The first time I text Tenzin Dalha to gauge his interest in an interview, he wants to get on a call. All I want to do is get an ‘okay’ from him, and report back to my editor, because I’m already playing catch with my deadline. And besides, who prefers calls over texts, anyway? When we get on a call, the first thing Dalha wants to know is, why him? Nothing about how ‘prominently’ the profile will feature, or what the focus of the interview will be. I tell him it’s because we loved his performance in Guilty and Axone, and would like to see more of him. I leave out the fact that he’s got a dreamy smile. Dalha is also one of the few known faces to be starring in the AR Rahman musical, 99 Songs. What made him so special that he got a chance in the maestro’s musical? “I gave a kickass audition,” Dalha says, laughing.
Dalha stayed at Rahman’s guest house, and his classes would begin at 10 in the morning. “At the KM Music Conservatory (founded by Rahman in 2008), everyone had been training in music for years, and now, they were there to hone their craft and make music productions, which is next level. It was a combination of your innate musical talent with technology,” Dalha says. While Rahman never took classes, he used to meet the students (which now included Dalha) once a month and see their progress. The atmosphere at the conservatory was such that Dalha ended up spending eight to 10 hours a day practising his instrument — the drums — without taking Sundays off. After about two months, he managed to get a drum kit into the guest house and began practising for 12 hours. Dalha truly began to be noticed post the release of Guilty, which was about the #MeToo movement. While his character didn’t have many dialogues, he instantly stood out. “I had auditioned for Guilty at Deepak Mehrotra’s office. I got the script, and I did a complete improvisation of the scene that was given to me. I took a take on the character, and they seemed to like it. I went for a reading, and I was told that Karan Johar really liked my audition. Then, one thing led to another,” he says. Post Guilty, the actor was seen in Nicholas Kharkongar’s Axone, which deals with food and racism. Dalha has spent 25 years of his life in Delhi. Did Dalha’s years of facing racism in Delhi help him relate to Zorem, I ask.
“This is 25 years of me living in Delhi now, and not having similar features as a commoner in the capital would. Racism becomes a part of life, then. I used to face racism in every football match that I played at the zonal level, or inter-school level. Because our brains are reduced to fight or flight, I trained myself on how to react to certain things. I have had many near-violent incidents and funny incidents as well. I used to take the metro to my college every day, and I was more from Delhi than a lot of people who were being racist with me,” he says. “For instance, I was sitting in the metro, and there were some guys talking to each other in Haryanvi, and were saying stuff like ‘look at him’, ‘look his hair’, ‘look at his eyes’. I understood what they were saying because I can speak a little Haryanvi as well. After 20 odd minutes, I broke the ice and spoke to them in Haryanvi, and they were shocked. It all came down to a laugh, finally. I think sometimes it’s just ignorance instead of evil intentions,” he adds.
Talking about work, Dalha has a long list of film-makers and their stories that he’d want to be a part of. “I would want to live in Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy’s, Anand Gandhi’s, Vishal Bharadwaj’s, Dibakar Banerjee’s, Zoya Akhtar’s, Mani Ratnam’s, Thyagarajan Kumaraja, Vasan Bala, Raj & DK’s, Bong Joon Ho’s, Charlie Kaufman’s, Ruchi Narain’s, Jordan Peele’s, Dave Fincher’s and the man with balls of steel, Anurag Kashyap’s worlds. So whatever roles they give me, I’ll grab them with open arms,” he says, ambitiously. Dalha is very reticent when it comes to sharing details about his childhood or about his parents, apart from the fact that they always supported his theatre career as long as he got good grades, and that his passion —apart from theatre — was football. In fact, other than his parents, nobody knew about Dalha’s decision to become an actor till they saw him in Margarita with A Straw. Currently, Dalha is living in Mumbai’s Madh Island, which he absolutely loves. Madh Island reminds him of the hills, particularly Darjeeling, where he’s spent 15 summers as a child. It’s also a great place for his love life (he’s dating) because Dalha’s idea of an ideal date involves sunsets, hills, and a good cup of tea. If that made you aww, there’s more — he’d rather play badminton on a date or go for a run than watch a movie. Okay then.
Like every second aspiring actor to come to the city of dreams, Dalha idolises Shah Rukh Khan. He says he’s seen Main Hoon Na at least 13 times, and proceeds to ask me what my favourite film is. He’s just spoken to me about how he wants to star in a film directed by Bong Joon Ho so I demur, naturally. But he insists. I tell him that its Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, and I wait for the judgement to follow but it doesn’t. Instead, Dalha tells me he’s tried the iconic Shah Rukh Khan pose (hasn’t everybody?) and he sucks at it. But while Dalha comes across as extremely carefree, there appears to be an attempt to burden him with representing his community. During an interview with TibetTV, the anchor keeps hyping Dalha up to be some sort of messiah for aspiring Tibetan actors. Dalha is visibly uncomfortable with the high praise being heaped on him, and I ask him if he feels burdened by the respect he’s received in his community. “Honestly, I haven’t achieved anything and I’m glad, honoured and humbled by this. Do I feel the need to represent the Tibetan people? I can’t. I can’t be the representative of an entire nation. If we are talking about Tibet, particularly, I think we all have one person to look up to and that’s His Holiness,” he says. And His Holiness seems to have done wonders for Dalha. He’s about as zen as they come — in what has to be the shittiest year in recent memory, the only thing that 2020 has managed to take away from the actor, is his time in Kerala where he was heading to practise Kalaripayattu this year. That’s all you were planning to do, this year? I ask. “Well,” he says and I can almost hear his smile through the phone, “Kalaripayattu is a time-consuming art.”