Arjun Mathur hogged the headlines when he got nominated at the 48th International Emmy Awards for his role in Made in Heaven. He speaks about the difference OTT makes to creators, his most challenging and rewarding roles, and shooting at home during the lockdown. By Sumeet Keswani
You’ve acted in mainstream cinema, but your breakthrough performance came on a web show. Does that have anything to do with the platform?
When I’m taking up work, it [the platform] doesn’t matter. In fact, I’ve often gone into projects not knowing where they’re going to be seen. I’ve been doing independent films since 2009, but they get heavily short-changed in distribution. They get the least number of shows and the worst timings in theatres. But this is a platform for all of that work to reach not just the masses in India but audiences worldwide. What OTT brings is distribution.
You’ve spoken about Bollywood nepotism being rooted in capitalism. Does OTT offer an antidote?
Absolutely! At the end of the day, this is a marketplace that runs on commerce. That is why nepotism exists. In this space [OTT], filmmakers are not bound by box office pressure. The ability to do away with those numbers gives them the freedom to go with a stronger performing or lesser-known cast.
What’s the most challenging role you’ve done?
In a British TV show called Indian Summers, I play a character named Naresh Banerjee, who’s a volatile and violent nationalist. I haven’t been challenged much, though.
What kind of challenge would you like?
I want to do a musical, where I have to act, sing, and dance! I also want to explore comedy and play more grey characters.
Your most rewarding role?
It was in a small, independent, English-language film called Fireflies. When it came to me, I was not in a good place. The story was about love, loss, forgiveness. That was the journey I needed to take in my life. By the time I finished shooting, I was a new person. It is the most cathartic experience I’ve had with my art.
You’ve had two projects shot and released during the lockdown. How was the experience?
I’m very fortunate that I live with my partner, Tiya Tejpal, who is a talented production designer, and my best friend and neighbour, Jay Oza, happens to be one of the best DOPs in the country. We did Home Stories (Netflix) first. We had our director on Zoom, and we were doing the work of 10-12 departments. But the story was about a single character in a single location. The Gone Game (Voot Select) was a massive experiment: six to seven actors shooting in their own homes!
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Your short film, Out With It (a part of Home Stories), deals with pandemic anxiety. Did you tap into your own fears for the act?
Home Stories came to me near the end of April. We were all feeling that anxiety, paranoia, and uncertainty that got channelised into that film. In fact, I shot in my own house wearing the same clothes that I was otherwise wearing. It was a very reality-meets-fiction experience!
This is Us season 5, The Boys season 2.
A tour of Europe and North America with my family in 1994. The very next year, I lost my mother.
Driving around Iceland on the Ring Road, New Zealand, Masai Mara, Japan.
A film that inspired you to travel