Kunal Kemmu is a busy man. Season 3 of his crime-thriller web series, Abhay, is now streaming on ZEE5. He and his wife, actress Soha Ali Khan, have also co-authored the children’s book Inni & Bobo Find Each Other, the first of a planned three-part series. The actor talks about growing up in Bollywood, his most enduring memories of being on film sets as a child and the perils of moderate fame:
I absolutely love the title of Soha’s other book, The Perils Of Being Moderately Famous. I want to ask: What are the perils, according to you, of being moderately famous?
I love the title myself. I remember asking her: What are you going to write about? She said it was all about her life. But one of the perils of being moderately famous is that before you become famous, you travel economy, and then when you’re famous, you go to business class. You have to be very famous to make it to first class. So it can get really awkward when you meet somebody that you’re friends with who is more famous than you. You’re boarding the same flight and you’re in the lounge, you’re chilling. But you’re in separate sections. Now the lounges are also separated. So those are the perils. We used to laugh about that. There’s nothing wrong with it, and actually there’s a lot to be thankful for. Similarly, if you walk into a restaurant and it’s completely booked, they will usually make an exception for you, but what if there are five actors who need a table and one of them is Shahrukh Khan? So there’s obviously a hierarchy.
You grew up as the famous kid from the movies. You’ve been around for more than 30 years. What’s your most enduring memory of the movies?
I was five when I began acting. I used to be a big movie buff, and the moment I heard the word ‘film’, I was like: Oh that means I can go to Gaiety or Jaya and watch myself on the big cinema, I’ll be on it. That’ll be cool and maybe people will laugh and they’ll clap for me. But of course, when I got to set, the first day, I was like: When is this going to come on the big screen? Why are you not already there? And I made friends with the actors playing my siblings and I got to work with Aamir Khan, who was amazing, and Juhi Chawla, who was phenomenal. I shared a close relationship with Mahesh Bhatt and that’s when I started to enjoy being on a set. If I asked for a packet of chips, it would just arrive. If I said I wanted a Coca Cola, that would just show up. No one would say no to me. It was amazing. Then later, I fell in love with the actual art of filmmaking and acting.
Are there any memories of who pampered you most on the set?
That’s one thing that I didn’t like – the whole thing of asking kids if they’ve eaten and things like that. I great time on Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993). I remember it so well. Juhi Chawla was like Mary Poppins. I wanted to go to set because of her. She used to hang out with us, and we’d all go to her makeup room and play games. Mahesh Bhatt was a true inspiration for me since my childhood. Other than my father, he was the only guy who spoke to me like an equal. He never talked down to me because I was a child and he’d try to reason with me instead. I remember the first time he called me a duffer. I didn’t know what ‘duffer’ meant. He was like, ‘What are you doing, duffer?‘ I was like, ‘Hey, he’s called me a duffer. It sounds like a cool word.’ Then he explained to me that it wasn’t. But those experiences only made me want to do this more. It wasn’t that I had to or somebody wanted me to do it. I really enjoyed doing it and I’m very happy that my parents not only supported me, but also made sure that I didn’t get carried away and my education remained the most important thing. I used to say that my profession was education, and this was just a hobby, and by the time I did Zakhm, that was when I actually thought of doing this full-time.
What’s the most obscure place you’ve gotten a message from?
Sometimes, people randomly recognise me from Raja Hindustani (1996). I was in Hyderabad and someone said, ‘I saw Raja Hindustani. Loved you!’ But that’s the thing about films, they immortalise you. So I’ve been immortalised as that child now.