Interview Hindi

I am getting addicted to the dramatic, says the post-Tabbar Gagan Arora

In an exclusive interview, the actor speaks about the SonyLIV web-series, working with Supriya Pathak, Ranvir Shorey and Pavan Malhotra, and the challenge of digging deep in dramatic roles.

Shriram Iyengar

Pavan Malhotra ribbing him for eating during a press event, Supriya Pathak casually chiding him for photos makes it seem as if Gagan Arora is the kid in the family. In some ways he is. The actor plays the good son of a small Punjabi family caught in the midst of a catastrophe in the upcoming SonyLIV web-series, Tabbar (2021).

Directed by Ajitpal Singh and created by Harman Wadala, the series will be streamed on the OTT platform from Dussehra, 15 October, and marks the young actor's first foray into a serious dramatic story.

"For a long time I have been doing boy-next-door romantic comedy or plain comedy, but once I got to know what all I can explore with this role, the kind of depths, I have not even come close to the gravitas and experience these guys [referring to Malhotra, Pathak, Ranvir Shorey] have. But even the taste has made me more addicted to the caffeine," he said.

Tabbar, Arora explained, is a story that delves into the concept of a family, beyond just the ideal one. "The kind of conflicts are very real which we never talk about," he said. "Families are the last thing we talk about. It is the thing we take for granted. When we talk about family, we tend to keep things happy, merry... It is not always so."

Arora had settled into a niche doing digital college stories. Web-series College Romance (Seasons 1 and 2) and Girls Hostel were among those that came his way. Yet, the actor said the last couple of years had made him a little restless.

Tabbar came his way through an audition. "The first thing I remember is the creator of the show, Harman, narrating the story with me," he said. "I told him please, I want to be in this. My next meeting was with our director Ajitpal Singh, he narrated the whole world of the web-series. I think that was the nail in the coffin. It was so gripping."

Arora plays Happy, a young IPS (Indian Police Service) aspirant, whose return home on a vacation coincides with one terrible event that pushes the family into damnation. The internal struggle of the crime is contrasted by the need to keep it all quiet to protect the family at all costs. He explained, "The viewer also reaches a grey area where you think it is wrong to support this character, but why am I doing it? We always wanted to explore that space where you as a viewer are questioning the morals of it."

A still from Tabbar

"It was written very well," he continued. "All the internal conflicts were detailed in the script. When it comes to these veterans, it was such a pleasure for me. They made it so comfortable. They would come on to sets and talk about their characters, even with me as a person. They shared a lot of fun anecdotes from their lives. By the end we were a family, because we were so into character.

"One thing I worked on was to dig out the back stories with the director and the creator of the show. They also had some interesting points. The amalgamation of these led to an interesting character."

Prodded about the transition into a serious, dramatic role, Arora admitted it was a difficult first week shooting. "When it came to the character, it was on the third or fourth day Pavan sir came up to me and said, 'Beta, mil gaya tereko [Son, you have found the character].' It was a big boost because you look up to him."

Laughing, he added, "The four-day gap where I was figuring out [the role], he was patiently observing [me]. That moment I thought, 'So he did know I wasn't in character these four days'!"

This leeway, the actor emphasized, is a result of the web medium and its narrative space: "In terms of film, you would not have time to explore a character. It is time-bound. With television, sadly, we aren't going scriptwise. It is mass-based. With OTT, the script has come to the forefront. Actors have stepped back, viewers have gone back. It is the script which has become king,"

In an expansive mood, he continued, "With the coming of OTT platforms and the long format, actors have got the chance we have craved for a long time. The audience, too, if I may say so, has developed a taste which they didn't know they were lacking."

Arora is to be part of another big project with another massive name, Madhuri Dixit Nene. Cast in the Netflix original Finding Anamika, the actor has high hopes of the coming year. "The lockdown helped me," he said. "Although I missed working, the time I spent with myself and with the family, to sit and contemplate where you are going wrong and what can you do, that helped me.

"In the coming year, I hope people accept this new avatar of me," he added. Tabbar will be streamed on the SonyLIV OTT platform from 15 October.

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