Despite his breakout performance in Madhur Bhandarkar’s 2007 Traffic Signal, actor Kunal Khemu has largely been associated with the comedy space, most known for his turn in Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal series and Raj and DK’s Go Goa Gone.
Now the actor is looking to dabble in drama and will next be seen as the star of streaming platform ZEE5’s latest show Abhay, in which he plays the role of an ‘investigative officer who juggles between dealing with his own personal life demons and solving puzzling murder mysteries.’ The show – which Khemu describes the show as the first procedural crime investigation show in the Hindi OTT space – is one that’s looking to break the binge format by dropping a mere two episodes a month presumably in an effort to leave the audiences wanting more.
Khemu is next in the long line of actors looking to make their mark in the streaming space. Outside of Abhay, ZEE5 alone has offered up the 2018 Saqib Saleem-starrer Rangbaaz, and the upcoming Arjun Rampal-led The Final Call.
Having shot just one episode so far, the well-spoken Khemu talked to us about his new show, his views on the Indian streaming space and why 2019 could well be his year.
You’ve done varied roles, but when one looks at your work in recent years, it’s largely been in the comedy space. Is it hard to get writers and filmmakers to imagine you in a different space?
I would’ve said that before but actually this year, the film work that will come out is very different. 2019 is a pretty interesting line-up (for me) film wise so I would say that’s already changing.
We haven’t seen this kind of darker, serial-killer psychological thriller on screen much. Are you a fan of the genre?
It’s not necessarily serial killer focused, because we tackle a different case in every episode, all inspired by true cases that actually happened. They’ve obviously modified and fictionalised to fit the storytelling of the show. I also think this is the first procedural crime investigation show in the Hindi OTT space. What does set it apart from other investigative shows is that in those you find out who’s done the crime right at the end, whereas here, in the beginning you see the criminal and the crime he’s committed and then you find out how Abhay cracks this case and nails that criminal. I hope we tell the story in an intriguing way because we’re so used to having the same ‘whodunnit’ approach, but we’ve taken that way because we’ve told you who’s done it, so now the question is will we still be able to engage you despite that.
What’s your take on the Indian Web series space so far? On the one hand we’ve had Sacred Games, but there’s also a criticism that we aren’t reinventing the wheel on digital as much as we should.
I think while globally they were used to this whole streaming space it’s comparatively newer to a larger chunk of the audience here, but I see there is definitely a market and appetite for it and that’s why a platform like ZEE5 has the number of subscribers that it does. It was in a very experimental stage a year ago, but it’s very quickly adapted and evolved and trying to do bigger, better and newer stuff and it’s definitely here to stay.
Your phone is now also your television. It’s practically a major chunk of your life right there and a lot of audiences are consuming movies and television on their phones. Our whole lives are the internet and gone are the days where we were reliant on a dial-up router where it would take 5 hours to download one song. We don’t have the patience for that anymore, at the click of a button we want a song or a film. I just hope we’re making something we can be proud and that the consumer that’s watching this gets their money’s worth.
Filmmakers have often said that directing web shows frees them from the pressure of casting big stars and opening day collections. What do you think it does for actors who perhaps haven’t found the right parts in film?
I don’t know, I mean I do believe it’s the writers’ playground, the writer’s the star. I’ve always thought from day 1 that if the script doesn’t work nothing will work. I’ve later realised in films that’s not always true because I’ve seen some films which have not had the best scripts but due to other reasons go on to do phenomenally well.
But shows I think are content driven. I mean I only consume what I think will be good and skip the rest. I’m not watching a show because I like an actor or star, I’m watching because I love the story and plot. Having said that, when we watch Breaking Bad we’re like ‘oh my god what I would give to play Heisenberg or Jesse Pinkman’. Those characters became aspirational and actors wanted to do those parts and hence started looking for those parts on platforms like these. How fulfilling it all is I’ll only know once I finish this whole show. I’ve only done one episode, but I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I’m very excited to go to work because I know where it’s headed and what we can do with it so the excitement is pretty similar to what you’d have on a film, but I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen in episode 7 because we’re still figuring out how the story will go and what the cases will be.
We haven’t seen much of you on screen since Golmaal Again in 2017. Do you feel waiting for the right script and the time in between projects is the toughest part of being an actor?
There are times when you enjoy your time off and there are times where you think this is way too long to be off. I think sometimes you just have to have that patience because you might do something that may not work. It’s still worth it to wait and do something you enjoy because that’s the least you want to do as an actor because if you’re going to put your heart out honestly, you need to be able to own it. So yeah, it’s an annoying phase and depending on how good or bad your last film’s done that could be a shorter or a longer wait but I guess all of us go through it but yeah it sucks.
What are you bingeing on right now?
Luther just dropped its latest season which I’m dying to watch, I love spaces like that. I’ve now started 30 Rock because I’d never seen that. That’s my go-to for when I’m eating lunch or something. Shows like Luther, Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Dexter, they’re all my investment shows where you sit down at length and enjoy them.