In Hollywood, there’s a term for actors we see in every other film play small yet significant roles – they’re called ‘That Guy’ actors. ‘That Guy’ is usually brilliant at what he does, his performance stays with you long after the film, but you probably don’t know his real name.
Closer home, actor Kumud Mishra is slowly becoming that guy. He’s been in five back-to-back films this year – Airlift, Sultan, Rustom, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, Rock On 2 – playing characters that were crucial to the plot but probably had less than 20 minutes of screen time. Mishra is praised in every film review, but by his own admission, not too many people know him by name.
We ask him about what it feels like to be in this strange predicament – when you’re not the most important guy on the set and you have three scenes to leave a lasting impression.
‘I get a lot of cute, funny man roles’
I’ve done thrice the amount of theatre than I have films – that’s where I started my career and I enjoy that space. When I first came to Mumbai, I got some good work in films but that time I had my own arrogance regarding my work. But it’s good I didn’t keep thinking that way because was a very bad actor at the time!
Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar changed a lot for me. People started thinking I’m open to working in films and started showing interest in me. Even today most people don’t know my name but it’s not important. I’ve done a couple of back-to-back films this year and I think my quota is over! It’s just a phase. But I do hope it goes on longer.
Even today most people don’t know my name but it’s not important. I’ve done a couple of back-to-back films this year and I think my quota is over! It’s just a phase. But I do hope it goes on longer.
Since I’ve put on weight people offer me roles of a ‘nice, cute and funny’, old men. I did get a film called Ram Singh Charlie by Nitin Kakkar (the director of Filmistan). I lost 24 kgs for that film. At that period I did get some offers, but when directors saw me they were shocked. When I was doing Rustom, I told the director I wanted to lose weight for the character, but he asked me not to. I understood it would be a funny portrayal.
‘I don’t always get a script narration’
Not all directors do me the courtesy of narrating the script. In those cases I just ask for my scenes and from there I get a sense of what the film is going to be like. I mostly end up saying no.
Like now I’m working with Subhash Kapoor for Jolly LLB 2. He narrated me the whole script for 2 hours from the beginning to the end. I decided in five minutes that I wanted to work with this man. Also he narrated my character exactly like it would be in the film, without any exaggeration. Sometimes I have been told about the film like I was the main character and then when I got the script it was a disaster.
With Sultan I got the whole script and I knew exactly where I was placed. When someone respects me enough to give me the script I read the whole thing. If it holds me in the first 5-6 pages, I read the whole thing. If it doesn’t, I start flipping to see what my role is and don’t read the whole thing.
The thing I look for is how much the director really wants me in their film as an actor. Does he really want me or is he just looking for someone to play that small part? When you matter to the director you sense it.
The thing I look for is how much the director really wants me in their film as an actor. Does he really want me or is he just looking for someone to play that small part? When you matter to the director you sense it. Believe me, that does half the work in getting a great performance from an actor. But if you make them feel like they’re not a part of the team, it affects the performance.
‘I didn’t even know the name of my character’
I did a film where the casting director told me it was a very important character. I needed the money so I did it but I knew iss character ki koi auukad nahi hai. I went to the set, shot my scene and finished my work and I still didn’t have the script.
On the day of the shoot I didn’t know where the director was. Suddenly I heard him saying ’okay, ready!’ I didn’t know my blocking and had got my lines just a few minutes ago. The funniest thing was just before we started rolling a guy comes up to me – my co-actor – and says, ‘Hi, I’m your brother’. I didn’t even know the name of my character.
On the day of the shoot I didn’t know where the director was. Suddenly I heard him saying ’okay, ready!’ I didn’t know my blocking and had got my lines just a few minutes ago.
The next day when I came on set I saw a few rows of chairs were laid out on set and I was asked to sit behind the hero. I got excited because I thought it meant my role was important. An assistant came running to me and said ‘Sir, the woman sitting next to you is your wife. You have to talk to her’. Then after lunch when we took the shot from another angle, another lady came and said she was playing my wife! The next day when we reshot parts of the scene, I had a third wife! This happened almost 9 years ago. The film released and no one recognised me. Also, when the role is bad I hide myself under lots of makeup.
‘I’ve been lucky with my parts this year’
My work starts after the director gives me a brief. For Airlift, my director Raja Krishna Menon knew his background – where he comes from, that he’s not got married, he’s not corrupt. All these discussions we had before shoot. The dialogues had nothing to indicate all of this. I was just giving information. But I try and work on silent gestures and moments that layer a part.
I also try to make an effort to look different in all my parts. Our careers are not very long. I’m very scared of the fact that people will get bored. With stars you don’t get bored. You just want to watch them – they have personality and charm.
Our careers are not very long. I’m very scared of the fact that people will get bored. With stars you don’t get bored. You just want to watch them – they have personality and charm.
The characters I get have a screen presence of maximum 10-12 scenes – sometimes I don’t have even 20 minutes. I never think about how I’m going to make an impression on the viewer in that short time. I believe in the character’s truth at that moment. How can I perform this with honesty?
I’ve been lucky that all these characters I’ve got this year have been important parts of the screenplay. Maybe instead of me if some other actor had done those parts, he too would get the same amount of praise.