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Turning Negative Into Positive

Flexing his acting chops in Raid, Saurabh Shukla tells Bhakti Mehta what it was like to play a full-fledged negative character in the film, for which he has earned much praise

Raid has been received with a lot of love at the box office. What response have you got for your performance in the film?

The reactions have been extremely positive and people really like the film. I am so happy that the film has worked. It feels great to see a movie that we all believed in, succeed and succeed with such aplomb. There is an outpouring of love. I personally have gained a lot of praise. People even stop me on the street to tell me how much they liked my performance. Even media people, journalists and reporters have said good things about me in their reviews. All this is very gratifying.

Since we are talking about reactions, what was yours when you first heard the script?

When I first heard the script, I was very excited to do this. I knew it was a big part and at par with the protagonist. I was very excited but, at the same time, I was also a little apprehensive because it was the first time I was doing an out-and-out negative role. The tough choice when you are playing such a character is – do you do everything negatively? Do you laugh like a villain? Smile like a villain? Or look like a villain? This makes for one colour, which is very boring. Seeing people in one single colour, in one single dimension, is not interesting enough. The challenge was to portray the character in a way that everything he does is wrong, negative, but he doesn’t lose the human touch. That was the most challenging part and people have taken note of it and are talking about it.

The way you balanced your negative character with subtle humour is applause-worthy.

First, I want to say that I am very lucky that I got to work with director Raj Kumar Gupta, who welcomes improvisation. He let me participate in the script in that, if there was something I didn’t understand, he was open to the idea of reinterpreting things my way. He understood where I was coming from. Of course, he also made me see many things in the film. And, in any case, it was a wonderfully written script by Ritesh Shah. It was a tight, gripping script. It was a very interesting and happy space to work in.

The protagonist-antagonist chemistry you share with Ajay Devgn in the film is very interesting. How did you pull it off?

Although we have worked together before, it is the first time that Ajay and I have worked on such a long project. We just struck a chord. We have always liked and respected each other. I have always admired him as an actor because he has done many types of films. He is commercially very successful too.

He has done typical masala films too like Golmaal and Singham but he has also done films like Gangaajal and Apaharan, which are hardcore, realistic and gritty. As actors, the feeling of admiration is mutual. I had a brief encounter with him as a director. When he made Shivaay, I played a small role in it. Due to this mutual understanding and respect for each other, our chemistry translated very well on screen.

Many actors say that playing a negative character is very enjoyable…

(Cuts in) I agree, and that is because the negative character comes with a flaw. Portraying a flaw is quite a thing for any actor. My character is flawed but there is a high level of conflict in the character that you get to play with. I enjoyed it very much. And more than anything else, I feel happy because I got what I wanted that I set out to do with this character. I wanted to avoid people hating him and make him a human being. That’s where I think I succeeded and I am very proud of that.

You just spoke about improvisation. How much of it did you do on the sets? What was the process like?

I am not sure I can explain that. I think when you have a great script, like I did with Raid, you have a copy with dialogue and everything. You have to make those lines your own, which means you believe in it so much that it doesn’t feel like it has been written, but it has been said. People think it is either only done by the writer or the actor. But it is a team effort because the writer and the actor go hand-in-hand.

There are small improvisations you make which keep adding to your character. Like there is a scene in Raid where my character, Tauji, is shocked when the first batch of money is unearthed from his house by the IT officer. He tries to be angry but that has no impact. In just a second, he goes from winning the war to losing it. But he manages to compose himself and bounces back when he talks to the officer outside. Those subtle changes in his demeanour are all improvisations, something you form to make the character more human.

Will we see you do more negative roles in the future?

After this film, I hope that I soon sign another film which is just as strong and good as this one. I will wait for the right roles and platforms to come along because the scale on which I did this film opens up possibilities.

Byline – Bhakti Mehta

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