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The White Tiger star Adarsh Gourav on BAFTA nod: Any award or nomination should translate into real work

Breakout star Adarsh Gourav is brimming with impatience, which neither the BAFTA nomination nor any other adulation can satiate. For his performance in Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger, Gourav has been nominated for the best actor in leading role for the upcoming BAFTA Awards.

“All I want right now is to have a role, a project that can consume me,” says Gourav with a sense of detachment that seems surprising for an actor, who toiled for more than 10 years to get his due. Days leading up to the BAFTA ceremony on April 10, indianexpress.com speaks to Adarsh Gourav on what an international recognition means to him, how he tried to protect his normalcy post the “distracting” high of The White Tiger and why he wouldn’t do a project without auditioning for it.

Were you anticipating the nomination?

I wasn’t even anticipate being on the long list. It came as a shock to me honestly because I thought long list happened by accident. But when I read my name in the shortlist, it was quite shocking.

What do international awards really mean to you?

I mean I am just hoping that any nomination or award just translates into real work because that’s what really matters. I am just hoping it gets converted into something tangible, some exciting project that I get to audition for, some cool director I get to work with.

Did you speak to Ramin after your nomination? What did he have to say?

I called up after the nomination. He was very happy too. The reason why I have become so… like I am already someone who doesn’t get very excited or emotional about anything is Ramin effect, because he is quite underwhelming.

Like the way he reacts to things is very underwhelming and normal. But he was obviously very happy that the film has two BAFTA nominations. We were just talking about other things like what he has been up to and he is prepping for and how my days look like this these days.

So, how does your day look like these days?

Five days a week I have been going to the gym and it’s new for me. I know it’s normal for actors but I usually don’t go to the gym. I like to run and do some bodyweight exercises. I have a pull up rod at home so I swing on it like a monkey.

But I have been going to the gym, doing two days of kickboxing because I am prepping for a project that’s going to start in November. Also I have been learning to dance for an audition that I have at the end of the month. That’s three to four days a week and I have also been prepping for a couple of more auditions so I have been reading those scripts. Then there are other things that I do in my routine like some basic riyaaz in the morning, go for runs in the evening whenever I have time.

It’s not even been three months to The White Tiger’s release and you seemed to have already moved on. For someone, who got their breakthrough after more than a 10 year long journey in films, was it difficult to just pause and bask in the adulation that came in from around the world?

It is a very new experience for me. Post White Tiger, there hasn’t been a character or a project that I have really invested in. There is a short film with Varun Grover but nothing long term as such. While I have so much gratitude for everything, I just want to look for other things that I could get busy with.

I have my routine, I have other things that I am busy with. And when I am not working, I really dive, I watch a lot of films but I am really eager to work on something that really consumes me at this point of time.

So after a few days of experiencing (adulation) I was feeling impatient, restless to find something else to be distracted by. I am glad that there are so many auditions that are coming my way because constantly I am thinking about other things. I just want to settle down on one thing, whatever that is I don’t know till the November project starts. But I hope I work on something before that as well.

It is interesting to hear that an actor, who has secured a BAFTA nomination, is talking about auditions, something which hasn’t been taken seriously in the Hindi film industry. A lot of top stars have candidly mentioned how they have felt insecure when they have been asked to audition. But in the West, it is a normal part of the casting process.

I don’t think I have worked in a project without an audition. It is very normal to audition. People I know of have always done that. It is important because the director has to know whether you can play this person that he or she has written or imagined. So it’s fair that I audition for everything.

Even for me it is important that I audition because it gives me a preliminary understanding of the (film’s) universe, the director who is going to brief me. It is important for both the parties to audition and understand.

Hypothetically speaking, as you grow more mainstream, would you still like to give auditions for any project you would to work on? Would you be okay with it?

I would want to, because otherwise I would be nervous, I would be like, ‘How does this person know that I am going to be able to do this or not.’ It is important for me to understand whether I can do it, for my director to also know that.

You take everything, from praise to criticism, normally. Is this a result of the conditioning that developed because of your journey of more than a decade here in the Hindi industry, where you saw failures and rejections?

With age and experiences in life, you keep transforming and changing. I definitely used to be a much more hyper person. You do calm down a bit in life. But to say that I don’t get affected by things isn’t true. When something doesn’t work out, I feel upset but I also don’t like to stay with one particular emotion, be it sadness or happiness.

I consciously try to get past it quickly, step back and look at it objectively. If you are not getting affected how can you be an actor? Actors are the most vulnerable people. We are in a profession where our job is to understand, get affected and empathise. You have to be interested in people, have to get affected by what’s happening around you.

What is that one thing you miss about playing Balram? Something you have taken away from him, which you will preserve with you for the rest of your life?

I think just opening the door for somebody who is sitting behind in the car is something that has stayed with me and it feels nice to do that. It is something I started doing after playing Balram. I miss shooting and being on set with everyone, Ramin, Rajkummar, Priyanka. It was such a positive, beautiful set.

Everybody was so inspired to create something. Inspite of shooting for such a long time, it never felt tiring. We looked forward each day to what we were shooting. There were moments when we were nervous, scared, but Ramin made sure that it was such a positive experience.

From My Name is Khan to The White Tiger, it has been a long journey with many ups and downs. Has your objectivity kept you going in a place as volatile as Bollywood?

I think it is just my love for cinema, love for what I do. When you love something truly, you are just more patient with it. You embrace your failure and success. You treat everything equally in some way. I feel fortunate to have had parents who have supported and encouraged me in whatever I wanted to explore. I have been lucky in terms of the filmmakers I have worked with, who have allowed me to explore myself as an actor.

It is never one thing, it is a culmination of all these things, which help you stick around. There have been points where I have questioned whether it is something worth pursuing because things aren’t working out but then it is a temporary feeling. You pull yourself back, then you think, ‘Why am I even entertaining this stupid thought, I am getting to do what I love the most.

You had mentioned in one of the interviews how, to prep for Balram, you had spent time with your friend in a village. You explained how that changed your perception about a lot of things. In 2021, we are still talking about social inequality a lot, in fact The White Tiger has also raised that debate, about where does India stand, in terms of caste-class based discrimination.

I definitely feel it has made me more aware of my surroundings, more sensitive as you correctly used the word. You empathise more with people, you look at everything around you… I feel being a part of this project and playing Balram I understand people better now.  I listen better now, I don’t dismiss things just like that.

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