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'There are better roles for people of colour'

By SUBHASH K JHA
March 31, 2021 17:20 IST
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'But more importantly, our stories are being told.'

IMAGE: Suraj Sharma in The Illegal.

Suraj Sharma has come a long way from his first film, The Life Of Pi.

The actor has released a new film, The Illegal, which is among the OTT shows to watch out for.

"I have been living in New York for the past seven years and I love it here. I obviously miss home and India. I'm hoping to learn and grow more as an actor and as a person and see what life has in store for me," Suraj tells Subhash K Jha.

It's been 12 years since your phenomenal debut in The Life Of Pi. How has the Life Of Suraj been during these years?

The life of Suraj has been like most lives -- full of ups and downs.

But I have been blessed to get work in this film industry and meet the people I've had a chance to meet.

I have been living in New York for the past seven years and I love it here.

I obviously miss home and India.

I'm hoping to learn and grow more as an actor and as a person and see what life has in store for me.

In The Illegal, you have evolved into an Angry Young Man. There is anger, rage, bitterness and finally acceptance in your performance. Where did all of this come from?

I feel like everybody has emotions of struggle and frustrations in their life that they can tap into if they wish.

I did the same.

Also, learning of these stories of immigrants in America and making friends with some of them, made me learn and realise things I didn't before.

Like what?

A struggle and an emotional limbo that is still very hard for me to grasp.

I tried to bring that into the performance and it had a strong affect on my character Hassan's psyche.

The loss he feels, the disillusionment, the distance, his endless desperation to do what he loves.

Learning these things about him and taking to my director Danish Renzu helped us in trying to bring Hassan to life.

A lot has changed for Asian actors in America and the West since Life Of Pi. Do you feel that change? Have you benefited from the 'colour blindness' that has lately crept into the casting of brown and black actors?

I feel when I got here, many years ago, things were way worse.

Things have gotten better.

There are better roles for people of colour.

But more importantly, our stories are being told.

There are more and more people of colour as producers, directors, investors, and very importantly, writers.

Their stories and perspective shape the roles the actors get to play.

This space is becoming more and more honest and wholesome, which is a great and healthy sign for the industry and the people.

IMAGE: Suraj Sharma in The Illegal.

The Illegal casts you as Hassan, an immigrant from Daryaganj in Delhi, chasing the American Dream. How much did you identify with the role?

I identified with Hassan quite a bit.

Like Hassan, I came from Delhi to the States to study film.

I had dreams and an almost whimsical belief in how it would go.

The process has been far harder than I or Hassan assumed it would be and life has brought with it challenges to grow from.

Did you use your personal experiences to play Hassan?

While in New York, I spoke to many waiters and delivery guys at Indian restaurants while trying to get my homesick Indian food-fix.

Slowly, these turned into friendships and a few opened up to me about their families and how they feel like they are stuck here.

This really hit me and I feel for them.

I admire their positive attitude towards life despite these intense struggles.

So when I read the script of The Illegal years later, my mind went to them first.

I talked to them more and found it important to do justice to their stories through this.

I hope the spirit of Hassan, in his curiosity and kindness, comes through as much as the loss and the frustration.

What are your forthcoming assignments?

I am to do a film called Wedding Seasons.

We are shooting in Canada and I am really looking forward to this project.

I hope to get busier this year than the last.

Maybe even shoot in India again, which is something I miss.

 

IMAGE: Suraj Sharma in The Life of Pi.

What developments in your personal life? Are you married?

I am not married yet. I need to learn and grow a lot first.

The past year has been tough on the entire civilisation. How has it been for you? What would your takeaways be from the pandemic?

I have dual emotions about the year.

On the one hand, the suffering of so many and the distancing from people has been really tough.

It is a sad reality that we will overcome soon I hope.

On the other hand, I've had time for myself after a long time.

I spent a long time camping out in the forests of America.

Living in nature after being in the city so long really helped me get my energy back.

I went to national parks when not many people were there and spent a lot of time writing songs, exercising, hiking and learning how to cook.

Irrfan, who played the grownup version of you in Life Of Pi, passed away last year. What did that mean to you?

It was extremely saddening to hear the news.

He had always been kind and warm towards me.

He was always humble and generous with sharing his time and experiences.

I cherish the time I got to spend with him and will never forget how he carried himself and the wisdom he imparted through his lighthearted humour.

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SUBHASH K JHA