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'My performance reminded people of Amrish Puri'

February 06, 2024 12:05 IST
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'Coming out of a burning building with a machine gun in your hand, that is badass because you don't get to do that in real life.'

IMAGE: Rishabh Sawhney with his Fighter co-stars Hrithik Roshan, Anil Kapoor, Akshay Oberoi, Karan Singh Grover and others. All Photographs: Kind courtesy Rishabh Sawhney/Instagram

Rishabh Sawhney is the kind of man who seeks adventures, and his career choices are indicative of that.

After working as a civil engineer, he got bored of his job and decided to shift his base to Mumbai to try out his luck in acting.

Rishabh toured the theatre circuit, did modelling, worked as a casting assistant, leading to ultimately land his ticket to Bollywood.

While he was seen in Web shows like The Empire and Kaun Banegi Shikharwati, it wasn't until Siddharth Anand cast him as the villain opposite Hrithik Roshan in Fighter that he hit the big time.

"I was a little nervous because it was the first time I was doing action, and I did not want to accidentally hit anyone. With Hrithik sir, I was a little extra nervous," Rishabh tells Mayur Sanap/

What kind of reactions are you getting for your performance in Fighter?

I'm getting a lot of recognition for my work. People are praising, appreciating what I've done.

My Instagram is growing.

A lot of people are sending lovely messages.

They are praising my performance, praising the film.

It's really overwhelming, yaar.

You were a civil engineer before you started modelling and acting. That's an interesting detour in your career.

I was working as a civil engineer in Delhi. I shifted to Bombay to act. Modeling happened while I was learning how to act.

I continued modeling because it was good money and good exposure in front of the camera.

I was doing my theatre side by side.

I was doing my workshops, my auditions...

And then things clicked.

How challenging was the process to land a film offer as big as Fighter?

It's very difficult to land a Bollywood film if you're not from the industry.

I'll complete six years in Bombay on February 12.

It's been an interesting journey so far because Bombay accepted me as soon as I came here.

I started getting regular modeling work and found a theatre group that really helped me learn how to channelise my energies and put them into acting.

I started meeting people who were nice and they guided me in the right direction.

I got my first Web series back in 2019.

IMAGE: Rishabh Sawhney in Director Nikkhil Advani's The Empire.

How did Fighter happen to you? What was your audition process like?

I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra sir's casting team in April 2022. I was auditioning continuously at that time.

I was not told it's for Fighter. I was only told that it's for a negative lead in a film, and they can't disclose the details yet.

In June 2022, I got another call from Mukesh Chhabra's team, saying that Siddharth sir liked my first audition and they would want me to come in and do the same scene, but with variations. We did some six-seven variations of the same scene.

On July 6, I got a call saying that they've liked the auditions and Siddharth sir would want to meet me.

The next day, I met Siddharth sir. We had a long discussion.

Siddharth sir told me he's travelling for a week or 10 days and that he would like to see me again. He told me to put on some size until then.

In those 7-10 days, I put on some 4-5 kilos.

I went to meet sir again and he was pretty impressed. That was when I got locked for the film.

IMAGE: Rishabh with Director Siddharth Anand.

At what point did you get to read the script? How did you prepare yourself to play such a villainous character?

I read the script after Siddharth sir locked me. I instantly got a bigger idea of what the character is, and what depths I'll have to go to bring that character out on screen.

There were two aspects of the character: The physical and the mental.

When I got locked for the film, I was around 68-69 kilos. I was told that I have to look huge on screen where people could just look at me and say that this guy can take on all of these air force pilots on his own.

I got a fitness trainer and nutritionists.

We made a diet and workout plan for me, which was to gain more muscle.

For the mental preparation of this character, I hired an acting coach. He set some exercises for me, which really helped me get into the character and bring that rage and menace on screen.

I was told I should not speak a word to anyone for four-five days a week. I would not speak to my parents at home either.

About three months before the shoot I was only to watch documentaries on terrorism, war, genocide, and stuff like that.

I would write down my thoughts in a diary every night.

After a month, I could see that my thoughts have become really aggressive and negative.

That really helped me get the rage and the anger in the eyes for Azhar's character.

This reminds me of what Ranveer Singh had said about playing Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat. He said the character took him to very dark places and it was difficult for him to snap out of it.

I don't think I went into a very, very, dark zone because I was not speaking to people much.

Had I spoken continuously at that point of time, I would have had an outburst because that agitation and irritation was there all the time.

I used to follow these exercises and had made a playlist for myself. I would read my character's backstory before going for the shoot. I wrote two diaries about my character.

Once the shoot got done, I went out for a vacation with my friends and chilled with my family for a bit. And I was out of it.

IMAGE: Rishabh with Hrithik Roshan.

What was the thought process behind the look of your character? The bloody eye and those scars on your face were frightening.

Yeah. In my introduction scene when they speak about Azhar, they say that he's been part of a lot of bombings and wars previously.

Those were basically war scars.

Did you have second thoughts about playing a villain in your debut film?

Not at all.

The fact that I was getting to work with Siddharth Anand sir and playing a villain opposite Hrithik (Roshan) sir, was a motivation enough to not even second guess this.

Were you nervous about doing action scenes with Hrithik Roshan? There's a lot of hand-to-hand combat in the film.

I was a little nervous because it was the first time I was doing action, and I did not want to accidentally hit anyone.

With Hrithik sir, I was a little extra nervous. And he sensed that too.

When we started shooting action, he told me, 'Don't be too nervous and don't hesitate. It's your job to throw the punches and it's my job to make sure I don't get hit. Act freely.'

That gave me confidence and made it a little easier for me.

There are certain reservations about actors coming from a modelling background. Did you ever face that?

There is a perception out there for sure.

Since the time I came to Bombay, I've been doing theatre and workshops continuously. I've always been working on my acting.

Also, I was a casting assistant for two-and-a-half years myself. Because of that, a lot of casting directors knew that I'm serious about acting.

I did not come to Bombay to become a model. I was doing theatre and someone spotted me and then I started getting modelling jobs. I didn't want to say no to it because it was good money and a good experience for me.

Modelling sort of happened to me, but the ultimate goal was always to be an actor.

Were your parents supportive when you decided to quit your engineering job to pursue theatre?

My parents have been really supportive and understanding since I was a child.

Their whole thing is that you do what you do, don't waste your time and do whatever makes you happy.

After engineering, I worked in an MNC for a year. But I was not enjoying it.

What went through your mind when you saw yourself on the big screen? What was your family's reaction?

All of us cried.

My sister cried. My mom cried. My dad cried a little.

Even I got a little teary eyed because this was the first time I stepped into a field where I went in with my own interest.

Before this, I was just figuring stuff out.

I spent like almost six years working on myself, working on my acting, my body, my look, everything... And that culminated into such a huge project, such a beautiful film.

It was a very proud moment for my family.

The turtle emoji in your profile name on Instagram is intriguing. What does it denote?

Nothing. I just love turtles.

I'm fascinated by them. They stay alive for like 300 years and stuff. And it's a magnificent creature.

I really want to have a pet turtle someday. You can say that it's like a spirit animal for me.

What's the best compliment you received for Fighter?

There are two compliments and I don't know if I deserve one of them because that is too big.

Some seven-eight people messaged me saying that my performance reminded them of Amrish Puri sir.

That is the biggest compliment anyone can get because he was such a brilliant actor.

The other thing that I got was, when I was doing the auditions and when I spoke to Siddharth sir, the word that was used to describe Azhar's presence was 'menacing'.

A lot of people have said that my performance was 'menacing'. It made me feel that I actually translated the vision for the character.

As the industry tends to stereotype the actors, would you consciously say no to playing negative roles after this?

I'm not worried about that. The character I played on screen and what I am in real life, there's a drastic difference.

I'm a very chill, laid back kind of a guy.

I like to laugh a lot.

If I was able to get there and make the audience like my performance, I'm pretty sure I can do other things also.

I have no qualms in playing villains, but it should be different villains for sure.

I would really like to explore comedy too.

Maybe horror as well, and definitely action.

My favourite days were the ones that I was doing action scenes. Coming out of a burning building with a machine gun in your hand, that is badass because you don't get to do that in real life. It was like an adrenaline rush.

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