Sunny Kaushal and Radhika Madan, ahead of the release of their upcoming film Shiddat – to be released on DisneyPlus Hotstar on October 1 – talk about their friendship, dealing with the pandemic after career-highs, and their processes as actors.
Sneha Menon Desai (SMD): The two of you have a very easy chemistry. I even watched an interview in which you said, ‘If you want such professional actors, you would be in love.’ What is going on?
Sunny Kaushal (SK): It wasn’t like that. It was just a hypothetical question in which I was asked whether there was a chance that I would fall for Radhika.
SMD: What’s not to fall for?
SK: Exactly. We’ve become great friends. The other day, I really hit it off with her parents. They are so sweet. If you combine all those things, then obviously.
Radhika Madan (RM): My parents were like, ‘Kitna pyaara hai Sunny, what a nice boy.’ It’s my film too, you guys.
SMD: Strangely enough, I had spoken to both of you in 2019, right after you had come out of individual career highs. It was Gold for Sunny and Pataakha for Radhika. Then the world just shut down around all of us. What does it do for two actors who have just got the taste of being on a good film set and acting? What were these two years like for you?
RM: Ok, for me, like I had a lot of learnings. I think it was a reset button for a lot of us. Earlier, work used to be everything for me. I used to think that if I’ve left my house to live separately in a different city altogether, then I will immerse myself in work. Then the pandemic happened and I went back to Delhi. That’s when I realized that the only thing that I want is my family’s well-being. I didn’t think about movies at all, I didn’t think about my work at all. Whatever I used to boast about earlier – that I was in love with my work – didn’t even enter my mind when my family came in front of me. That made me think a lot about my actual priorities in life. I even wrote it down. When things started to open up and I came back to Bombay, I realized that I needed to have a balanced life.
SK: As she said, like you know a lot of there was a reset button that I had never asked for. The first 15 days were like, ‘What is happening? When will things open up?’
Vicky [Kaushal] and I would do a lot of time pass in the kitchen or something or the other. But when I was alone at night in my room, that’s when I used to think about what is happening. I went through several phases of denial and acceptance. But then I got in touch with a lot of other things that I had left in my life. I started painting, I started writing – which I used to love doing but somewhere, had lost touch, because as she said, it was all about work. That gave me a lot of power too and I decided that once when the work resumes, I was going to grab every opportunity that came my way. So, yes, a lot of priorities were set but at the same time, I became hungrier about everything in general. Today, if I want to do something else, I will just do it without thinking too hard about the what’s and how’s because of what this pandemic did to us. Life can be so uncertain otherwise.
SMD: I was watching our previous interviews to draw parallels. One thing that both of you said was that the mindset that you approached Bollywood was that if you wanted to work with a director, then there would be no ego, no shyness. You would call them and tell them that you wanted to work with them and you wanted to audition with them. What’s the best thing that has come out of that mindset, and when has it been a complete flop?
SK: By flop, if you mean that I didn’t get something, then yes, many times. Once I would reach out to them, then they’d reply politely saying, ‘We’re looking something else.’
SMD: Then it isn’t a flop. At least you reached out.
SK: There have been a lot of times that you’re not able to reach out too, which is completely fine. But one time that it has worked out is Shiddat. I had reached out to Dinu (Dinesh Vijan) – this was after Gold – and he was gracious enough to grant me a meeting. I really wanted to work with Maddock Films at that time. I was calling my managers and saying, ‘I need to meet Dinu (Dinesh Vijan).’ So, I met him and he was like, ‘Listen, you’re a good actor and I have something, but you need to meet Kunal [Deshmukh]. If he decides you fit the part, then you do the film.’ I got out of the meeting and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’ After that, I met Kunal, did the auditions and everything and then that was about it.
RM: It happened with me too. It’s funny because I was actually in the office for Shiddat when I spotted Homi [Adajania] walking out of his cabin. That’s where I begged him for Angrezi Medium’s audition. I was doing Shiddat but Angrezi was never on the table. Homi saw me and said, ‘Yeah babe, you’re good, I saw Pataakha.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah Homi, but I heard that you’re making Angrezi.’ He said no because he was looking for someone younger. And I thought KD (Kunal Deshmukh), waiting to narrate the script to me, must’ve been wondering, ‘Is she not young?’ (laughs)
But yes, eventually I got both the films. But another way of looking at this is, even if you get an audition, you need to be open to the fact that just because you managed to ask for an audition, the film doesn’t become yours. You need to be open to the idea that if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
SMD: The other thing that both of you said is that when I asked you about your first breaks – Meri Aashiqui Tum Se Hi and Sunshine Music Tours And Travels – Sunny said that he didn’t have a choice. Radhika said the same thing – she needed work and there was no time to think then. Today, when you have a choice and when you think back, what was the hardest part about not having a choice?
RM: For me, it was survival. I was paying my rent; I didn’t have work. I had fought with everyone at home to be here. I had left a stable life and told everyone that I was becoming an actor in the movies. What if I was wrong? What if whoever I had fought with – by leaving television, by leaving a safe career had I become a dancer, by leaving my parents – was for nothing? What if my instinct was wrong? At a time like that, you tend to feel doubtful. You want to believe in the positives – you don’t have an option but to do so – because agar tum uss zone mein chale gaye, then how will you stand up for your next audition?
You have no choice but to be positive and be like, ‘You know what? I am going to choose scripts, people are going to love my craft; when I enter, I will enter.’ But now, I feel grateful every single day. I don’t take even a single day for granted. Sometimes, when my day is supremely busy, when I am working 17-18 hours a day and I sleep for like 2-3 hours, I sleep with a smile on my face because this is what I wanted and it’s happening right now. I can’t be like, ‘You know it’s such a tough life.’ I wanted this and I am loving every bit of it.
SK: I didn’t have that kind of survival issues because my parents are from Bombay and I had a house and I didn’t have to pay rent. But I had the doubt that what if was am wrong. By that time, I was already 25-26 and it had been a few years since I was giving auditions and getting rejected left right and center. Obviously, I had to learn a lot in my craft. But, that’s exactly why, after a point, I started feeling that maybe this wasn’t for me. But then somewhere inside, I kept hearing that, ‘beta tu yahi kar sakta hai.’
The good thing was, I didn’t have anything to fall back on. I had cut off my plan B the day I decided I don’t want to be a CA. I dropped it, thinking, ‘Haan main toh hero banoonga, CA kisko karna hai?’ But then when these rejections kept coming, I was really at the brink. I used to have breakdowns. Which is why when that movie came, I said yes, because when I had read that movie, I had really liked it on script, and secondly, somebody was ready to believe in me and was giving me this part.
SMD: Sunny, your family is very low-key. Then there was this storm of Vicky-Katrina ka roka. So did you have like long-distant relatives calling you and saying, ‘Why didn’t you invite me?’
SK: It wasn’t anything like that, everybody knew it was nothing. I think, within a few hours they had clarified about it too. We don’t know how that whole thing even started. We just woke up in the morning and there was this news, and then everyone was like, ‘what is this?’ It was like the newspaper saying, ‘Today, there’s no news, so let’s print this.’
SMD: Are you two different as actors, method-wise?
SK: Yeah, we are very different. I feel our process and the way we approach something is very different, when we are there, we believe in the same thing.
SMD: But how’s the process different?
SK: Mine is pretty simple. I believe a lot in personal motivation and philosophy. So, every human being in reality has a personal motivation and has a personal philosophy that he thrives through, so that’s my inception for every character. I need to find what motivates him, not in every scene, but as a whole character what motivates him at that time, and what’s his philosophy. So, if I get that core, it’s easier. So basically, my process is to simplify things into just one dot. From there, I can start building it – in terms of his physicality, how he’ll walk, how he’ll talk, etc. Then, that whole idea becomes that character’s world and his relationships. Obviously, when you come on shoot, you understand a lot more and start building, subtracting and adding stuff to it.
RM: Mine is similar. It’s like internal se external aayega. At times, it’s the opposite too. It’s different for different projects. Like for Pataakha I was, I started from her external appearance and then got into her core. For every project, it’s different, but you need to understand why the person is doing what they’re doing. I think it’s very important for actors to write or discuss what’s not in the script.
We need to create that [character’s] world, so that when we are at that page or that chapter in our life, we know where we are coming from, and when something happens, we can react in a particular way and play around with that. So, that internal world is very important.