It’s taken a while to pin down Siddhant Chaturvedi. The young actor is all the rage after his breakout performance as MC Sher, a mentor to Ranveer Singh’s Murad, in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. The soaring follower count on his Instagram page bears testament to this.
I first attempted to meet Siddhant at the Excel Entertainment office where a long line of journalists who had gotten there before me had already been waiting for hours. The 25-year-old actor looked like he was enjoying this first flush of flame. He enthusiastically rapped to ‘Meri Gully Main’ on demand and repeated popular phrases from the film like ‘Bohot Hard’ in interview after interview without a grimace. Sadly, I couldn’t meet the actor that day, but managed to chat with him later on the phone about his pre-MC Sher life. Excerpts from the conversation:
You shot Gully Boy over a year ago. Did you get anxious waiting for your big debut?
The wait was the hardest part. Shooting was like makhhan, it was smooth. But after that waiting for such a long time was tough. Also offers were not coming my way because people had not seen my work. So I kept my patience. I travelled a lot in those 10 months, watched a lot of movies, and kept working on myself because I wasn’t doing anything else. I could sense that there will be some kind of appreciation coming my way. That’s materialising now so I’m very happy.
You were studying to be a Chartered Accountant. When did you discover you were meant to be an actor?
I was always a performer. I had no inhibitions. I used to dance at birthday parties and people used to love to watch me dance. Then college happened and I did theatre for a few months. I used to love films and my dad took me for a movie every Friday, so that had a huge impact on me. That apart, I used to write poetry and paint… so I was very artistically inclined. Then when I started auditioning in front of the camera I faced a lot rejections, but it taught me a lot about what I should not do. It’s hard to describe but acting just comes to me naturally. I think it can’t be taught in a school. It’s all about observation.
When was the first time someone told you that you’re good at this?
My parents always had faith in me, they always thought I had something special. Then my theatre friends thought I was good. Slowly I started cracking auditions. I also got a lot of critical acclaim for Inside Edge (On Amazon Prime India) and that boosted my confidence.
From ages 19 to 25 you’ve waited for your big acting break. During that time, what did you do to work on your acting?
I watched a lot of films – Bollywood movies, world cinema and also a lot of regional films. I’m a big Allu Arjun fan. Secondly, travelling was an important learning. I wanted to observe the kind of people that I knew I wanted to entertain. I had to know India. I’m from UP so I spent time in my hometown hanging with my cousins.
I firmly believe an actor needs to know everything, from dancing skills to martial arts. He has to be physically fit and mentally intelligent. Diction is also important but was never a problem for me because main UP ka hoon. I also read a lot of Premchand and Manto. When I would look at young actors and see Hindi nahi bol paate, mujhe bahut chidh aati thi.
I also worked on other skills like my voice modulation. I’d get up in the morning and do riyaaz. Basically I’d get up in the morning and look out of the window and think main kya karoon. Kyunki koi fixed schedule nahi tha. I’d take the guitar and start playing and writing songs. Then I’d work on my dance and martial arts.
So you enrolled yourself into various classes?
No, no all self taught. I’ve learnt the harmonium like that. My 14-year-old brother has been training in Hindustani classical for a few years, so I used to do riyaaz with him. And I taught him the guitar because I had learnt that first. That’s how I learnt gymnastics also. I’m very self-disciplined that way.
Ranveer and I both work a lot on the voice of the character. He advised me to keep a track of the voice I was using and to make sure that from the first day of shoot to the last it was consistent.
You worked with a terrific ensemble of actors in Gully Boy. Is there one practical tip that you learnt from a co-star that you found most valuable?
Ranveer Singh has motivated me throughout. Ranveer and I both work a lot on the voice of the character. In fact, he changes his voice and accent in every film. We both believe that 80 per cent of your work is done through voice modulation. He advised me to keep a track of the voice I was using and to make sure that from the first day of shoot to the last it was consistent. Every day he would come on the set and record his dialogues to make sure he kept the tone and pitch the same throughout. So now I’ve started voice recording everything.
You mentioned watching a lot of movies while you were prepping to be an actor. Is there a performance you keep going back to?
There are a couple. The first is Vicky Kaushal’s in Masaan. I was an outsider and I was looking for other people who were outsiders to the industry after Ranveer Singh. When I saw him I was totally mesmerised. I was amazed when I got to know he’s Punjabi and not from Banaras because he had got the accent so well.
Second, I love how Benedict Cumberbatch plays with his voice, be it in Sherlock or The Imitation Game. Then there’s Heath Ledger in The Dark Night. The scene where there are a bunch of guys sitting and he comes and proposes a plan to kill Batman is one that I keep going back to.
Then there’s Dilip Kumar, one of the first actors to introduce method acting. And lastly, I admire Christian Bale a lot for the way he changes his entire physicality for a role.
I recently read an interview of Steve Carell where he said he was thankful that he had to wait a couple of years till he found success because if it had come earlier, he may have been too immature to handle it. Given the overwhelming attention you’ve received in the last week, do you think about being prepared to handle it?
I was this starry-eyed kid with a creative bent of mind. I used to think that when I become an actor I’ll be friends with this person, I’ll be directed by this person… I was making these stories in my head every day without any real plans. I would just dream. Now when it has happened, and I’m actually getting calls from everywhere in the industry, I feel like I’m at peace. Bahut sukoon hai. It’s overwhelming but I’m also at peace that everything I had dreamt about is coming true.