Shiney Ahuja: I'm not a media hater
The first thing that strikes you about Shiney Ahuja is that he speaks so softly that you have to lean over to hear him. It has been more than two years since the Bollywood actor, was accused of raping his domestic help.
After being sentenced to seven years imprisonment, Ahuja is currently out on bail after he challenged the sentence in the Bombay High Court.
His next film is Ghost, a horror flick produced by Bharat Shah.
The actor who has been giving out interviews though has been finding himself answering questions not so much about his future but rather the ghosts of his past.
During the course of this interview with Ankur Pathak, he refers to the entire rape charges episode as 'that incident' choosing rather to talk about how his life has changed in these two years.
Ahuja claims that 'there has been a lot of fabrication' in the things that have been written about him and ends on a somewhat benevolent note suggesting that he isn't a media-hater.
Image: Shiney Ahuja
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'The character graph in Ghost challenged me'
You have been acclaimed for playing incredibly strong, real characters in your films, like Daya Shankar in Gangster and Aakash in Life in a Metro. What attracted you to a film like Ghost?
All the characters that I play, I try relating to them from the audience's point of view. They are the ones who will come and watch my movie so I should play a character that they can understand.
My character in Ghost starts with being an outsider and eventually realises that he has a greater part in the murders that have taken place than he actually thought.
What I love most about Ghost is the story. It is so well written that immediately after reading it, I was excited to see the film.
How does it take you forward as an actor?
In every role that an actor does, he discovers quite a lot about himself. With Ghost, I start as an outsider and seamlessly get integrated into the plot, and eventually become the plot. So, here, it's the massive character graph that challenges me as an actor.
Image: Shiney Ahuja
'The entire industry has stood by me'
How has the entire scandal and the subsequent conviction affected your film career?
It has been a huge experience that life gave me. It has hit my career badly, no doubt about it, but I think the past two trying years of my life have also taught me a lot and have made me immensely stronger.
Right now, I don't want to look at the negatives that have come out of the case; I am trying my best to focus on the positives, and I sincerely hope that at least now, something good comes out of it.
Were you dropped from films after the incident, or did producers just become apprehensive about bringing you on board?
From actors to directors, the industry has stood by me. The producers who had signed me before the issue came up were keen to finish the films that were left mid-way. Nobody threw me out of their projects. Moreover, directors I had previously worked with supported me in a big way. It is simply the way it was reported that made it look like I was totally isolated.
As soon as I came out, I finished shooting Abhijit Chaudhary's Accident. And then, Mr Bharat Shah (producer of Ghost) got in touch with me and so I was back working. I am very grateful to him, mainly because he had faith in me as a person and gave me another shot as a professional to continue with my acting career. The film was shot around May-June last year.
'I was terribly scared when I first came out of jail'
People like Mahesh Bhat, Pritish Nandy and Anurag Basu were very vocal in their support of you. Did any of them try meeting you when you came out?
Yes, I'm very grateful to all these people that you mentioned. I'm constantly in touch with them; in fact, only yesterday, I had a conversation with Sudhir Mishra. I also spoke to Anurag and his wife. They have been very kind and helpful. My reverence towards them has all the more increased as they stood by me.
You were confined to Delhi before the trial began. Are you living in the same place in Mumbai now?
Yes, I'm staying in Bombay, and I'm staying in the same flat with my wife Anupam and daughter Arshiya.
What was it like spending all that time in jail?
I felt lost. It was like standing in the boxing ring and helplessly getting beaten up. There is nothing you can do about it but to stand after you have fallen down. And get beaten up again. I had no choice but to learn from it. I maintained my sanity by reading a lot which I didn't get an opportunity to do before.
What was your immediate psychological state when you came out?
(Looks down) When I first came out (Pauses) I was terribly scared. I couldn't gather courage to come out of my house and remained indoors for a very long time. I just didn't have the confidence.
I realised I cannot possibly live my life like this, and it was my wife who encouraged me to go out. And when I did, random people who I didn't know came to me for pictures and autographs. I didn't expect this to happen. I thought I will be snubbed and looked down upon, but a few fans actually came to me and said that they miss watching me on screen. And they asked why I wasn't being seen in films any more.That, somewhere, told me mentally that it wasn't really the end of the world and a new beginning had to be made. So, here I am, sitting in front of you, starting from scratch, taking my baby steps forward.
Image: Shiney Ahuja
'I was eager to start working again'
Did it take a while for things to become normal? How have you coped?
I was in a state of shock for a long time. After I recovered, I spent a lot of time with my family. Maybe God wanted me to do that. I spent some of the most beautiful times with my daughter. It was divine to see her grow, to watch her childhood in the past two years.
She was constantly on my film set and we had a good time especially when we were shooting in the beautiful Lavassa. I spent some of the most precious moments with her there.
That is what makes me feel that whatever God does, he does it for a reason. I am being very optimistic. Eventually, it is not what happens to you, it is how you react to it.
What was it like to return to the sets and face the camera?I was eager to start working, to give my shot. An artiste is like a child, and when I was away from the sets, it felt as if the childhood has been snatched away from the child.
Image: Shiney Ahuja
'There's been a lot of fabricated news about me'
What is that extra measure that you are going to take to wipe clear your tainted image and win back your fans?
If there is anybody out there, and I'm sure there are many, who used to like me and because of the incident had a change in perception, I can only say that there is a big difference in what actually happens and what eventually gets conveyed to you. There are innumerable mediums through which the truth gets filtered and ends up being a blurry version.
I would request my fans to keep an open heart. I still believe there is kindness and sympathy in people and I am sure that will help me in cementing my reputation once again.
Are you scared to open newspapers in the morning?
Yes, I think you can say that. But not so much for me as for my father. He is an aged man, but being an army person, he regularly goes for his morning walk and picks up the papers. When the incident occurred, I would get up before him and try to get rid of the newspapers.
So much has been written about me in the past two years and there has been a lot of fabrication. Somehow that conveniently made it to the front page, but the apology, four days later, comes in a tiny box on Page 6, which nobody bothers about.
Has the incident made you cynical about the media?
(Laughs) No. I am not a media-hater, if that is what you are implying, because it is not like I can blame the entire fraternity. It's simply that when the time is bad, it is just bad.
Image: Shiney Ahuja