In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Gaurav spoke candidly about changing his career path, being underutilised as an actor, coping with his parents death and more.
People are loving your character of Prince Reddy in Rana Naidu. Is this something you were always looking for?
A challenging role is always going to be difficult but you want to do it as an actor so that you can showcase what you have inside you. People will tell you that ‘you were the best actor in the lot’ but you will always be within the boundary of the script. For something like Rana Naidu, you wait and hope that someday such roles will be offered to you. It has taken a long time but I am lucky that it has come my way. I was able to do what I wanted to do and I was waiting for the audience whether they can also see the finer nuances that I have tried to put in. I am overwhelmed and completely surprised how everybody has understood every aspect of it. The complements that I am getting from viewers makes me feel that I have done something good and been able to strike a chord somewhere.
There’s a particular scene where you seen performing a passionate love-making scene with a real trans person. What was going through your mind when you were shooting for the scene?
There are two distinct aspects about it that needs to be understood. One aspect is that, the makers could have cast a girl instead of a trans person, because the character was supposed to look like a girl. They found someone who was looking for opportunities. There are lines that Prince Reddy says to this trans person, ‘I am sorry that I have been aggressive with you earlier,’ ‘Stop shaving your chest, be who you are.’ The show makes it a statement that trans people need to be treated for who they are and not being unfair to them. They have very restricted choices, which also means restricted happiness and people often look down on them.
The second aspect comes from me as an actor. Once you say yes to the part, it doesn’t matter who your co-actor is, irrespective of any gender and their sexual preferences. As a human being, I am not going to look at you as a different person. I don’t have any sort of uncomfortable vibes because the other person is different from me. You are my co-actor aur mai aapko utni hi izzat, utna hi tavajjoh dunga that I would have given to anybody else including Rana (Daggubati) and Venkatesh (Daggubati) sir. It is also important to send a message to the world that this is totally normal. If there would have been any kind of discomfort or prejudice in my mind, then it wouldn’t have worked out because it’s a very close intimate scene. In fact, I even added inputs to it. I was not thinking what people would think of me. I just wanted to do justice to my craft.
Tell us about your experience of collaborating with Rana Daggubati and Venkatesh.
Jitni tareef mujhe iss role ke liye mil rahi hai na, usme bohot bada hath inn dono ka hai. The story is about a bunch of guys from Hyderabad. And ironically, I am playing the Telugu superstar where Rana is my bodyguard and Venkatesh sir is his father, when in real life, they are the actual South superstars. They were so warm and friendly. Venkatesh sir and I used to talk about life, philosophy, my personal tragedies and a lot more. A great bond developed between both of us and now we have become very warm and respectful friends.
Did you try to convince Venkatesh to help you out with South projects?
No. I don’t think I will be able to talk to them about work because the friendship is of such kind. But he has been praising me a lot and if something like this ever happens, then I would be grateful that I got another chance to work with him.
Are you open to South projects and is language not a barrier?
Yes, absolutely. I think the debate between North vs South or discussions about how South cinema has left Bollywood behind, need to go away. All of this is bullshit. Mere desh ki film hai yaar. Mere desh ki film bahar jati hai, mere desh ki film ko Oscar milta hai. Mere desh ke actors ko waha izzat di jati hai, unka naam hota hai. It’s a moment of pride for me. As Indians, we would be stupid to get into stuff like language versus language. Our country proudly nurtures so many different types of languages. It is a nonsensical discussion. Our competition should be with the foreign industries that come and earn money from here. We should not fight among ourselves over Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, Bhojpuri or Assamese. It shouldn’t matter. We can all come together and collectively make good projects given that filmmaking is a creative and business process. Whatever is good, whatever is working, we should applaud it. And Rana Naidu is like that where actors from different industries have come to work together.
People often call you ‘TV ka Bachchan’. Does it put a pressure on you as an actor or gives you confidence?
It so happened that during the initials days of my career, because of my height, my voice, my personality, people felt that I am a young intense actor like Mr Amitabh Bachchan. There could not have been a bigger compliment for me. I used to get flattered when people would tell me that my scenes reminded them of Bachchan saab. In fact, my roles and lines were being written on the same lines because the writers would feel that it will fit the part. They would enjoy doing it as well. So many times, I must have said, ‘Aaj khush to bohot hoge tum’ in my scenes. And I would happily do those scenes without realising that I would be compared with Mr Bachchan thereafter. It’s a very honourable tag but then people start seeing you only in a certain way. People would only offer me roles where I could be like Bachchan saab. Then you wait for a character like Prince Reddy, to show everybody your potential and you can do a lot more.
Earlier some of my female fans would request me to recite Bachchan saab’s lines ‘Main aur meri tanhai aksar ye baatein karte hain’ because of my baritone. Abhi bhi hota hai, log kehte hai mujhse karne ke liye. Unko acha lagta hai dekh kar.
Is it easy to transition from TV to films and OTT?
There’s no debate or discussion. If you are known to be a TV star, people expect mediocre work. And if you do something good, then the compliments come with a lot of surprise. I don’t blame them because a lot of TV work is mediocre. But that doesn’t mean that everybody is like that. So that assumptions and generalisation goes against the entire community. But I think that’s like a glass ceiling that you just have to break through.
You will see me next in Gadar 2 where I have a good part to play, which allows me to give audience a variety. You will not be able to recognise me. The entire look, be it face or hair or body, voice or demeanor, everything is new. Hopefully, these performances would get underlined and get me more chances to showcase my talent and brag about it more.
Do you think your talent and skills have been underutilised by the industry?
I would say yes. But it is also important to add to that the industry and audience have been so loving to me. Mujhe kabhi struggle nahi karna pada. During these past two years while I was shooting for Bachchan Paandeyy, Rana Naidu and Gadar 2, I have only done 5-10 days shoot a month whereas with TV I am used to shooting for 30 days a month. It does get difficult because you can say ‘No’ once or twice but when you keep doing it again and again, you start questioning yourself whether you are doing the right thing or not.
But I took that call, telling myself that I would only look at the projects which offer something I haven’t done before. If it’s a new version of Gaurav that I can show, then I’ll do it, irrespective of the medium be it TV or nukkad ka theatre or on the biggest OTT platform.
Have you approached production houses or filmmakers telling them that you can do more, if given an opportunity?
Mujhe wo aata nahi hai. Like I said, mujhe struggle nahi karna pada. I kept doing my work with hard work and dedication and one after another, I kept getting projects based on that. I don’t know how to go to somebody and say, ‘Have you seen my work, please give me some work.’ When somebody calls me, I don’t even care how big or small they are. I directly ask them to meet me or I go and meet them.
My journey has been in a particular way because of that. It’s been very organic. I have never wanted PRs to lobby around for me or take media packages from anybody to showcase myself. It has never happened.
You lost your both parents during the pandemic. How have you been coping with the loss?
It’s been tough. This has been the lowest phase of my life. I was living in Mumbai and my family was in Delhi and Bengaluru. I have been going on along with my career change and not feeling 100 per cent about myself. It has been a tough battle. But I feel like it has made me stronger. I also feel like I have become a better human being. I have become much more humble. I have started valuing basic things in life. Work, money, fame, materialistic things, love and success, they should be given importance but they shouldn’t be more important than your life. Imagine your life being a cake, then these things are all slices. If you have all these slices, then your world is complete.
I am probably still recovering. The fact that I can talk about it like this is because I am on the other side now. I feel stronger, grounded and more in touch with actual life and not the social life that we create. There’s too much of distraction otherwise.
Who has been your biggest support during these times?
Myself. Apne andar se aapko ek apna Guru dhundna padta hai (You have to look within to find inspiration), I had to find my voice. I think this is what works when you go through a tough time. When you again land into the dark phase in life, you need this strength again to pull yourself out from the situation. You eventually learn how to save yourself when you are drowning inside. You have to do it alone. I think the world we live in, men don’t have the privilege to be weak. They are expected to be strong and to take care of things. People make a lot of posts on social media about women but there’s no one who talks about men or their emotional well-being. Even if somebody does, they don’t find an audience. This is because men are also programmed to be stronger, look after women, children and protect them. We don’t give that same compassion to men.
If a man is walking on the street and a woman says that this man was misbehaving with me, you won’t think for a second before beating the hell out of him. You will not doubt or question the woman. That’s the instinct that this generation has grown up with. But men also need that kind of compassion. Of all the people committing suicide in the world, 80 per cent are men. That one figure tells you everything.
Suicides mean somebody felt lonely and unhappy. And we expect men to always give support. Which is why I was of the opinion that I have to find strength within myself. I can’t depend on anybody else. If you ask for support, you lose respect. You are an admirable attractive man because you are strong. People say that it’s nice to see men being vulnerable but the reality is not that. When you start becoming vulnerable and emotional, people will start taking you for a ride.