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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Abhimanyu Dassani: The Future Bollywood Heartthrob

Abhimanyu Dassani is young, fit and handsome… A guy with a passion and love for acting.

Perhaps it is this passion which drew him to be cast as the lead in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, a film which has won the ‘People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award’ at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Naturally, receiving immense praise from across the globe would be ‘surreal’ and ‘exhilarating.’

But being the son of a well-known actress like Bhagyashree and actor/producer, Himalaya Dassani, one would think that this factor would open several doors within the industry.

However, this was not the case at all. Like everyone else, Abhi has started from the bottom to work his way to the top.

In a special and close tete-a-tete with the budding heartthrob, I get to know more about Abhimanyu Dassani’s career and his future ambitions!

Abhimanyu, what has life been like growing up – given that your mother is a Bollywood actress?

My parents consciously kept me away from the film industry since they didn’t really want me to be a part of it.

So I really wasn’t a part of the industry. I had a normal childhood.

I was very good at my finance, I was quite a fat and chubby kid.

I only got into sports when I was in the tenth grade.

I did my Major in finance and while I was doing that, I used to go to New York to study filmmaking and acting in the summer.

When I was 16 I started working as, what I call, ‘a serial entrepreneur.’

I would set up a business, make it profitable and move onto something else – a different industry.

While I was doing these projects, I ended up meeting Rohan Sippy.

I asked Rohan about giving the films a shot and see what it is all about.

He gave me a small booklet saying, “Why don’t you read this and come back to me later?”

Within three hours outside his office, I read it and expressed my interest to be a part of it.

He said, “Okay you start tomorrow.” That started off my first day as an assistant director on Dum Maaro Dum.

Besides that, I assisted in other films too like Nautanki Saala. I even did a documentary for a year.

Then realised that ‘I should maybe give acting a shot and let’s see what happens’.

How did you get your first film?

I started giving auditions for different films and a lot of them came back to me, but I didn’t think I was ready for them.

One day I was notified that a 19/23-year-old is required for a martial arts film.

At that time I had just set up a martial arts centre called ‘Tribal Combat’ and it had been one month and we just had 50 students so I thought let me go and give this film a shot.

I waited for a whole day outside in the rain for the audition, but I didn’t get it.

Even the next day I didn’t get to audition. But someone from the film crew rang my martial arts centre and asked to send all the boys as they needed a new face for the film.

That’s when I thought I would give it a shot. Over the month, I gave about 25-30 auditions for Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota.

Do you feel that being Bhagyashree’s son has opened more doors for you in the film industry as a whole?

Maybe it could have if I told anyone that I was Bhagyashree’s son.

Even during the audition process, they didn’t know who I was until the final 4/5 days when I was selected in the top three.

If I have my talent will speak for itself.

You know I heard this line that “if someone puts you on a pedestal, they can take you off” and I believe in that.

I’ve always wanted to achieve something on my own accord.

It makes me feel good to do it on your own.

Nepotism is a part of any industry. I haven’t faced it so I wouldn’t know what it is like in the film fraternity.

People know me after my trailer came out. They didn’t see me at Bollywood parties or other red-carpets.

Persistence cannot be substituted for anything else.

Who in cinema inspires you?

I’ve grown up watching films. I love Govinda, Akshay Kumar was great during the Khiladi series.

Right now, I look up to a Ranbir Kapoor. I think his film choices and the ease in his acting is unbelievable.

Another actor is Alia Bhatt – who was junior to me in school. I remember when I was in dramatics for the juniors, I can recollect how she was there every day.

She was always a really nice girl and she had a certain charm even back then. Now, she’s taken it to another level and I’m so proud of her.

Which actor and director are you most looking forward to working with?

Actor – I would say, Alia Bhatt. Director – Ayan Mukerji.

I can watch Ayan’s films multiple times. I could watch them even 10 years down the line and they would still be relevant.

He makes films that are timeless. Plus, he’s a really nice guy.

I’ve met him a couple of times and he gave me some great advice which helped me to bag my first film.

I went to show him my work and said that I was 26 (now aged 28) but despite that, I didn’t have a film.

He said to me, “I like your work. You know what it is to act and just keep doing what you are. It’ll all be good.”

But I was worried about the pressure from others. He then asked me why I became I an actor, to which I answered that I feel like Pop-Eye and Spinach for the two minutes when I perform.

He told me to just enjoy what I do because then that’s what the audience will see.

Ayan also advised me not to take myself too seriously and just have fun when I go for an audition… To imagine that the cameras are members of the audience.

You are in tremendous shape. What fitness regime do you follow to maintain the chiselled look?

I wasn’t this fit before Mard. I worked out for about 9 months to a year for the film.

During that time, I didn’t have a single cheat meal nor did I consume sugar.

I trained for martial arts for almost 6 hours per day – three hours in the evening and three hours in the morning.

Other than that, I would do gymnastics and five days workout in the gym. I would do Laathi training.

Then I would end my day which was compulsory. So about 8-9 hours of physical activity.

Now, it’s more normal.

As an actor, I feel that I just need to be presentable enough that I can adapt or mould myself into any character.

For instance, if tomorrow I need to play a taxi-driver, I can’t really have a six-pack.

I like to keep myself simply athletic, hence if I need to look real for my work, I can do so.

There’s a myth that an actor should have a six-pack. What is your view on this?

I don’t understand this pre-requisite of having six-pack abs.

It depends on the role. If I need it, then I would need about 6 months and I’ll get there.

Do you think this will change anytime soon?

Not in the near future. Maybe 3-5 years down the line due to the kind of films that are being made.

Really good cinema is coming out.

How have you prepared yourself to combat high competition in a cut-throat industry like Bollywood?

I’m only competing with myself. As long as I work harder than I did yesterday, I’m winning.

I couldn’t imagine myself getting a film, let alone getting into TIFF, getting a standing ovation getting the People’s Choice award. So I’m already winning.

My competition is only against myself and I’m going to keep working hard.

As for dealing with fame, it’s essential that I keep friends and family close to me in order to stay grounded.

Plus, it’s quite hard to get a compliment from them, they are quite hard to please!

At the same time, one has to find something which reminds one them how they got the fame.

For me, the passion and happiness I give to my acting career are more important than the fame or money that comes with it.

Everything in this industry is fleeting. I’m glad that I’ve got this opportunity to make my dreams come true.

Here’s hoping to pursue more of those in the future.

Finally, within the next few years, where do you hope to see yourself, in terms of hopes and ambitions?

Every day now is like an adventure because I’ve not really been in this industry before. It’s all a new experience.

My dreams are kind of scaring me right now. But someday I’d like to reach the Oscars.

Throughout this journey, if I can inspire/motivate people to make their life better in any way, that will be a fulfilling experience for me.

Here’s wishing Abhimanyu all the very best for the future!

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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