for Shani Dev. I had to learn each and every dialogue by heart, even the slightest gesture is not permitted.

There is another big issue, the costume. It's very painful. The crown I used to wear weighed 3kg and my other costumes weighed around 5kg. When you are acting in simple clothes it's a lot easier to concentrate, but in such a heavy costume, things become really difficult.

Chalu Pandey is a very popular character, how did you land that role?

The show's producer, Asit Kumar Modi, and I are friends from our college days. One day he told me they were thinking of bringing this new character on the show and he wanted me to play that role. That's how I got it.

You are also a creative consultant on the show. Can you tell us what exactly a creative consultant does?

As I said, Asit and I are friends from our college days, so he knows me very well. He believes I have a sense of script. So he asked me to sit in on the script discussions. I just give my creative inputs on the script whenever required.

Will Chalu Pandey ever solve the Gokuldham Society's case?

(Laughs) Actually, it was an improvisation by me. It just came naturally in the take. In one of the episodes, Chalu Pandey is called to solve the Gokuldham society case, but he finds that the society has already solved the case. So I just improvised during the take and casually said that we waste government resources like petrol and stuff only to find out that Gokuldham society has already solved the case on its own. Later, it became a staple with my character. So now whenever there is a case from Gokuldham society, Chalu Pandey uses this dialogue. I'm hopeful that in the future Chalu Pandey will actually solve Gokuldham society's case.

You made your OTT debut earlier this year with Raktanchal on MX Player. What do you have to say about it?​

I play a politician in the web-series. Though it was not a big role, it has an impact on the plot. An actor should be busy, and this new digital medium has opened up so many new avenues for actors like us. Actors who have a close connection with producers get roles in films and good-looking actors are cast as leading men in daily soaps  So this digital medium is like a boon for actors like us who don't fit the film and TV industries' definition of leading men. I'm really happy with this change.