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"Setters was a great film to reinvent myself"

Shreyas Talpade in conversation with Padma Iyer, about his recent release Setters, the reason he chose a serious film after finding success in comedy, his television stint and more

You debuted with a serious film like Iqbal and went on to make a name as a comedy actor. What made you come back to something serious like Setters?

You have, in fact, answered your own question. It was something I had not tried, at least not for 14 years after Iqbal. I started my career with a couple of serious films like Iqbal, Dil Dosti and movies like that. At that point, I was considered a serious actor. People even changed my name from Shreyas Talpade to ‘Serious’ Talpade! (Laughs)

After that, doing comedy was a challenge because people thought I would not be able to do it. Then Golmaal happened and that started changing things. After that, I’ve done a lot of comedy. So I was glad that Ashwiniji (Chaudhary) thought of me for Setters. Again, the concept of the film was very nice; it was novel and we treated it in a way that was different. I thought that if I had to reinvent myself, what better film than Setters, where I play a grey character, the anti-hero. I took it up as a challenge.

What kind of preparation did you do for your role in Setters?

I read some material on the subject. My director and my producer gave me some information about how the whole thing operates. In fact, after reading the script, my first reaction to Ashwiniji was ‘You have dramatised it pretty well. The kind of sequences you have written are pretty filmy.’ To this, he said, ‘I have not imagined anything. It is exactly the way it happens.’

I was taken aback by this modus operandi. I had always assumed that exam paper leaks, whether for the railways or medical admissions, took place at a very local level. I had no idea that there was an organised mafia behind it. I read some material and was also put in touch with some people. In fact, Aftab (Shivdasani) met a couple of police officers. The same guys helped me understand how these guys operated.

I got to know that most of them were pretty educated and clued in to the latest technology. I had to understand their psyche more than anything else. The body language and other aspects, I worked on those as an actor. But the most important thing was the way the setters operated. For me, that was the most challenging part.

What was it like to work with Pavan Raj Malhotra and Aftab Shivdasani?

It is a treat to work with someone like Pavan Malhotra. He comes with a lot of experience. He is pretty outspoken. And the way he understands this craft is on the lines of how Naseerji (Naseeruddin Shah) would. Of course, Naseerji has mastered the craft and some things come very naturally to him. For example, there was a sequence in Iqbal where we were training and then there is a shot where we have finished and are sitting on a haystack. These were shot on two different days but Naseer ji sprayed water all over himself. I looked at him and he said, ‘Training khatam karke baithe hain na, toh paseena toh hoga.’ So you learn these vital nuances from them.

Pavan Malhotra is similar but his way of working is different. He likes to completely get under the skin of the character. Aftab also worked very hard. It was a welcome change for him to do a character like that. I tried to fool around on the set but he was serious (Laughs).

As an actor, how do you switch from one genre to another?

It is very fascinating as well as difficult. You have to approach comedy with utmost honesty, sincerity and innocence for it to click. In fact, I feel comedy is a more difficult genre. Most people are serious, so it is easier to slip into that kind of atmosphere. But it is difficult to make people laugh.  

So it was a challenge for me, as I had returned to serious cinema after doing comedy. There is not a single witty remark in the film. In fact, there was a little comedy that I did in my scene with Ishita (Dutta). In the scene, she points a rifle at me but since it was very heavy, she lowered it slightly. I instinctively said, ‘Kya hua, thak gayi?’, but Ashwini ji deleted it.

You did a TV series called My Name Ijj Lakhan recently. What prompted you to do television?

Paritosh (Painter) was the producer of the series. He had talked about it for a long time and wanted to do it for the web. We had also shot a promo for it. I really liked the concept of a guy trying to redeem himself because of an incident in his life.

Then Paritosh happened to narrate it to the SAB TV guys and they liked it. Also, it was a limited series, just 26 episodes. The story had a beginning and an end. So I was game to try it. But this was TV and it was very tiring. There was also a lot of action in it. Luckily, the response has been decent.

What is next on the cards for you?

I haven’t signed anything but I am reading a couple of scripts. I wanted to look at the response to Setters and to my character before trying something else. Comedy will keep happening but I want to wait for the right thing rather than sign stuff left, right and centre. I will be acting in a Marathi film this year, but it will be out only next year. I am also producing a Marathi film. So I am very excited about these projects.


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