Exclusive: Alok Pandey - An evening with star’s ke yaar aur ek kalakar
Loved by SSR – Sushant Singh Rajput, recommended by Farhan Akhtar, mentioned by John Abraham and acknowledged by Aparna Sen. Meet the thirty-five-year-old pleasant and lanky Alok Pandey – the young theatre artiste from Bhartendu Natya Akademi (BNA) Lucknow who came to Mumbai in 2012 like millions with dreams, today is glad that he is making his space in character driven roles and is blessed to have seniors like late SSR, Farhan Akhtar, John Abraham and filmmakers like Aparna Sen mentioning his name and appreciating his work in their films.
Alok Pandey in an exclusive interview to Vishal Verma for cineblues speaks about his unique journey so far from Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, MS Dhoni, Batla House, The Rapist, KKK Kiran, Aazam, his dreams his aspirations and much more…
Am a son of a farmer from a village named Dadoun, in Shahjahanpur Uttar Pradesh. Like every farmer during my childhood, I used to accompany my father/brother in herding cattle’s. During my early teens when I was studying in my seventh and eight standards, I used to recite poetry, perform in functions. It gave me a good thrill and when I entered class 12, and came to Shahjahanpur for further studies, I started imitating/mimicry of my teachers etc. people started giving me feedback and encouragement. This continued till my graduation. One day I came across an advertisement of a play. I got excited as this was the thing, I was looking for… the play was performed by the theatre group - Sanskriti Theatre Group founded by Alok Saxena who later became by Guru. After watching them play, I was sure that this is the place where I belong. I joined them and my journey of learning started. This happened in 2007. I did some plays for ODC then I moved to Lucknow and got admission in Bhartendu Natya Akademi (BNA) and did several shows.
When did you decided to come to Mumbai and give it a shot?
While learning in BNA, renowned actors like Anupam Kher, Nawazuddin Siddiqui etc use to come as guest faculties and the attraction towards Mumbai started developing. After finishing my course in BNA, I applied for NSD but got rejected. Luckily, I got selected in Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata and after completion of my course, I decided to go to Mumbai.
How did you convince your father and other family members?
Since I was the youngest child, the responsibility to look after the house was not there on my shoulders. My brother and my father supported me and when I said I wanted to try in the film industry and go to Mumbai, they managed fifteen thousand rupees for me. We are from a lower middle class farmer family and fifteen thousand was really a big amount for us but they arranged it for me.
I took the sleeper class ticket in the Pushpak express from Lucknow and landed in Mumbai on December 28, 2012. Eleven years ago.
How long it took to get your first break?
I came to Mumbai and like any youngster from interiors of India, brought a few pictures of mine and I use to distribute it to production houses etc by writing my age, name, height, email id etc. I started getting work as an extra first. Standing here or there. Then one day I got a role of a mechanic in CID. This continued for a couple of years, getting one day two-day work and getting paid around 1500 to 2000. For me initially it was an handsome amount. My family use to ask why you are not seen. After a struggle of three years, I got a small role in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo starring Salman Khan.
How you coped with the struggle during the three years?
My family use to worry and tell me not to take the stress and comeback if things are not working. I use to assure them that things will be better. My health deteriorated but my colleagues and roommates from BNA stood by me and gave me hope.
A year has passed since Prem Ratan Dhan Payo but I didn’t get any work. I was meeting people, sending my photograph in personal or by mail. One day a call came for an audition of the role of a MS Dhoni’s friend. I was asked to cheer for Dhoni as he is playing. I gave the audition and it went well. We theatre wala’s look for more so I asked “ aur kuch nahi karna hai kya”. They said no that’s it. You will get a call. More than a month passed by and suddenly one day I got a call that my audition has ben liked by Neeraj Pandey sir and he wants to meet me.
What was your reaction
I went into cloud nine immediately, I couldn’t believe my stars. They said after three days they will inform about the date and time for the meeting. Those three four days I wandered around beaches, parks etc hoping that a call saying ‘casting director Vickey Sidana calling’ will appear whenever I heard my phone ringing. As per their word, I got the call and was called to meet Neeraj Pandey at evening.
What happened there
After a ten fifteen minutes wait, I met Neeraj Pandey sir and it was an unforgettable moment of my life. He asked about myself, how I began and then said you will get a call.
So, it wasn’t confirmed even after meeting Neeraj
Honestly, after meeting Neeraj Pandey I was in another world. I called my father, my brothers and other people and was extremely emotional. I told them I met Neeraj Pandey – the director of A Wednesday it was unbelievable for me. I was drinking tea at road side stalls making phone calls going crazy and that day in my life I smoked a cigarette… it was surreal, I don’t know how to react. Yes, Vickey Sidana did said that your audition went very well and you are almost final. After fifteen twenty days I got the call and it got officially confirmed. Then the unit took my measurement for clothes, my look was discussed. It was unbelievable for a small theatre actor from a small town. It was like a dream.
On the first day of the shoot, I had no dialogues and it was a scene when Sushant is playing a Ranji match and we are cheering from outside. We didn’t interact and Sushant Singh was in his character. Later during Sushant’s scenes with friends where we had dialogues, we started greeting each other. One day I had an emotional scene after the death of Priyanka and it went well. Neeraj Pandey congratulated me and the news spread that Alok has given a very good emotional scene and Neeraj has loved it. Sushant came to me and hugged me saying, “ kay kar diya tune yaar, sab jan teri tariff kar rahe hai, Neeraj sir ne bhi tumhari tarif ki”. We developed a good rapport and Sushant was like a big brother to me. We use to have fun and cherish those chai’s and singada’s during MS Dhoni shoot. We all friends developed a good rapport with Sushant Singh Rajput.
Later during the final phase of the shooting Sushant bhai and we all developed a special bond. As I was the youngest in the group, he was like a big brother and always showed his love, concern and yes was mischievous at times as well. He gave me tips during the shoot and made me comfortable. I wondered why he was so involved with a nobody like me and soon I realised that that’s his nature to move along with everyone, be positive and be happy. MS Dhoni got released and it was appreciated from all corners. With a fear in my mind whether Sushant will respond to my message or not. I dropped him a congratulatory message call karne ki himmat nahi thi. Because many times this happens - people who are co ordinal on sets ignore you when the shooting gets over, they don’t respond. I message Sushant and he responded by saying, “ Aare Chittu”. I was surprised. I have kept that chat and it will remain forever. I congratulated him and he said that he had planned a get together with Kanti bhai but I was not there, I had gone to my village. I said ‘lets plan it now’ and he playfully said, “ pani pee ke batate hai’ ( my dialogue from the film which got famous).
When was the last time you spoke with Sushant Singh Rajput?
When I got a role in Lucknow Central, I messaged Sushant bhai to share my happiness and he wished me luck and said it’s a good script. He was supposed to do Lucknow Central but things didn’t work out. Though we couldn’t meet personally after MS Dhoni shooting, we were in touch via phone and social media. Whenever I use to share something on my social media, he use to respond. Slowly slowly the response started decreasing and around Chhichhore we lost touch. But for me, those memories are a life long treasure. Sushant Bhai was exceptional, so full of knowledge, he knew so much about stars, galaxy. Brilliant actor, having a heart of gold.
No, I got Batla House two years after Lucknow Central. In between I got some work that required couple of days of shoot.
How did you cope with this gap/stress?
I use to go to my village to get rejuvenated and recharged. That days in my village with my family friends and local theatre charged me up. I use to come back to Mumbai double charged.
Did you go through any bad experience like casting couch, false promises, offer rejected at the last moment, nepotisms?
I have gone through all. There have been times when I was almost verbally finalised but at the last moment, it went to another person. At times it was wrongly communicated that I don’t have dates and am busy. This all happens.
Established people like Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut etc have openly spoked about politics, favouritism, exploitation, nepotisms etc in Bollywood. What you have to say?
I have gone through bad experiences, almost every second or third person in the film industry goes through this favouritism, false promises, manipulation, and things as low as casting couch. I prefer to talk about the positives, my memories with Sushant Bhai will remain forever, John Abraham have mentioned my name in couple of his interviews for Batla House. Farhan Akhtar has asked the director of Dongri To Dubai Shujaat Saudagar to look something for me. Aparna Sen has spoken about me in her award-winning film The Rapist.
Aazam which got released recently, and got appreciated by crtics and audience who have seen. In Aazam I have a significant role of a hacker. Am also doing Dilruba 2 with Jimmy Shergill. In Bambai Meri Jaan (Dongri to Dubai name changed) am have a good scenes with Kay Kay Menon this webseries is expected by September/ October 2023. A movie with Pankaj Kapur titled Saher which has made it festival rounds. I have a small but important part and scenes with Pankaj Kapur.
Am playing the main villain in a movie called The Psychiatrist: Session Begins starring Sajjad Delafrooz and Brijendra Kala. A web series on MX titled Bindiya starring Ranveer Shourie, Saurab Shukla, Seema Biswas, Taaanisha Chatterjee.
I admire Irrfan Khan a lot. I have never met him and got the chance to work with him but he remains my idol. After Irrfan Khan when I observed Kay Kay sir during the shooting of Bumbai Meri Jaan, I became a fan of Kay Kay sir. He is so focuses, the way he approaches, prepares, takes out the nuances is amazing.
To play a character like Paan Singh Tomar. And the character played by Vijay Varma in the series Dahaad. Characters which ask you to go beyond.
Kaam aata hai toh kaam milega, if you know how to work, you will get work by today or tomorrow. Have patience. In this last 11 odd years, I don’t look whether I have set a bar or reached a position. I just have a glace at the people with whom I have worked and working. Sooraj Barjatya, Raj Kumar Hirani, Neeraj Pandey, Sushant Singh Rajput, Nikhil Advani, John Abraham, Apatna Sen, KK Memon, Pankaj Kapur, Jimmy Shergill, when I see this list, I feel happy that at times even a small role has stood out and the makers, the lead have spoken about me in public. This is the greatest motivation and it keeps me going. You should be prepared, trained and must have some knowledge of the art, you will get work and survive against any odds.