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Agents of Change: In conversation with Jaideep Ahlawat, Kirti Kulhari, Sobhita Dhulipala & Viineet Kumar

Co-stars of Bard Of Blood, Jaideep Ahlawat, Kirti Kulhari, Sobhita Dhulipala, and Viineet Kumar talk to Titas Chowdhury about preparing for their characters, the book that the show is based on and the backing of Netflix and Red Chillies for the series

Titas Chowdhury (TC): Bard Of Blood started streaming this week. What was your headspace leading up to that?

Kirti Kulhari (KK): Well, there were promotions. And we are tired now.

Jaideep Ahlawat (JA): They were going on and on and on.

KK: Now the show has come out and we just want everyone to go and watch it.

TC: We watched a few episodes and the one thing we can say is that it is difficult to press the pause button while watching the show.

KK: That’s so nice to hear.

TC: How did you all grasp the body language, the diction and other aspects because it must have been a huge task considering all of you play spies?

JA: Bas kabhi ghamand nahi kiya. (Everyone laughs)

KK: Aaj bhi nahi karte. But it felt like the language just came out like that due to the cold weather there. (Laughs) Something emerged in that cold weather of Ladakh, that I am sure of.

JA: Viineet mukkabaaz maar ke nikal gayi. And then everything was fine, we just grasped all body language. (Smiles)

Viineet Kumar (VK): The thing is that the character of Veer that I play, he is a survivor who is in Afghanistan. And he has to do that while keeping his identity hidden. For that survival, it was very important for him to learn the language that was used there. His introduction is also in that same scenario itself. Plus, there are a lot of languages spoken in India and Veer actually hails from Punjab and that is why when he talks to his own people, that Punjabi-ness comes out in his voice. To get that right, there were diction teachers for us. That is the kind of preparation that all actors do and I have also done the same. Then there was training for everything else that we did. Our characters are commandos and spies, so we all trained for it with guns. It is the kind of preparation that everyone has to do especially when we, actors, have chosen to do something different, something out of our comfort zone.

Sobhita Dhulipala (SD): Yes, there is a physical aspect of the character that I play. And because we are RAW agents, we have obviously been through a bunch of training modules in the course of us being hired for the show and the prep that went with it. So, there was not really a chance where we could get our body language wrong. There was a lot of difference in the way you would react. If there was one person coming in versus if there were two or three, whether you are opening a door from the left or the right, we had to have these things in mind already. And it was done so because if there was a situation where we had to improvise on set, we know how to do that. We cannot just go about it in an amateur way because otherwise it would just be a disservice to the protocol. We had the physical training, the action training and like it was previously mentioned, how to use a gun and all of that. I actually really enjoyed it.

TC: I remember that the last time we met, you said it was a lot of fun because you got to use machine guns.

SD: (Smiles) Yes, there was a rusted AK-47.

TC: Jaideep, you play a Pakistani spy in the film. When you play a character like that, how challenging is it to keep your personal biases aside?

JA: It is not a very difficult job to do. It is like when children play the game of chor-sipahi. They know that ghar pe jaake toh dono ko hi laat padni hai. One person is the chor and the other is the sipahi. And then some time later there will be a role reversal. The show doesn’t have one person essaying the same role. There are a lot of developments. You only have to understand that basic difference. And we already have the material that the writer has written for us, we have those reference points, so one can just concentrate on that. And it is not like one doesn’t know about Pakistan or ISI. We keep hearing about them, about things happening every other day, we read it in the papers. We already know about these things. One just has to channelise it when playing such characters. And as far as the secret service agents go, they are all the same because they all have to do their jobs. When they are out of the country on missions, they have to just finish their given tasks. That is something that is common for all whether it is Veer or Kabir (Emraan Hashmi) or the others.

TC: Have you all read the book?

SD: No, I wasn’t allowed to.

KK: Book? What book? (Smiles)

JA: I think Viineet is the only one who has read it.

TC: Have you read it, Viineet?

KK: Yes! He’s the biggest padhaaku on set. He keeps reading all the time. When we would tell him to come eat food, he would say that he was studying. If we would tell him to come to the gym, he would say the same thing.

(Everybody laughs)

VK: It is not that only I have read it but lots of people have. Everybody is learned here. But the others were banned from reading it.

SD: But I was banned from reading it.

KK: And we just came to know why.

TC: Why so?

SD: I was told that it was because the script was an evolved version of the book.

KK: And I did not read it because my character, Jannat, is not there in the book.

JA: The reason that I did not read it was because I thought kyun padhna hai bina baat ke faltu ki baatein? (Laughs) What I mean is that when you have the script in hand, that is what you have to follow. Book brings in subplots. There is no Jannat in the book. Now since the kind of chemistry Jannat has with Shehzad, since they live together, how will we be able to build that relationship if I follow the book? I anyway have to come back to the script. That will be extra work and I will get confused between two subplots. For example, if you are supposed to play a short portion of Ramayana

KK: Then why to read the whole Ramayana? (Laughs)

JA: No, I am just saying that if you have to do one particular portion of Ramayana, then you will concentrate on that portion only na. You know the whole story anyway. But finally you are going to talk about just that portion and remember only those dialogues. It is not necessary that you will have to start from Dashrath. There is no need to do donkey’s labour. Always opt for smart work.

VK: Every actor has his own way. We are aware of thousands of things but as actors we should know what to use and when. It’s not necessary that if I am dealing with certain things, I won’t bother to know about other things. When I was preparing for Mukkabaaz, I got to know about a lot of other angles from some other sports person. If I would not have gone to that field, I would not be aware of that area. Same happened with GOLD when I interacted with other hockey players. I wanted to tell a story of a sportsman, a boxer who does not have any control over himself. He gives his father a piece of his mind and he even beats his coach. But there are also a lot of things which are happening with other sportsmen, which I got to know when I interacted with them. What I feel is, one should be open to everything and take whatever they can. Later it is the director’s call what to include. A script anyway gives you the line.

TC: Yes there was the script, but when you read the book, what all things did you absorb?

VK: See, the script has come out of a book. Even though you read a book, until and unless you don’t go on the set, you stay detached. It is possible that from a book I am getting to know few things from Shehzad or Kabir’s point of view. My character, Veer, stays in Afghanistan. He is able to survive there because he is familiar with the surroundings. So I wanted to know what is happening in every character’s life. Because somewhere isko ye pata hoga that in what situation my family is surviving. I am dealing in Afghanistan, so my character must know these things. It’s a different thing how many scenes do I have with Jannat. But a person who is an undercover agent in a country, then whatever he already knows about that country will be useful to him; otherwise it’s a different thing what lines am I given. My knowledge will help me prepare myself.

TC: You guys shot a lot on outdoor locations. Parts of Rajasthan were recreated as Baluchistan. Was the shooting for outdoor locations challenging?

KK: We started with Ladakh, which was the first schedule and the toughest schedule, because in October the temperatures go anywhere between 0 to -10 or -12 degree Celsius. The weather conditions were quite tough; plus the fact that there was lack of oxygen at that altitude. It was physically more challenging for the whole crew. Especially, when actors have to be in front of the camera, you can’t just warm up yourself. You have to run and act, and they have a lot of action sequences, so Ladakh was super tough. It’s amazing that no one had fallen sick or no one was injured. Then for few days we shot in Mumbai and later we went to Rajasthan. The weather was very hot there. See, you can’t avoid the weather conditions. It is definitely going to affect you. We have to do what we are supposed to no matter what. I always give examples about how amazing it is to see the undying spirit of whole unit no matter what happens; everyone is doing their job passionately just for that one shot, to make it better. That spirit, that energy, is something that helps us to go through every situation.

TC: When you have two big names like Red Chillies Entertainment and Netflix backing you, how reassuring is that?

KK: Personally, I feel it is very reassuring because Netflix is an international platform and it has really proven itself over the years. There is of course Red Chillies that comes with its own reputation. You also want your work to reach maximum people and when big names like these are backing you, there is an assurance that your project will see the light of the day in the right way.

SD: We agree with her.

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