Sanjay Suri’s first film, Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi, might have failed to impress, but over the years the actor has reinvented himself and proved his worth by playing some of the most varied characters Bollywood has to offer.
From the supportive husband in Filhaal, to a swimmer fighting the stigma of AIDS in My Brother Nikhil, Sanjay (in picture above by Bishwarup Dutta) has not been afraid to take a chance. That his choices have paid off shows.
In town recently to pick up a best actor award for Bas Ek Pal, Sanjay exuded a quiet confidence. “Back then, when Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi was released, I wasn’t thinking of what kind of films I would be doing a few years down the line. Like everybody else with a first film, I was simply looking for acceptance,” reminisces Sanjay.
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Acceptance may not have come with that first attempt, but now Sanjay has five films in the pipeline, in each of which he plays a very different character. Onir’s next film has “romance and a lot of outdoor adventure”, very unlike his last two ventures. Salaam India sees Sanjay taking to the cricket pitch as a fanatic coach. Speed is a multi-starrer commercial venture while in Kabhi Up Kabhi Down he stars opposite Perizaad Zorabian. Fans will also see him playing a gigolo in Anubhav.
“The reason I didn’t have a problem playing a gigolo is because there is no sensationalism or titillation. It is the journey of a man and an actor. He is a serious student of theatre who earns money as a gigolo. Then he loses his perspective, playing roles, and loses himself between the man, the actor and the gigolo,” reveals Sanjay.
Stepping in and out of his various identities proved to be something of a challenge. “I always used to think it would not be difficult, but I was doing Anubhav and Salaam India simultaneously and it was an effort to snap out of it,” smiles Sanjay.
Despite the mixed bag, being typecast remains an occupational hazard. “No one can escape being typecast,” feels Sanjay. The neat compartments of alternative and commercial cinema also come with their own stereotypes. “I would hate to be a star and not an actor,” he muses.
Stardom comes with good films and time. Doing films like Speed increases the visibility factor, allowing more people to see you, like you and approach you for roles. “Today Aamir (Khan) is doing films, but even he has a history of commercial cinema,” stresses Sanjay.
And while some may shun multi-starrers for fear of getting lost in the crowd — or playing second fiddle — he welcomes them. “I have done other multi-starrers. They are the trend today. No one individual is carrying the film on his shoulders.”
Sanjay has been working with a number of Bengali directors, most notably Onir about whom he says: “Both of us have matured with time, as persons and as friends, and that shows in this film.”
He hasn’t had much of a chance to experience Calcutta beyond that. “I have been to Calcutta often, but never got to see much of it, except Park Street. I have never explored the other parts, such as Howrah. Maybe sometime I’ll just take a camera and hit out like a tourist,” he jokes.
Sanjay came close to working with Rituparno Ghosh on Sunglass. “I was supposed to do it, but the character turned out to be different from what I had thought it would be. So Rituparno and I decided that I should do something later, something that I would be completely convinced about,” he signs off.