Lead actors of the recent Netflix Original film Upstarts Priyanshu Painyuli, Shadab Kamal and Chandrachoor Rai talk to Padma Iyer about the film and how they bonded together for this bromance
First questions first, how did you all come onboard Upstarts?
Priyanshu Painyuli (PP): For me it began like it usually does, through a casting director. Today the process has become good as there is a proper format. So, I auditioned for it and Udai (Singh Pawar) really liked my performance. After the audition when I met him he said that he had really liked my work in Rock On 2. He was writing the script when he saw the film. I have a very small part in Rock On 2. Then I read the script and it is based in Bangalore. As I come from Bangalore, it connected even better.
Shadab Kamal (SK): We went through a series of auditions and it was improv auditions. From day one I have wanted to be part of this film. It was very exciting. Even the audition process was very exciting. And we were cast a long time back.
PP: Yes, we came on board the film more than a year back. I remember in the audition process a couple of us were put together. We were told that a phone call would come and we had to sell an app or an idea; become a startup guy straight away. That was an interesting thing that happened.
SK: And a lot of things changed since the time we started auditioning till we finally made the film.
PP: Yes, we evolved with the script.
Chandrachoor Rai (CR): I was the last one to come on board but I kept hearing about this film because he (Shadab) kept on talking about it. So he used to come, discuss the film, read his lines. And like how most of the things in my life have worked out, whoever was supposed to do the film was not available for whatever reason. Then I was auditioned. These two buggers look very young and handsome. So when Udai looked at me, he said ‘I am not sure. Achcha hai, but I am not sure with the age thing.’ But I think Raja Menon was very excited about me. So they said ‘Let’s figure out something’ and I was on board.
The story is all about the camaraderie between the three characters Kapil, Vinay and Yash. How did you get going?
PP: All it required was one evening and a sailboat. (Everyone laughs)
It is the usual story of how friends bond. Udai had this idea. The script, the drama, the story… everything is on paper. The premise as you said is about friends doing business together, so the friendship has to be made evident. Udai’s wife has a membership in a yacht club, lucky guy! So he got us a sailboat, jo Gateway (of India) ke paas milti hai. Two-three hours we just went on the boat, Udai and the three of us. We chatted, we had fun and the whole evening just went by. And when you open up like this and then you start reading the script together, you are at ease with each other. On the set then there is nothing that I can’t tell him or he can’t tell me or we can’t tell each other.
SK: We were hanging out a lot with each other even after the readings. We spent a lot of time bonding together. We actually became friends so it came very naturally to us.
PP: And it becomes easier even on set. I remember during one shot, I was sitting behind the monitor and I looked at him (Chandrachoor) and said ki tu aise kar le. And he did not think twice before following it because we have bonded so well.
CR: Also, the detail he picked up was centric to my performance more than anything else. He said that if you change this it will be a lot about your performance instead of distracting from it. He said it and I didn’t even think twice.
PP: If you are working with someone new, you think should we even be suggesting things to each other. But there was no such thing here.
CR: Shadab here is the nicest person I know. In the film I am not supposed to be pulling his leg ever. But in real life we do pull his leg a lot. So I had to take care that equation did not come on screen.
The characters you play need not be like your real-life selves. As actors how do you keep your respective personalities from overlapping your roles?
PP: I think that is where Udai comes in. He knew his world very well. He comes from an IT background so he knew these three characters. During the banter scenes between Yash, Kapil and Vinay we used to completely get ourselves into it. Everyone on the sets would enjoy and laugh aloud. But Udai said that this is not what these guys do. I have not done engineering. I am not from that background so I don’t really know how these guys work. I have never stayed in a boys’ hostel. So Udai used to correctly pull him (Chandrachoor) up ki tu zyada kar raha hai. Kapil tu zyada kar, kyun ki main generally zyada nahi karta hoon. I think a lot before doing anything, Kapil doesn’t think.
SK: You have to constantly remind yourself about the key characteristics of your character. So you have to constantly remind yourself and bring yourself back again to the role you are playing. That is where the director comes into the picture. Every time you stray away from the character, he brings you back.
CR: There would be times when Udai would come and be silent for two seconds. Then he would say ‘Something you did was nice but it this is not my script. So change it and get back to how it should be.’
If you could play any other character, other than what you have played in this film, which one would it be?
PP: Actually Vinay would have been very easy on me. I am very Vinay, easygoing in life. During rehearsals the costume stylist and even Udai would be like he dresses like Vinay, some bands, short kurtas, laid back with normal hair… I am a very Bangalore-type lazy boy. Kapil is a bit hyper, he is impulsive.
SK: I relate very much to Yash. It would have been very much natural for me to play Yash. I am very much edgy just like Yash’s character.
CR: I don’t relate to any of those characters. They are very driven towards something. Generally I am very relaxed. I don’t want to necessarily immediately achieve something. As a character, no matter how many times I read the script, I genuinely liked Yash. The character has a lot of things which are very emotional and vulnerable. I remember Udai constantly telling me that you cannot be macho. This guy is very vulnerable, he is a very complex character. You cannot have that typical masculinity coming into the character. And I really liked the idea of playing someone who is so on the edge and showing people something they haven’t seen before and making them relate to it, which they might have difficulty in relating to otherwise, so that is the part that excited me a lot.
Otherwise I would have loved to play Veer because he had got the best clothes with some of the hottest girls in the film. (Everyone laughs)
As actors who have been around for quite some time, do you look at the digital space as an exciting time for lot of budding actors as well as talented people?
PP: I think it’s great. I was in Taiwan, my sister is there. Because my earlier films which are there on Netflix, Bhavesh Joshi and Once Again, I got a free acupuncture treatment from a doctor because his son had seen Bhavesh Joshi in Chinese and he was a fan! Upstarts is going to 190 countries. It is going to have a global reach. The work is reaching the audience straight away and none of these guys can make the excuse that it is no longer in the theatres. It’s always going to be there on Netflix and you can watch it any time, that too on the move, now that people are watching movies on their tablets and the phones. It is everywhere. Also what is happening is that because we are reaching out globally, I know my work is going to different countries. So, we have to come up with challenging stuff and that inspires us and pushes us to do great work because everybody is watching everything, from Narcos to Money Heist.
CR: That’s what I find very interesting. The fact that Netflix is operating in so many countries, the inception of an idea in itself requires different faces, faces that do not fit into a certain type that was otherwise a prerequisite for Bollywood. You were initially only seeing certain faces and then something like Netflix that operates in so many countries gives us an idea of what a face is, what a personality is, what a character’s peculiarity is, so everything suddenly plays an important part in the script. How many people are going to see it, how many people are going to consume it, how they understand it… that for an actor is so good because now there are so many scripts that I can fit in because it’s not just the set sample of people those who are watching so it’s a great time to be an actor.
SK: These digital platforms are actually giving us opportunities for different content, which weren’t happening before. It has opened up new channels.
Any final words on what should we expect from the film as an audience?
PP: If you are from the startup or the IT world I hope that you relate to it and you will see your story in it. And if you are not from there then I hope you relate to the hope and drive that is there in every millennial today. You want to do everything and you also want to give back to society. All that in a nutshell is there. We have got the friendship angle also coming in. In fact there is a line that we say in the film ‘Khula aasmaan, sasti daaru, ghatiya dost’… after everything when you get to that, it is peaceful.
CR: For me it is basically that the idea is eventually to be at peace with yourself. Most of what the film tries to show is that the idea of purist creations for startups has become so interesting because it arises from a need that one person identifies with from a simplest level. The complications of life are there, but at the end of the day it is about…
SK: ‘Khula aasmaan, sasti daaru, ghatiya dost’… aur kya chahiye!