Television, radio, theatre, films and a web series, Neil Bhoopalam seems to have done it all. From playing a Parsi boy to being the hero in a heroine-centric film and playing a politician in another, Neil has come a long way. However, you will see his eyes lighten up when we mention remembering him and his antics from his days as a VJ on Channel V Basement, a show that also had VJ Juhi Pande. Dressed in a simple T-shirt, pants, TMNT socks and converse shoes, Neil is a picture of laid-back chic on an unusually balmy afternoon in Mumbai, as he narrates his journey.
What was your first big on-screen break?
I think it was me as a VJ on Channel V Basement with VJ Juhi. On the show, we could never find the emails we received from our viewers. We would make up our own letters. Juhi would hold up a blank page, say a name and say thanks to that name for writing to us. We would often just make up some stories behind it and then I would pass a random comment (laughs). After that there was No One Killed Jessica, Shaitan, David. So, for me it has been a series of small breaks, but if I were to be specific, then I’d say NH10.
It was fun watching your character, Sarang in the web series Bang Baaja Baaraat. You had us laughing our hearts out. So, what makes you laugh?
That’s a tough one. People make me laugh. I like basic and simple humour. I used to watch a lot of Jim Carrey movies. So you may see the influence.
It keeps changing though. However, I would love to do something different, two years from now, which I am working towards–a physical comedy. Something on the lines of characters like Charlie Chaplin, Tom and Jerry, Mr Bean, those that are funny even when you are watching it on mute.
Are you writing a script for it?
Not a script, but I am developing it, if that makes sense. Also, I need to train really hard for it, though not so hard that it would kill me, but enough to improve my flexibility, so, I can at least climb up a floor, jump or roll over a car, something funny for sure.
How has cinema changed in India? Does acting take precedence over star power?
It is economics. We are pretty much the first generation in the media, which studied the subject and understood that there is a fair amount of structure involved. A film company that has been around for a while becomes a big name and in order to keep that alive, they need big films.
There is a fair amount of bitterness that people generally feel like, ‘Oh, this director’s son is being launched.’ You have to understand where people come from, and if you want to do something, do it. You want to act, act; if you want to write, write. Then, whether you are getting a big break or the big star sort of a thing as people are calling it, it doesn’t really matter. We live in a time where it is all about big numbers in making a film, and how much that gets in return. I mean, after all, it’s an investment and you have to get the returns. It’s plain business. There is a parallel cinema where there are movies with star power and also those with good acting and content. At the end of the day, we are all artistes. And, if you feel that one is bigger than the other, you’re probably wrong because you need to see where that is coming from.
Spontaneity doesn’t seem to be a problem for you. You ever thought of being a stand-up comedian?
Yes! Many a time. I tried to apply some science into that. Stand-up comedian Rajneesh Kapoor is a friend of mine and has often urged me into it. I told him that right now, I am an actor. I can layer an act if I were given a certain brief for it. However, for stand-up comedy, you need to articulate your words. I can articulate my thoughts for performances but I cannot do that for stand-up. I don’t mind learning a little more, even if it takes five to seven years. I am in no hurry. At the moment, I am focusing more on films by trying to learn the many technical aspects from the different departments, so, I can try and pull off a character in the best possible way. It is different when it is on stage. Theatre is an actor’s medium but film is a director’s.
How did NH10 happen? You were a hero in a heroine-centric film. How did the whole thing come about?
I am a slow reader, so when a script comes to me, I take pretty long to read it. But with NH10, I read it all the way in one go. Also, there weren’t too many dialogues so you could go through it pretty quick (laughs). Back then, I had begun working on season one of 24, so, I wasn’t sure about how the logistics would work. But for some reason, the shooting for NH10 kept delaying. By the time it began, I was done working for 24, so I was free, and that is how NH10 happened.
If you had to choose between theatre, films or television?
It doesn’t really matter to me. I wanted to perform and that is why there was radio and then stage. I wasn’t one of those people who aspired to be an actor. However, the industry evolved and eventually more people who were considered “outsiders” were cast in films. It is easy to keep yourself busy doing what you want. It won’t work if you are going to sit at home and think how difficult it is or that you aren’t getting a fair chance. That is when you start putting other people down. It doesn’t really matter if you are getting the best part or not getting paid enough. I believed that I was hanging out with people who were fun and cool. When Bang Baaja Baaraat (web series) was happening, Anand (Tiwar, the director) called me, and told me about the part I was to play. He started explaining the family connections to me and I never understood who the fufa or the fufi were or who the chucha and the chacha were. To me, they were all only uncle and aunty.
Is the digital medium a new avenue for actors, directors and writers?
Do you think that it poses a threat to theatre with its platform for short skits and plays?
Threat? No, nothing is a threat to any industry, especially if it is entertainment. I think, each one complements the other. There was a time when I did think so, but briefly. Whether it is theatre, stand-up comedy, digital, big-budget star films, indie, non-indie, whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t matter. All of it will exist at the same time. Nothing is a threat to anything. It is true.
Are you a dog- or cat-person: Cat person. But I am slowly becoming a dog person too.
One food you would never say no to: Cheesecake
Favourite Shakespeare play: Hamlet, because I did that production.
One actor you would give your foot and arm to work with: Alia Bhatt
One secret no one knows about you: There are too many that come to mind at the moment but I would say that I like my space.