Most people try to slot me in comedy because of my personality, says Nehpal Gautam

The actor, who plays a major role in the drama Uljhan, speaks about his career and the long journey of his debut film which is making the festival rounds now.

Photo: Courtesy Nehpal Gautam

Sonal Pandya

While the focus of Ashish Pant’s drama Uljhan is the turmoil into which a couple, Shirish (Vikas Kumar) and Geeta (Saloni Batra), are thrust after they run over a poor rickshaw driver one night, another character in the film, Manoj, plays an integral role in their uneasy dynamic after the accident.

Nehpal Gautam, who passed out of the National School of Drama in 2014, plays Manoj in his feature film debut. The actor has acted in the Amazon Prime web-series Paatal Lok (2020) and the Indian remake of The Office in 2019.

Gautam was eager for the film’s release as it began its festival rounds with a world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in April. “[Uljhan] was made a long time ago and then the lockdown came so we were late a year in premiering it,” he told Cinestaan in a telephone conversation. “It was really great working with Ashish, the director. His working style is quite different from other directors and Uljhan is also an art film, so the way he has used metaphors [and everything], those are quite nice.”

“The way my personality is, most people try to slot me in comedy. Iss film mein alag hi, doosra shade hai. That’s why I’m quite excited [about its release],” he added.

It took the filmmaker around nine months before he cast the role of Manoj and he called the young actor “a find”. The biggest hurdle for Gautam once he got the part was learning how to drive as his character Manoj takes on a job as a driver in the film.

“I didn’t know how to drive,” he admitted. “The production enrolled me in a driving school in Lucknow for 15 days. I used to go there every day to learn.

The scenes in the drama, especially in the finale, are quite intense and Gautam recalled that the cast had to often prepare for the long takes in the film. The actor, who looked up to the late Irrfan Khan as his acting inspiration, has learnt from teachers like NSD associate professor Dinesh Khanna and was prepared for challenging dramatic scenes.

“There are two-three reasons for that,” he said. “I am a graduate of the National School of Drama. We are taught [to prepare for tough scenes] and another great thing was that Ashish Sir used to meet us every day for one hour in the morning and we used to discuss our characters. Dheere dheere uss character ko apna kaise banana hai, he would share that, how to connect that with us.”

“Before the shoot, he would give us some instruction and our co-actors, he would tell them something else. It would be like a secret. What he told them, is their secret, what he told [me], is my secret. That’s how the mood was created on set,” he added.

Gautam was also instrumental in helping cast two key associates of his character, Gopal and Jeevan, in Uljhan.

“I’m basically from Shahjahanpur, UP and that’s where our [acting] group is from,” he explained. “The [young] actors [Anurag and Abhishek] are new there; they are learning. The casting team said they need two young men, so we suggested these guys from our group, and they got selected. And coincidentally, their scenes were with [my character] and their audition was also with me. We had a sort of chemistry from before the beginning only.”

The actor, who has given a raw, gripping performance in the film, hopes to receive good opportunities in the future. Even though he is a trained actor, people tend to concentrate more on looks than talent, he said. Gautam feels it’s very important to get established as a performer, and that is what he is working towards.

“They should look at me differently now,” he said. “From the beginning, they [slot] you in. Then they realize later on what kind of talent and capacity you have.”

Even though there has never been a better time to be an actor what with the proliferation of over-the-top platforms, Gautam feels that it is still difficult for many to get their first break.

“It’s both things,” he said. “As the platforms are increasing, the work is increasing; the number of actors is also increasing. We don’t even know what projects or auditions are out there.”

Gautam has worked as a dialogue coach with his Uljhan co-star Vikas Kumar on the upcoming Bhoot Police and has completed another independent film project.

Uljhan will be streaming virtually on MovieSaints at the New York Indian Film Festival from 4 to 13 June.

Related topics

New York Indian Film Festival Santa Barbara International Film Festival MovieSaints