Kay Kay is now walking the fine line cinema. And despite the commercial scare running through the market, he remains peacefully undeterred
“The camera is like your girlfriend. She is always watching you. Never try to impress the camera,” he recites from a biography of Michael Caine. It is something he has come by with experience. Off the celluloid, his appearance is a shade different from what we’ve seen on-screen and the long hair renders him practically unrecognisable. It’s for his latest film, he explains. OK, now we’re certain. It’s Kay Kay, the slightly reticent yet immensely talented actor who’s treading new ground in the film industry. We’re in luck. His buttons have been programmed to the active mode so he’s in the mood to reveal all. All except his christened name. He picked Kay Kay after he received a round of upturned noses at his South Indian name. “A Chinese calligrapher in New York told me that it meant victory,” he laughs. After a long wait after his maiden release, Mahesh Mathai’s fleetingly released Bhopal Express, the stellar charts are finally glistening with victory as Hansal Mehta’s Chhal and Anurag Kashyap’s Paanch are due for release and Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi (Twist With Destiny) has just completed its production stage.
As the radical, impulsive and—to my mind at least—sexy protagonist in Paanch, the undercover cop planted in the underworld in Chhal and the disillusioned Naxalite in Hazaron Khawahishen Aisi, Kay Kay’s been fulfilling much more than just childhood fantasies. Unlike his “emotionally naked” self in front of the camera, his real-life decorum is in remarkable contrast to what I’ve been witness to—since I’ve seen Paanch, that is. “Acting is an extension of one’s personality,” says Kay Kay. “On the sets, I get clasped and what you see is the non-hypocritical and exposed self.”
“My relationship with Kay Kay goes back several years when he was solely engaged in theatre. When I wrote Paanch, I cast him in a cameo but once he accepted the role, he was immediately promoted to play the lead character,” says Anurag Kashyap. To justify the faith invested in him, Kay Kay decided to bury himself in his role as Luke. “I play the evil protagonist. There are no apologies made and no efforts to bring in a flashback to relate it to a terrible past. His evil is not-circumstantial: it just is. In a larger sense, this film challenges us to address issues that have been ignored,” he says.
He admits to being bored easily. Even so, Hansal Mehta managed to sustain his (Kay Kay’s) interest levels as he was able to actually act out his dishum-dishum days. “It (his role in Chhal) is not an author-backed role. I had to play it within a small spectrum.” But he goes on to say that the underworld story is still a fantastic one.
Kay Kay makes no faces when it comes to Bollywood. “One can either accept it or escape it,” he admits. Accepting the status quo, he’s not averse to being cast in mainstream films. His criterion is believability. And that comes from the script. As he puts it, “Most conventional films resemble an extended advertisement. There are no questions asked. My character has to be believable.” Once that bridge is crossed, he sees if he’s comfortable with the people he’s working with, and if the price is right. He has an MBA, he laughingly tells you, though you don’t need a business background to see that there’s no future in being labelled a low-budget star.
Being a theatre personality and having played roles as challenging as Harilal Gandhi opposite Naseeruddin Shah in Mahatma v/s Gandhi—which ran for more than sixty shows, both in India and abroad—it seems strange that Kay Kay has never undergone any professional training. Kay Kay finds inspiration in old Hindi films. “Though fantasy-based, they had a soul,” he says. His learning of cinema remains confined to actors’ biographies.
He swears that he acts on “instinct” and “imagination”, and he believes that he’s “lived his life, at least so far, to the fullest,” so carrying that experience of life and the world over to the big screen isn’t that much of a challenge. What is intriguing is the method with which he approaches his roles. Almost dissecting his part of the bargain into tiny particles, Kay Kay shuts himself up in a tiny square. Here he is able to push outwards. “Within this dimension, there is space to experiment up and down,” he explains. Take a step out of the square and the actor takes on an amoebic form; almost like a beer without its froth. “It’s one of the fascinating elements of working with Kay Kay. Absorbing the script, he works within his and its para meters; that’s the greatest challenge, really,” says Mehta. In the end, with the boundaries trimmed, what appears may well be a hated character (as in Paanch), but will always be a loved actor.
A comparison with Vivek Oberoi in Company is inevitable. Incidentally, Oberoi watched Paanch five times before he embarked on the project. That aside, it is apparent that Kay Kay is now walking the fine line between Bollywood and Hinglish cinema. And despite the commercial scare running through the market, he remains peacefully undeterred.
He’s had his bouts with TV, though he emphasizes he only did two long running serials (Darr and Pradhan Mantri), along with twenty-odd hour-slots. His roots are in theatre (Chitra, Baje Dhol, Jungle ke Paar, etc) and he still loves that milieu. As he puts it, “Prithvi mein main abhi bhi adde-baazi karta hoon.” With all this, and incipient fame staring him in the face, Kay Kay’s feet are still firmly grounded.
“I don’t believe that being an actor elevates one to the level of a deity,” he declares. Ask him about his ghost-like identity—Kay Kay, you might be asking. Isn’t that a singer?—and he waves his hand nonchalantly. Ask him about Nivedita Bhattacharya, his wife, and there’s a Freudian slip of the glass, with creamed coffee smeared across the table. She’s run out to buy him an entirely new wardrobe.
The quiet, composed protagonist of Bhopal Express has just stepped out of his box. He’s returned to his personal world. All that’s left is the sheer intensity on-screen and an audience suspended in disbelief.
Images courtesy Harsh Man Rai