Arjun Mathur

“I’m strongly against lover boy roles” ~ Arjun Mathur

I looked up Arjun Mathur almost immediately after I saw Luck By Chance where he played the struggling actor who settled for theater acting in the film. However, in real life Mathur is not one to settle for anything. The young actor who claims he has no fans, but is really being modest, first debuted in Farhan Akhtar’s short film Positive where he played the lead role and son to Shabana Azmi and Boman Iran. In more recent times, Arjun was last seen in the critically acclaimed Barah Aana and will also been seen in Karan Johar’s next extravaganza My Name is Khan. But he is not just an actor. Arjun is also an avid traveler and waiting for a director to make him dance. But until then , the straightforward actor speaks to Roshni Magazine about looking for his big break, the industry and being ultra talented.

I thought you were FABULOUS in Luck By Chance. What was the experience of working with Farhan and Zoya Akhtar? How did you land the role?
Well the experience was great firstly; I love Excel Productions. It’s a fun unit who are good to everyone and thoroughly professional. I’ve worked with Farhan before; he’s directed me in his short film. Zoya has been a close friend for a while before Luck By Chance. How I landed the film was pretty much after the short film I did with Farhan, Zoya felt that I could pull off the character and sensitivity. So she asked me to do it and I couldn’t refuse it.

The reviews for your role came as “the young and talented Arjun Mathur.” How does it feel to get such accolades?
It feels good! I know I have a fair amount of talent so it feels good primarily because I don’t come from a film background. For an outsider, for his work to be appreciated, it’s a good feeling.

You’ve claimed that Luck By Chance is the story of your life. How so?
Well I don’t think my character is the story of my life. I think Farhan’s character is closer to what my life has been as a struggling actor. I’m yet to finally hit that big break but yeah, the struggle that was captured for a struggling actor trying to bag a lead role is very close to home. And it’s not black and white. It’s a very grey area, this profession. It’s a very insecure dicey competitive kind of professional. In order to go about doing what you want to do, you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. So in that sense, Luck By Chance is close to home.

Was acting something you definitely wanted to get into?
Yes, ever since I was nine years old. Of course, at that my motives were different; it was all about being big and famous. But over time it became a lot more about creativity in the profession and now it’s very much about that.

Your career of course dates back to early 2004 when you were an assistant director. How did the shift to acting occur?
My career actually dates back to 2002. My first feature film as an assistant director was this feature film called Kyun! Ho Gaya Na? After which there was Mangal Pandey, Bunty Aur Babli and lastly, Rang De Basanti. So I made the decision very consciously. I stepped into the industry when I was 21 and I knew that I had time until I was about 25 or 26 to start creating a foothold as an actor. So I knew I could give it at least five years training myself.

Your roles in every film has been different from the next: from a gay lover to a struggling theater actor and then a Bihari waiter. Has this been a conscious decision and when will we see you in a proper lover boy role?
Well I have been very aware that in order to create a massive fan base for yourself, you have to do the lover boy roles. However, I started feeling so strongly against those roles—it’s just a bunch of Hogwarts! It’s the same thing over and over. Everyone who enters the industry is trying to do the same. Everyone is trying to be clones of each other! And that is what I don’t want to be. I think somewhere directors have started to see me as not that and someone of a bit of alternative taste. So I think it’s working out for me because we are not entering a time where alternative taste is becoming main stream slowly. In part it’s been a conscious choice, and now it happens to be what comes my way. Someone has clearly told me that the day I start dolling up as an actor, it was will be the end of my career (laughs). It’s not that I couldn’t do a lover boy role, I could very much pull it off but I find it embarrassing. I don’t want to do something that I will look at and cringe.

We know you can’t talk too much about My Name is Khan but what was the experience of working with Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol?
Well Shah Rukh I’ve worked with before. We’ve shot together one scene for Luck By Chance and we did a commercial together. He’s great! He’s supremely polite and he remembered me. Karan is really talented director with great sensibility and a great sense of humor. I think I had some misconceptions about Karan simply because of the kind of films that he’s been making endlessly. But spending time with him it all changed. I really came to respect him a lot. And Kajol, wow! She is magic to watch. She goes there, is 100 percent natural, does her thing and is great to watch. Kajol is the female Aamir Khan to me right now after spending this time with her. It’s completely easy with her. She listens to what she has to do and does it so naturally. And it’s great! All and all My Name is Khan is a very big film so more than the experience of working with these people; it’s the experience of being in this large scale film.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have learnt from Farhan?
Farhan has not given me too much advice actually. We don’t have that kind of relationship. He’s not the ‘give you advice’ kind of person really. Unless I have a question and I actually go and ask him, in which case he has always told me the right thing. He’s always been helpful but I mean there is no particular piece of good advice. In this line everyone has something to say and everyone wants to give their advice (laughs). I’ve received a lot of advice but it’s really up to you what you assimilate and what you leave behind.

What was the experience of studying at Lee Strasberg?
Strasberg was good except I wish had done it for longer than I was. All in all it’s a intricate method; it’s highly respectable and requires hard work. At times during the training you reach places inside you that you didn’t know! And that’s what it’s about as an actor, to be able to reach into your own past experience and pull out emotions that you have felt; so that they are real. At Strasberg they really train you do that by using a particular method which really does help. Although it requires a lot of patience and dedication to sit down before every performance and do it, but it’s really valuable to know. Whether you practice it or not, it helps you out.

What do you do in your spare time?
I travel a lot! I try to do as many adventurous things as I can. I spend time with my girlfriend, friends, watch movies – normal stuff! I’m a very normal guy! (Laughs)

What is your advice to any aspiring actors?
My advice is first of all, please be sure that you have what it takes because otherwise it can really be a waste of time. And what it takes at the most basic level is a certain amount of sensitivity, imagination, losing your inhibitions. You can train yourself as much as you want to but unless you need to have that basic understanding of human emotions. Anyone can come, strut their stuff and be stylish on screen. My advice to actors who want to do that is go ahead! (Laughs) But to someone who wants to really act and make it, know it’s tough and all the best is all I can say really.

Which has been your favorite role thus far?
My favorite role that I’ve played it would have be the role I played in Farhan’s short film. Actually we’re only talking about four roles. So I think would Boman [Irani] and Shabana’s [Azmi] son in Positive because it took me to an emotional place that was deeply satisfying.

When will we see Arjun Mathur shake a leg?
I’m dying to dance! But I just don’t want to do like a romp-com with lip sync numbers. I would do a Moulin Rouge or a Chicago, that kind of stuff that is happening in India, and if it comes to me I would jump at it. Musicals have a whole different world. Let’s see when someone wants to make Arjun Mathur dance! (Laughs)

Any message for your fans?
My message is simply to spread the word about me! I need my publicity to go through to my fans. And there is a lot of good stuff to come!

~ Roshni M.
(September 2009)

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