Misfortune has a curious way of working out in the end for actor Namit Das. A 2010 film he did, Phillum City, never made it to screens, but it helped him strike up a friendship with its screenplay writer – Sharat Katariya – in whose latest film, Sui Dhaaga, he now has a role. Moving to New York for a run of Monsoon Wedding, the musical, meant that Das couldn't take up any Bollywood films last year. But that's where he met Vishal Bhardwaj, who was then working on the play's music, and got himself a role in the director's Pataakha.
Das says he can't reveal much about his Sui Dhaaga character, just that he's "an edgy guy, who is part of the family and has looked after them for very long." He's more forthcoming about his Pataakha role – "I'm playing Radhika Madan's husband, Jagan, who's simple and sweet. I've shaved and so for the first half, I look like an overgrown manchild. My character is the elder of two brothers and works in the telephone communication department. He has a sweet small-town sensibility," he says.
Ahead of both films' releases on September 28, the Wake Up Sid actor tells us what it means to be starring in two of this year's biggest movies:
You've been consistently acting but we haven't seen you in a movie for a while. Suddenly you're in two big films – Sui Dhaaga and Pataakha. What's your frame of mind right now?
For the longest time, I was busy with my (2016) television show Sumit Sambhal Lega. Post that, I was shuffling between Bombay and New York because of Monsoon Wedding, the musical. I was in America for six months and then here for another six. Whenever I came to Mumbai, I'd just do ads and then go back and do theatre in NY. But since the beginning of this year, it was clear that I was going to be in Mumbai for some time. So that's why these two projects worked out and they're both releasing on the same day – how wonderful is that?
I feel great. I'm so lucky to be in both films and have decently important roles that are very contrasting. Sui Dhaaga was supposed to be a guest appearance, which became an extended guest appearance, which finally became a character. My mom's also acting in the film. It will be her debut at 54. I did it mainly because Sharat promised me a scene with my mom and I thought that it would be imprinted on celluloid for the rest of our lives, for all eternity. So I said yes to the film for personal and artistic reasons.
And what a great cast Pataakha has. Everyone has brought in their own colour. I've had a beautiful time with both the girls (Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra), Sunil Grover and my friend Abhishek Duhan. I feel like I'm batting on a very good wicket and I can play front foot right now.
What was your experience of working with Vishal Bhardwaj and Sharat Katariya?
It's very tough on the mind sometimes. You've to tune in completely. I'm so happy that I didn't have to shoot for the films simultaneously. I shot for Sui Dhaaga first, then the first half of Pataakha, then five more days of Sui Dhaaga and finally, the second half of Pataakha. So I could keep the two roles separate in my head. Sharat has been an old friend. He's really like a child. When the actor gives him what he wants, he's happy like a child. And he's so transparent in his wants and what he imagines. If that doesn't come to fruition, he's frustrated but that's understandable because directors have to go through so much.
Vishalji and Rekhaji have been close family friends for a long time. My mother is close to Rekhaji and there's a lot of love there. Vishalji just lets his actors breathe and that's the sign of a very experienced director. He lets the actors do their thing and interpret a scene he has written. He has a very indirect way of approaching anything and gives so much respect to everyone on set. He's never lost his cool on set. No one shouts, there's no conflict because everything has been pre-planned. We shot at a breakneck speed but it didn't seem as though we shot a lot. There were days we shot for 13 to 14 hours but we still felt like we could go on for another three hours. We would pack up at 7.30-8 pm and I still had the energy to go on for another two hours. That's the beauty of a Vishal Bhardwaj set. With him, I've learnt that it's all about the little things. They add up to the bigger picture.
What is it like to act alongside your mom?
It was an out-of-body experience. We were in the hotel rehearsing and I told her she could do the scene a certain way and she said okay and then when we were shooting, she just started looking at me. I said, 'Mom don't look at me, act!' But for that split second in front of the camera, you really forget that you're this person's son or mother or friend. And then you're back and you're like, 'This is my mom.' It was very interesting. When I looked into her eyes, I saw myself. It was overwhelming for the both of us. Her debut is going to be a pataakha.
Your dad, Chandan Dass, is a ghazal singer, your wife, Shruti Vyas, is a theatre actress, your brother-in-law is actor Sumeet Vyas. What the greatest joy of being surrounded by artistes all the time?
The greatest joy is to be understood. I'm 34 now and what I've realised is that as artistes, you need a specific kind of understanding from those around you. People need to give you your space but also hear you out. I feel that I've got the perfect support system. I don't think I have to explain anything to anyone. I wanted to be an actor and my mom never questioned it. There are days when I'm upset because I've probably not had a good day on set and my wife understands that. There are days when I'm stuck with a scene and I know I have to call my brother-in-law and get his perspective on it. I know that will help me. There are days when I'm down and wondering why I do this. And then I look at my father, who's been doing this all his life and he still gets up in the morning and does his riyaaz. And it's the only thing I know. It helps me live better and breathe better.