Tahir Raj Bhasin became the talk of the town when he made his debut in 2014 with Pradeep Sarkar's Mardaani. Eight years on, he's grabbing the spotlight once again after seeing simultaneous releases in 83, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, Ranjish Hi Sahi, and the upcoming film, Looop Lapeta. The actor has waited for his time, which seems to have finally rewarded him. With acclaim coming from various corners, he talks about what kept him going, his decision-making process when it comes to his scripts and the new meaning of stardom in today's consumerist age.
Anupama Chopra: One of the things that I find very inspiring about actors is the level of patience and conviction you need to just stay the course. You were amazing in Mardaani, which was in 2014. And of course, you've had successes, including Chhichhore, but you're hitting critical mass now. What does it take to have that patience and that kind of persistence over 8-9 years? And you came to Mumbai in 2010, years before you landed Mardaani.
Tahir Raj Bhasin (TRB): That's right. I came to Mumbai four years before I landed Mardaani and about 300 auditions that I was rejected from before it happened. I truly believe that it is those rejections that led to Mardaani happening. I valued that debut so much more because of the kind of phase that I had gone through. In Mumbai, it's often labeled as the 'struggler's phase' but I always prefer to look at it as the 'aspiring phase' because struggle has a connotation of negativity to it. It has the possibility that you might not make it. But for me, Plan B always was to make Plan A work.
In an industry that's show business, where a part of it is commerce-driven, when something does well, the tendency is to repeat that success. I remember getting about seven scripts the year Mardaani did well, all of whom was shades of the same character. I had to make a very tough decision, as someone who had waited for three years for that moment, to refuse those parts because I knew that if I was to remain creative and stimulated, diversity was really important. So, off the back of Mardaani, came a film like Manto, where I had this amazing opportunity to work with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and then there was Chhichhore, where I worked with Nitesh Tiwari. Then 83 happened, and now, the culmination of it all, where that diversity is coming through. So to answer your question, yes, a lot of patience, mind-numbing conviction and very often ignoring what people have to say in terms of "Hey, why aren't you doing five films a year?", and one of my favorite sayings that I got from Nawaz, in fact, was to say, 'Race to ghode daudte hain, hum to kalaakaar hain.' And I believe in that because if you remain consistent, the audience will decide who's a star and who's not.
AC: But in that moment where it's been whatever a year since your last release, you are getting another film, there's possibly a good paycheck attached to it. How do you say to yourself, "No, I'm going to wait for a better opportunity." What does that take?
TRB: A little bit of confidence, and a little bit of insanity mixed in. My agency – I'm with YRF, who I debuted with, thankfully, the same people who have guided Ayushmann Khurrana and Ranveer Singh's careers – helped me make those decisions. It also comes from a personality of someone who gets bored very easily. What the audience doesn't realize is that a new script is like a relationship. You interact with that material with the team, with the director, for the next 6-8 months of your life. So, for me, every one of those decisions is almost like accepting a relationship, like do I want it? Am I falling in love? Do I want to half fall in love with this person for the next few months or hold on to the possibility of something slightly better that might show up? That's the sort of mindset that goes behind that decision making, which months like the last few validate. But there are a lot of moments when you feel whether it should be quantity over quality sometimes. I'm so happy that today, with the kind of response I'm getting, the choices are being respected.
AC: Ye Kaali Kaali Ankhein is also a hat tip to Shah Rukh Khan. From the title to so many things about the character, and like Shah Rukh, you are a Delhi boy, you also trained with Barry John. Tell me, is that kind of superstardom still attainable as an actor? Or were Shah Rukh, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan the last of that sort of oversized superstardom?
TRB: They definitely are. I think anyone today who says, "Hey, I've come to Mumbai to be the next Shah Rukh" is not in touch with how the times have changed. Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan were icons of that era, but audiences change, and so do people's means of consuming entertainment. I do feel humbled and honored that some people have even gone as far as making a comparison of the performance of Vikrant with Shah Rukh Khan from back at the time. Shah Rukh Khan, for me, is not a megastar, he's an emotion. He is an institution on to himself, and to even be able to achieve a 100th of what he has is a massive comparison. But I feel that today, we're catering to an audience that has so much more of a palette to consume in terms of content. Today's commodity isn't money, it's time, and that's a whole different ball game that actors are playing with. I think it is the time of a hybrid celebrity, a hybrid star. Even as early as when Mardaani came out, you would either be a film star or a TV star – there was no in between. And now, I have OTT, where I can have an 83, I can have a Looop Lapeta with Taapsee Pannu, and be leading Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein on Netflix. It is the time of a hybrid stardom where you're jostling between social media, OTT and the movies.