Arav Chowdharry is an Indian actor and model, best known for his exceptional portrayal of Bhishma in Mahabharat (2013). Arav, who hails from the majestic city of Jaipur, won the Mr.India title in 1999 and has starred in numerous movies — Dhoom(2004), Lakshya(2004), Aim (2004), and Vivegam (2017), to name a few.
What is one film role that if there were ever a remake of that film, you’d absolutely love to portray that character, and why?
Can’t pick one, there are several! I’d love to play Marlon Brando, the original Godfather. I’d also like to play Al Pacino’s Godfather.
There are also a lot of Mr. Bachchan’s movies that I would like to star in, Shakti being my favorite. If possible, I’d like to act with him portraying the father, and me, the son.
Kamal Haasan’s Nayakan is another movie I’d love to do.
What are some challenges with playing a character based on mythology? Did you face any difficulty in memorizing or enunciating dialogues in your portrayal of Bhishma(Mahabharat), since the speech texture varied greatly in the olden times?
The only difficult bit in playing characters based in mythology is wearing heavy headgear, armor, and props. It is made to seem like an ordinary thing, but it’s not since people in those times weighed 250 kilograms, were 7-10 feet tall, and lived for 500 years. They were from a different time altogether.
It might come as a surprise, but I’ve not memorized a single word of the Mahabharat script before reaching the set and facing the camera. Not because I wanted to impress anybody, but because I had previously spent 6-8 months studying the character of Bhishma. I wanted it to be extempore. How would have Bhishma reacted? So, I would reach the set, ask the assistant to read the dialogue to me, and just go through it while the lights were being set up. As the series progressed, Bhishma’s voice texture changed. Naturally, I had to be mindful of that.
Is this approach specific to your portrayal of Bhishma or is it the same for all the characters you play?
Mostly Bhishma! The set of Mahabharat was the first time I tried this approach, but even in the other Hindi or Tamil films that I have filmed, I did not believe in learning the script before reaching the set. If there is a requirement for me to undergo physical changes, that is a different thing. But the set is more or less where I work and perform unless it is the director’s directive or a co-actors’ request for rehearsal. I feel that whatever happens in the moments between action and cut, is where magic is created.
When did you decide to become an actor and was there any person or incident that was significant to the decision?
It was a personal call. I recall performing my first skit for the school annual function in 5th grade and liking it. My parents used to take us to the movies since my mom was fond of watching the cinema. I would find watching the big screen very exciting and felt a sense of familiarity and belonging, and from there on I did whatever little I could to learn about the craft. My journey began with theatre.
Is there any connection between your journey as an actor to your journey of winning the Mr. India pageant? What is it according to you that gave you an edge over all the other contestants at the pageant?
I have always believed that hard work and perseverance are the keys to success. Before coming to Bombay, I did theatre for many years and underwent training to become an actor. I picked up a lot of things from my time doing theatre – body language, voice modulation, stage, and movement.
When I arrived in Bombay, I was told that I looked like a model. I finally took up modeling as I needed a portfolio of pictures to land acting jobs, and then I went on to model for almost a decade. I also did a lot of music videos and ad commercials with some of the biggest names in the business, like Mr. Shekhar Kapur and Mr. Shantanu, and I’m truly grateful to them for having given me the opportunity, and for having so much faith in me when I was absolutely nobody from a small city like Jaipur. Coming to winning Mr. India, I was already a model so I knew how to walk on the ramp, and I was also a trained actor. All that put together helped me bag the title.
Having worked in successful projects in both the television and film industries, do you think television celebrities are not treated at par with film celebrities?
Yes, of course, they’re not. I strongly believe that every living being deserves the same love and respect. When I reach set, I exchange pleasantries with every person I cross paths with, and if one has the time, I go ahead and ask about their family’s welfare. Having said that, that’s not how the world operates. The world is driven by power and money. Since cinema is much bigger and grander, there’s much more money and power. But despite all the difficulties and horrors, a skilled and hardworking person will always push through. Take, for instance, Irrfan Khan, god bless his soul, was such a great actor. I got to know him when we were filming together. He was my senior from the same city, and we did theatre at the same place. Of course, the pain and suffering he had to go through, and all of us, including me, have to go through as outsiders are great. He had to work in television for almost a decade before he started getting the recognition he deserved. I’ve had to push mountains multiple times, and I am still at it because I do not belong to a privileged family from cinema or television. But nobody coaxed me to do this, It was my call. If I have to push harder, I will.
What is a typical day at the set like for you?
Whether it’s movies or television, it’s usually a 12-hour shift. Cinema is easier. You reach the set, get into your makeup trailer, and get ready. I always grab breakfast before I leave home, or if I’m filming overseas, I eat at the hotel and then leave. If I’ve reached early, I go around greeting people and chit-chatting with the tech persons, director, and cameramen. That’s how the day goes. In the case of Housefull 3, we had a huge cast. Akshay is the most energetic person and was always up to something. Mr. Boman Irani is into video games. You would walk into his trailer and find him playing Fifa. Then you’d get a call and go do your take. In movies, the lighting and the whole process take longer. In television, you do a lot more work. A 12-hour shift means you’re working non-stop for 12 hours. Television is fast-paced because you have to deliver every day.
What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever done for you?
A gentleman from Ukraine got Bhishma’s face tattooed on his forearm. I was pleasantly surprised when he sent me the picture on Facebook saying, “I’m such a huge fan”. In one of my recent Instagram live sessions, one lady told me that she was a huge fan and wanted to get a tattoo of my face done; I politely requested her not to do so because it’s so painful. I’m humbled by the love people shower on me.
What is one myth about actors and acting that you’d like to bust once and for all?
That we have it easy! It is the most difficult job to have, and the most challenging industry to be a part of. In other industries, you work hard for some time, and then it becomes easier. If you own a business, there comes a time when you can afford to take a holiday, or if you’re not feeling up to it on a certain day, you can ask your manager to cover for you. But as an actor, we cannot slack off no matter the circumstances. I not only have to be there every day for work, but I also have to give my best every day, because as an actor, you’re creating and performing every day. Then there is the competition which happens. Some people might get more successful than you even though you’re more skilled. This is something that happens in every industry, but here, it’s in your face.
What does it mean to be a “director’s actor”?
Cinema is the director’s playground. Having said that, the actor is equally important and equally responsible for owning the scene and taking it to the next level. The director approaches the actor with a script, casts the actor, and then briefs him/her. He then explains his vision for the script and entrusts the actor with the responsibility of bringing the character to life. The actor’s job is to hear him out and understand the vision. The difference between an actor and a superlative actor is that an actor delivers the script, but a superlative actor goes beyond the script, beyond the director’s expectations, and that too, in a non-defiant way.