'At the end of the day, an actor is hungry for appreciation.'
After playing blink and miss roles as Sonam Kapoor's intended in Raanjhanaa and Veere Di Wedding, Manoj Bajpayee's lawyer in Aligarh and Deepika Padukone's boyfriend in Tamasha, Ishwak Singh got everyone's attention with his performance as Imran Ansari, the earnest junior cop in the much applauded Web series Pataal Lok.
"I would hang out at the district police stations of Mangolpuri. I would interact with the officers to understand their routine. I made friends with them and got to know about their lifestyle, their motivation, what it's like to be an officer," the former architect tells Patcy N/Rediff.com.
Tell us about your journey into films.
My father is an interior designer and my brother is an architect.
I am an architect too.
I don't have a filmi connection. The closest thing is that my father designed a multiplex 15, 20 years back.
I was very fascinated with movies.
I remember watching Masoom a lot as a kid because my dad watched it.
I used to sketch a lot and became a pretty good architect.
I was certain that I would go on stage at some point, as I was always interested in dance, martial arts and the performing arts.
A martial arts teacher connected me to theatre, and that's how I got in touch with the Asmita theatre group in 2010. They used to do weekend workshops for working professionals.
I did that till about 2018.
I did plays like Court Martial and Ambedkar Gandhi.
The Last Salute was produced by Mahesh Bhatt and that was a turning point as after the play, Bhatt saab said, 'You are really good at this.'
That was just two years after joining the theatre group.
While doing theatre, I was also practicing architecture.
My first movie was Raanjhanaa, my next big role was in Aligarh. That's when I stopped being an architect.
What was your parents's reaction when you said you wanted to pursue acting full time?
I did not stop completely; it was gradual. So my parents's reaction was normal.
I was working extremely hard.
I would wake up at 5 am, go for training, do my day job, take the Metro train to Asmita Theatre at 7 pm, rehearse until 10:30-11 pm.
I did this for about six years.
During Aligarh, I was still based in Delhi.
I moved to Mumbai only after Veere Di Wedding in 2018.
Film and theatre critics highlighted my performance. (Ailgarh director) Hansal (Mehta) sir was supportive.
How did you get your first break?
That was Raanjhanaa.
(Director) Aanand L Rai brought Sonam Kapoor to our group so that she got the hang of how theatre actors behave and work. Most of the college students in the film were cast from the Asmita Theatre group.
When I was offered (a role), I was very uncertain as I was learning the basics of theatre at that time.
But I decided to go ahead as all big stars have done small roles too.
I got to work with Sonam and Swara Bhasker and Aanand sir.
I loved the experience.
People say stars are not nice and that some are arrogant, but Sonam and Swara were lovely. They were warm and friendly.
I worked with them again in Veere Di Wedding.
How did Aligarh happen?
Theatre groups are scouting grounds for casting directors, and they are aware of who is good who is not.
I went to Mukesh Chhabra's office, did an audition, it worked out and I started shooting for Aligarh.
I played Manoj Bajpayee's lawyer.
Since it was a great movie and well received, a lot of casting directors and people from the industry took notice and I started getting calls.
I started getting auditions.
I got to work with Anubhav Sinha in Tum Bin 2. I did a small role in Tamasha (as Deepika Padukone's boyfriend).
I did a Malayalam film, Mohavalayam, directed by TcV Chandran.
I had four releases between 2015 and 2016.
I did a small role -- just montages and a dialogue -- with Tabuji in Fitoor.
I did them because the directors were big.
In Aligarh, I also got to work with my role model Manoj Bajpayee.
After that film, I started giving my 100 per cent. Until then, I had been testing the waters.
During Aligarh, I developed a methodology of going into the details of the role. Like since I played a human rights lawyer, I would sit in the high court and listen to human rights cases and observe.
In Raanjhanaa, when I played a doctor, I went to my family doctor's place.
For Paatal Lok, I would go to the police station to prepare.
Once you came to Mumbai, what projects did you get?
I did an ad with Imtiaz Ali for an international brand. I also did an ad with Onir and Star Plus to celebrate the verdict of Article 377.
I gave lots of auditions.
Malaal came my way suddenly. I gave the audition and within 10 days, I got a call.
I did Prashant Nair's film Tryst With Destiny, which is making the rounds at festivals. It won the Best Screen Play Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.
In February 2019, we started shooting for Paatal Lok.
Tell us about the Paatal Lok audition.
The Paatal Lok audition was one of the most rigorous auditions I have gone through.
I went prepared -- I had that styling done properly, as I was told it's a Muslim character.
I had shaved in certain way, got the attire right.
The casting guys really pushed me for more and more, as they wanted something specific.
Abhishek Banerjee and his casting team did amazing work. They know how to get a performance out of an actor.
What kind of homework did you have to do?
I would hang out at the district police stations of Mangolpuri (in Delhi), which were very busy due to the high crime rate.
I would interact with the officers to understand their routine.
I made friends with them and got to know about their lifestyle, their motivation, what it's like to be an officer.
Since the character is a Muslim, what does it mean to be an Indian Muslim, understand the Muslim perspective...
What kind of appreciation have you got?
I am getting a lot of calls from friends and people from the industry, people I had lost touch with, my school friends... it's amazing!
At the end of the day, an actor is hungry for appreciation.