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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Avinash Tiwary: “Not Every Film Is Supposed To Speak To Everyone”

Avinash Tiwary is an experienced and talented actor who is rearing to make big waves in the Indian entertainment industry.

For eight years, he worked in theatre before he worked in Anurag Kashyap’s TV series Yudh, in which he played the antagonist to Amitabh Bachchan. 

Subsequently, he made his Bollywood debut with Milind Dhaimade’s directorial debut, Tu Hai Mera Sunday co-starring Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami.

Premiering at BFI London Film Festival, the movie and his performance received critical acclaim… Marking a new entry in his acting career.

But the major project Laila Majnu did not do as well as expected – in terms of the widespread viewership and numbers.

However, his performance in the Imtiaz Ali production got widespread acclaim and since then, he has also bagged some promising and exciting project which will push the envelope further.

In an exclusive interview with Filme Shilmy, Avinash opens up on working with Karan Johar, Mrunal Thakur in Netflix’s Ghost Stories and Parineeti Chopra on The Girl On The Train.

Since Laila Majnu, you’ve bagged some great projects. How would you best describe the space you’re currently in?

I don’t know to describe this, honestly. After Laila Majnu, for the subsequent 3-4 months, I didn’t have work on me.

The film went down from the cinemas after a week and many people didn’t get a chance to see it, but the word-of-mouth that kept building the film’s state.

Imtiaz sir told me that a film is for life and that made sense to me after people watched it on OTT platforms and loved it.

I had always tested for every film that I got, so it wasn’t just because of Laila Majnu. People have probably realised that I’m capable of carrying a film on my own shoulders.

I’m still the same – going out and auditioning for parts. I just feel glad that people are trusting me and have that faith in me.

Working with Karan Johar is a dream come true for any actor. What was your initial reaction like when Ghost Stories happened for you?

I didn’t believe it. Until the very end, when I got a call and was informed that this is happening, I was in disbelief.

In the reality of my life, I never seemed like an apt choice for a Karan Johar film. I don’t know why I am saying this but this is what I felt with it.

When I met him, I told him this in fact. I don’t dream anymore because dreams can kind of limit yourself.

Life is infinite and offers more than what one can imagine. I never imagined I’d be a part of an Imtiaz Ali or a Karan Johar movie, but it has happened.

I feel very blessed. If I say ‘I feel happy’, it’s the least I can say. The fact that I was able to see Karan as a filmmaker, rather than the host or big celebrity, is what really stood out for me.

I hope he gets due credit for it because he is fantastic at what he does and filmmaking is his origin.

Mrunal Thakur was such a joy to me, I cannot tell you enough. I had not met her before we worked together on this but we did, we instantly got along. We had so much fun on-set…

I dare say that she is one of the best actors I’ve worked within the limited career I’ve had. I really hope that the filmmakers who like us together, cast us in another film.

I’m dying to work with her again!

Karan was previously accused of being the ‘flag-bearer of nepotism’. But by casting ‘outsiders’ like you and Mrunal, it seems like he has ended that debate…

Yes. Well, he did the same with Lust Stories as well by getting Vicky (Kaushal) and Kiara (Advani) on board. He wasn’t really given the credit back then either.

This is a similar conversation I had with him and he mentioned that he is never credited for the filmmakers I launch through Dharma Productions.

There are so many new directors who get an opportunity through that banner. It’s only because actors are the faces and they are seen mostly, which is perhaps why people give him that tag.

He deserves to be credited by establishing some amazing new filmmakers too.

The most interesting thing is that Ghost Stories stepped into the ‘horror’ space.

The fact that he is stepping into unknown territory with me and Mrunal proves that he had a lot of faith in us.

I really thank him for giving us this opportunity to do a film like this. Karan has really brought his new experience into this movie and I look forward to seeing it.

Ghost Stories and Anushka Sharma’s Bulbul are your first horror ventures. Is it really as ‘spooky’ as one would expect?

So in Bulbul, I reunite with Tripti Dimri and I hope people see us in a new light because it’s a very interesting dynamic we share in the film.

Not sure if I can talk much about it, but what I can say is that it’s a period fantasy drama that is based in Kolkata during the 1880s, it’s a movie that I’m really looking forward to.

It is going to be visually stunning and interesting.

Both the films definitely have the ‘spooky’ element to it. But it has something more to it.

I haven’t been able the right way to explain the genre… We used to joke and say that Ghost Stories – Spooky D, despite the horror element, it has some humour too.

I’m not really sure if I can bracket the film into it being ‘horror’. Of course, the film wouldn’t have been possible without the ‘human relationships’ aspect he always presents in his works.

It will be interesting to see how those human connections falter/fall apart because it’s a new genre altogether.

With Bulbul, it’s a fantasy drama with some horror elements. So again, it’s a mixture of genres and one can’t really pinpoint is difficult. But the fact that it’s a mixture, makes a movie more interesting.

You’re quite keen on doing flawed/imperfect characters. How helpful was that interest in doing a film like The Girl On The Train?

So I worked with director Ribhu Dasgupta on the show Yudh before but we hardly spoke after it.

In fact, I used to think that he probably doesn’t like me (laughs) until I got a call from him regarding the film.

I was very excited. It’s such an interesting part and the way Ribhu has upped the levels, he has added more drama quotient to the whole film, it almost feels like a different take on the same story.

He keeps saying its an adaptation on the book rather than the 2016 Hollywood film. That’s the way we’ve all looked at it.

We all have brought our own sense and sensibilities. I really enjoyed doing it because roles like these don’t come on a regular basis.

The first 10-15 days of the shoot I was trying to explore what this guy is and how do I really play him. Once I worked it out, I had a ball enacting the part.

Parineeti Chopra’s character is very layered. The amount of effort she has put in impressed me so much!

She has been around in the industry longer than me and to see how she pushes herself to pull things off, I was very inspired.

Everyone on the film including Aditi, Kirti, they’re all amazing in their work. When you have a team like that, they all pull up their socks and you feed off each other.

How much of a blessing are OTT Platforms like Netflix for actors like yourselves who have always been in the industry, but never got the due which you deserve?

For some reason, I think that OTT platforms should’ve happened to India a long time ago and we were capable of it.

As an industry, we make more films throughout the world. We never had enough exhibition centres and this is what I also mentioned during the panel discussion at MAMI.

We need more platforms for independent voices to be heard. The biggest of our films are released in 4-5,000 screens and in a country like India, that is very small.

We haven’t done enough as an industry to reach out to more people. Hardly 3% of our population watches films in cinemas.

So for actors who are not up there yet, it will always be difficult to find a space to exhibit their films. However, OTT platforms have provided that platform.

There is no fear of Friday. If people don’t turn up to watch your film because of wanting to see bigger stars, they will go off within 3/5 days. But in the digital space, the movie will be there for some time.

Digital mediums allow every voice to be heard and gets enough reach.

You have mastered the craft of acting over the years. What has kept you driven during times of hardships and struggles?

It’s a belief one has on themselves. I believe in the ideology that “you might be a diamond, but you’ll only shine when the light falls on you.” Even if you’re a diamond, you won’t shine in the darkness.

When that light falls on you is not in our hand and one waits, hopes and are ready when the light falls, then you shine because you’ve worked hard and been deserving of the outcome you expect.

That’s all I thought of. I kept motivating myself saying that “I am good at this”.

I know this sounds boastful, but I’d keep saying “I’m the best actor at my age in this city” and I’ve been very specific about this.

I used to keep saying that to keep myself drive and optimistic. At the same time, I’ve always been willing to put in the hard work.

The rest is up to opportunities and when it comes knocking at your door, so I keep hoping this continues and grows in numbers.

It’s a commerce-driven industry, however, some good films still don’t get the profit it deserves. How can this mind-set change amongst audiences?

If I knew the right answer for it, I would’ve been able to do it. People have been trying to figure out and it’s always about what excites the audience.

If everyone knew it, they would make big numbers every time.

Also, I feel that not all films are for big box-office collections, some films are made to touch on certain views, emotions and thoughts, which might align to a few people in the world and that’s fine.

I am not sure why films are always expected to do huge numbers, even when it’s a good film. If a film is good and it reaches out to a certain amount of people, then that’s about it.

Not every film is supposed to speak to everyone. That’s a mistake we make and unfortunately, audiences have been conditioned to a certain kind of cinema over a period of years.

Thankfully with the influx of international cinema shown in our country, the audience realises that there is so much more that is possible.

Our industry is very star-driven. Actors get too much credit when a film does well.

I have always believed that they should be paid well, but giving them the credit for a movie’s success is something that we should really think about.

Making a film is a team effort so the credit should be equally distributed. Once we start doing that, things will hopefully change.

Listen to the full interview with Avinash Tiwary here!


Ghost Stories is an upcoming Indian anthology horror film, consisting of four short film segments directed by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap.

It streams on Netflix from 1st January 2020.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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