Ishaan Khatter chose to debut in the film industry with Majid Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds in 2017 where he played a drug dealer who has to grow up and become responsible when his sister gets arrested. A year later, he starred in an as-mainstream-as-it-gets romantic drama called Dhadak which was critically panned but was a huge commercial success. Khatter’s equal parts aloof and out there — we hear nothing from him on Instagram for days and then we’re greeted with a drool-worthy picture of his glistening, bulging muscles. According to the media, he’s dated or is dating all the new debutantes but he tells us that he’s as cheesy — and monogamous — a lover as it gets. Just like his career kick-off, Khatter’s set to star in Mira Nair’s adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy on one hand, and in a masala potboiler called Khaali Peeli on the other. It will be exciting to see what path this millennial actor charts for himself in an industry that’s as unpredictable as he is.
So, you’re shooting for Khaali Peeli. How did the film come about and what was your reaction when you read the script?
I didn’t read the script first. I was narrated the film by my director and my first reaction was a very instinctive one. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the film, especially from him. It was one of those films where I didn’t think and I was just excited to experience this world and to be a part of this story. And it came to me after a very long time. I haven’t reacted to something like that in over a year and half. It was a very welcoming feeling and, like I said, it was a very spontaneous reaction and I knew I wanted to do it.
What about the film really excited you?
The character, the world, the story and the grasp that the director had on his characters and his story — like he knows this world. Like he is that guy. It was very exciting and engaging.
Do you have a game-plan for your career?
I really don’t (laughs). The game-plan . . . it’s the aspiration to get better with every film and every job that I do. So yeah, I mean I really love this with all my heart. It’s a pure thing so I don’t really know how to strategize through it and all. The only way to do this is to do my best and give my 100 percent, which I do.
Are there any film-makers you are looking forward to working with?
There are so many. There are film-makers whose work I come across every day. I watched a Lebanese film recently by Nadine Labaki, who I think is perhaps one of the most amazing film-makers today. For years and years, I have harboured the desire to work with India’s top directors like Imtiaz Ali, Sriram Raghavan and Zoya Akhtar. There are fantastic film-makers like Raju Hirani sir, Sanjay Bhansali sir and I’d love to work with them.
The toughest thing about being a celebrity is perhaps that sometimes, you’re denied your privacy. It can be difficult to deal with and also, you’re constantly susceptible to scrutiny. Sometimes when it’s not required. But that’s something that comes with the job.
If you had to pick one learning experience from Dhadak, what would it be?
You know when you say one learning experience, what comes to mind is the sum total of what that experience meant to me. So, it’s not one particular day or one moment or one scene, it’s more to do with what that experience taught me in hindsight. And I think what it did for me was it reiterated the belief of being honest to every moment. When you’re honest and when you’re there and the feeling is very potent, it will translate on screen. People will react to that in their own ways. But what it does is, when you live a moment honestly, something will show on screen. People will pick up on it, although it might be interpreted differently.
I’m especially excited about you doing A Suitable Boy. I wanted to know how that came about.
Well, I was called in to audition and I only knew that it was for a project that Mira Nair was directing. I didn’t have information other than the fact that it was an adaption of A Suitable Boy. And I hadn’t read it. So I just skimmed through the story and went to the audition after which it was shown to Mira ma’am and she called me down and she was extremely encouraging. She’s got the most radiant energy.
What is the toughest and easiest thing about being a celebrity?
The toughest is perhaps that sometimes, you’re denied your privacy. Sometimes, it can be difficult to deal with and also, you’re constantly susceptible to scrutiny. Sometimes when it’s not required. But that’s something that comes with the job. What is easy? You do this because you love it right? And of course, somewhere inside you love to perform for people.
After doing 14-hour work days, you better get the love, right?
Just yesterday we were in this area where we were shooting outside people’s houses. There were coolies in alleys. This was in Dongri. They were so welcoming and so cooperative. And you know you could very easily imagine somebody getting frustrated or being unwelcoming because you are shooting outside their house but they were so sweet and all they wanted was to come out and have a word with me and shake my hand.
You’ve gotten into cinema when content-driven cinema is king. So, what’s your take on that?
I think it’s great. I think it is how it always should have been. And I consider myself very fortunate. I mean, I’m doing films at a time where films are not adulterated or filtered with external agendas and factors. It’s simple. Like tell a good story and tell it well and you crack the cinematic code and the cinematic level of your film. And the audience will accept it. They don’t want any more or less than that. That’s great. That’s cinema for me. Because, at times, films do not get made well and there are films that are lying around for years and years, but people won’t do it because it might not suit their agenda or whatever. Now, if it’s a good story, they’ll do it and they know it’s going to work. I mean it’s on the audience, and the audience wants to watch different stuff, and so people are making it. I think the revolution begins with the audience.
And you also share a very good connect and equation with Shahid. So, I wanted to ask you two things that Shahid has that you would like to have in your personality and one thing that you have that Shahid doesn’t.
His discipline. He’s very disciplined and sorted. He knows what he wants to do and needs to do and he gets it done. I can sometimes be flaky, I guess. He’s much better at being a celebrity and he’s also had experience. So, I would say his discipline and he can be pensive sometimes, he’s a deep thinker. Not to say I’m not but that’s something I really appreciate about him. And one thing that I have that he doesn’t have is curly hair, I don’t know (laughs).
What do you think is a mark of a good actor?
There are so many different kinds of actors that you can’t really answer this. Sometimes it’s just the dynamic personality and they are very good at it. But I think the one thing that every good actor shares is to be present a 100 percent and focused.
I also wanted to know how comfortable you are with social media because I don’t see you post as obsessively as some of your peers.
I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with the idea of using social media. I’m not comfortable with the mindset of a certain set of people on social media. A lot of them are using it in a very destructive manner. Some people use it in a constructive way. Some people use it daily for their work, some people use it for their personal lives and some use it to kill time. But there’s a certain section of people that use social media to attack others. And I think that’s just a way of spewing hatred on the internet without any consequences whatsoever. When I’m making a movie, it’s off social media for me. It’s like a detox. Because I don’t want to miss a moment of it because of what somebody is wearing or somebody is eating. That’s very stupid. And reminding myself that there is life outside and was before social media. So that’s my way of detoxing.
I’m comfortable with the idea of using social media. I’m not comfortable with the mindset of a certain set of people on social media. There’s a certain section of people that use social media to attack others. And I think that’s just a way of spewing hatred on the internet without any consequences whatsoever.
Now that you are a public figure, do you feel like there’s pressure that there are certain things you want to talk about but you cannot? And there are certain things that you feel the pressure to talk about even if you might not have an opinion on it?
Yeah, that’s true. A lot of times one is asked questions, one is not particularly inclined towards answering or sometimes you don’t have much of an opinion to share. But,I try to be honest about it and don’t try to put on a facade or just make up something to sound politically correct. There are some things that I would like to talk about but I think that until I can really make a difference, it’s pointless. So, I choose not to. So, there’s definitely that trend of asking actors or putting actors in a position that they must comment socially or politically on everything. And sometimes an actor could be very involved with a particular issue and welcome that kind of a question and sometimes, they don’t.
Who are your closest friends in the industry? And how long have you known them?
I’ve known Janhvi for two or three years. My best friend is a part of the industry. He’s an AD and has worked on several films now. Kunal Kemmu and my brother are very good friends. I’d like to believe that Karan Johar is my friend and so is Guneet Monga. A lot of producers and directors. Shashank Khaitan is a really good friend now.
Have you ever fallen in love?
What was it like?
It’s amazing to be in love. You must try it out once (laughs). I mean if it’s not for you, I’m sorry. It’s a cliché but it’s the best feeling in the world and all of that stuff.
What’s the most memorable date you’ve been on?
I would like to think that I’m the most memorable date. I would say it’s most memorable to travel together. That’s the best.
I’m not much of a hook-up person and
I haven’t had too many of those in my
life so I can’t comment on it. I’m more
of the traditional-conventional-falling-in-love sort. So, I am the give-myself-fully type. I’m cheesy, man.
Does the concept of hooking up appeal to you? Or are you turned off by the idea of that?
I mean, live and let live. I’m not turned off by it, but I’m not particularly turned on by it either. It depends on the person – you could connect with them or it could be a fleeting thing. I’m not much of a hookup person and I haven’t had too many of those in my life so I can’t comment on it. I’m more of the traditional-conventional-falling-in-love sort. So, I am a give-myself-fully type. I’m cheesy, man. It doesn’t turn me on or turn me off, if you ask me like that.
Photographs – Rohan Shrestha | Art Direction – Tanvi Shah | Fashion Editor – Neelangana Vasudeva | Hair – Team Hakim’s Aalim | Makeup – Gladwin James | All Clothing – Lee Cooper | BTS Video by Prinkit Rana