If you think “Prince Charming ” is a myth you most obviously haven’t heard of Nakuul Mehta (and in that case you are living under a rock). One of the most recognizable faces in the Indian TV industry today, this flamboyant actor currently plays the hugely popular Aditya in the StarPlus series Pyaar ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaraa Pyaara. Nakuul, with his green eyes and good looks, does not just look like a prince straight out of the fairy tale books, but is one, in the literal sense of the word. A proud descendant of the Rajputana family of Mewar, his lineage can be traced back to none other than the legendary PrithviRaj Chauhan! And just when you think it can’t get more real than this, he tells you about his penchant for riding horses ( Now that completes the Prince Charming fantasy to the hilt!)
Interestingly,his professional career till date boasts of a remarkable variety which is no less impressive. It includes around 65 TV commercials (yes 65!), quite a lot of theater ( his recent play Cock has achieved rave reviews) , a Bollywood movie (Haal-E-Dil) and now a widely loved soap on National TV, which has turned him into one of the most popular actors of current times.
So when you find a subject as intriguing as him, it’s inevitable that you pin him down for an “up close and personal ” chat at the earliest opportunity. To my delight,there is no breaking ice with Nakuul Mehta- It just melts away the moment you start talking to him. He attributes his apparent ease with people to his widely traveled childhood.
“My father was in the Navy and the most fond memory that I have of my childhood is changing 10 schools in 12 years. It made me more accepting of all cultures and gave me an ability to instantly connect with people from all backgrounds.That’s the only lifestyle I ‘ve known and I think it gives me an advantage over most people.I even spent 2 years in Andaman and Nicobar!”
Well, no wonder his love of travel has stayed and grown strong with time. But I am instantly curious if a childhood as mobile as his, leaves room for any one particular memory that is more striking than others? Turns out it does.
” When my father used to go for long sailing trips, he would write letters to me talking about the importance of discipline in life. He would tell me to work on my fitness and help my mother and sister with the household chores. Growing up, I didn’t appreciate or understand much the importance of what he was saying, but today, whether it is the fact that I am a fitness freak or that I lead a disciplined life ( my wife thinks I am way too disciplined to be normal!), I think it ‘s all because my father inculcated these things into me through his letters.. And Yes I have all his letters saved!”
By now I am naturally wondering how does someone, who has a strict disciplinarian father in the Navy, turns out to be an actor? Fate or decision? He quickly admits he always aspired to be an actor, like we all do at some point in life, ( a lot of his time while growing up was spent copying Madhuri Dikshit’s dance steps), but being from a strict academic family, he never thought of giving these aspirations a real shot. But all that changed when they picked him up from his college in Mumbai, to do a TV commercial for Sprite. More commercials followed and before long he was doing a workshop on Theater on the recommendation of a total stranger. Amidst all this, someone spotted this “striking kid” and the movie Haal -e- Dil happened.
“So things naturally happened. Of course I worked damn hard as well and made some tough decisions ( like giving up going to US for my higher studies). I constantly kept working and learning things and that helped. I was not sitting there thinking I wanted to be an actor, I was out there doing whatever I could.”
“While theater is my only learning ground, I cannot discount any medium as being less important. I wouldn’t give up TV for anything in the world because, having traveled quite a bit in my last year, I have realized that the kind of reach it gives me is unbelievable. From Shimla, to Mohali, to Bangalore to Ahmedabad, everybody watches you Man! I have just discovered it and I think it’s fantabulous. Because as an actor what you want to do is reach out to people and TV gives me that.
When it comes to theater, it gives you an adrenaline rush which nothing else can. Performing with a live audience, listening to their oohs and ouch, the way they laugh and cry with you, gives you an instant rush that money can’t give you. So I would love to continue doing theater.
And the best thing about movies is that your work is saved for posterity whereas in television you do an episode and it’s gone. It’s more like a newspaper, you know. I was flattered when a Russian fan sent me a copy of Haal-e-Dil dubbed in Russian! So it is something that can be saved for eternity, for your kids and grand kids to watch later.So as an actor I would hate to choose. I would like to tap into to all of them. Right now I am tapping into two of them.( Theater and TV).”
What strikes me about Nakuul’s acting career, is the choice of roles , some of which are pretty unconventional. For example,he plays a homosexual in a relationship with an other man in Cock (Play) and a son called Pythogoras Sharma who wants to break free from his mathematics obsessed father, in a movie called “Avant Garde Pythogoras Sharma“.
But now that he is looking at a TV career ahead with the success of Pyar Ka Dard, wouldn’t he miss out on the scope of playing such roles as Indian TV is rather conventional and limited in terms of content?
“I think TV is evolving in terms of content. Just yesterday I was watching the promo of Anil Kapoor’s Twenty Four- I think it’s fabulous- first step towards changing programming in the country. Amitabh Bacchan is planning a fiction show as well.We are in a phase where things are changing . In fact Aditya in PKDH is also not a typical hero at all. He is very “today”- He treats his wife like a friend. When he is wrong he apologizes. He cries. So just because he is straight and not gay- which just sounds cooler-to call it not challenging wouldn’t be fair.I loved doing Pythogoras and Cock- and maybe I wont find these roles to do on TV,but from within what TV does, I have found the best role in Aditya-and I don’t discount it just because it’s mainstream.My job as an actor is to make Aditya seem real with all his shades and variations and that to me is very challenging and enjoyable.”
So he thinks it’s a good time to be in the TV industry?
“It is the best time to be on TV, Bachchan and Kapoor want to be here! That is bound to re -affirm your faith in the industry. The content is evolving too. Aditya has as much to do as Pankhuri in PKDH. It’s not like before, where shows were just about a woman crying and being a martyr.”
“Ok, my grandfather always hid the fact from the family that my grand mother didn’t die a natural death. She was always in a coma but as a child I had accidentally pulled off her oxygen mask while playing, which caused her death. When it is revealed recently in the show, the whole family wants to hide it from me as I am very close to my grandfather and it would shatter me . But Pankhuri comes and confides in me because she think I should know. That whole sequence of Aditya coming to terms with it and apologizing to every single person of the family- was intense. It was an extremely emotional moment.Performing it as an actor was an unbelievable experience as well and we achieved something that was very real. A lot of people connected to it and it touched them the way it touched us as actors. So it was a very special moment for both Aditya and the show.”
Wow, that has got to be intense! But I also read somewhere that he finds Aditya very different from what Nakuul is in real life and that is one of the reasons he loves playing that character. But being someone he is not for 13-14 hours a day , does that tend to rub off on him sometimes? Has he ever unconsciously taken Aditya home?
(Laughs) “Funnily Yes. I totally take my work back home. I can’t switch on and off like some people do. I live the job I do. A lot of times, when I am charged up about a scene I discuss it with my wife at night . My father, who watches the show, tells me a lot of times that I am reacting like Aditya would . But it’s natural. Sometimes I use a little bit of Nakuul when I am supposed to be Adi. Thankfully my wife doesn’t mind me being him at home sometimes,because he is a better husband than I am in real life.”
“I am Nakuul mehta. That is my identity. I don’t pretend at all to be a character when I am not playing him. Of course a lot of people do come to me and talk to me as if I am Aditya ( I get asked all the time where Pankhuri is!) and I take it as a compliment because somewhere that means I have done my job convincingly. And at the end of the day I am cool with it because getting recognized as Aditya is far better than not being recognized at all.”
Does he think actors with good looks have to work harder to prove themselves?
(Laughs). “I am so happy you asked that question. No one’s ever asked me that! It’s a bias I have faced all the time in my life. I have heard this from so many casting directors: you are too fair, you have light eyes. I have heard lame excuses like you are too good-looking to play this role. People think I wouldn’t be able to speak Hindi whereas I can speak as good a Hindi as anyone! But I don’t take it seriously. The only way to prove them wrong is to go out there and work. And anyway everyone faces a bias- for being dark, fat. thin – anything that the world doesn’t like about you. So you just deal with it.”
What is Nakuul Mehta’s advice to aspiring models and actors who look up to him?
“Three things: You have to find one strong reason to be in this profession. Any reason would do but it has to be strong. Second thing is to do a genuine appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses. Do not come thinking it would be easy. And thirdly, be your own person. Don’t try to be someone else. Find your identity.”
On an ending note, what’s his message for his fans?
“Thank you so much for watching the show and making it a memorable journey for me. I love connecting with you all and hearing your feedback. Keep sending love and keep watching the show.”
Photo Credit: Ayush Das
Don’t forget to check out “Rapid Fire with Nakuul Mehta” here: http://dramasanddreams.com/2013/08/31/rapid-fire-with-nakuul-mehta/