After proving his mettle in ensemble casts as well as opposite stalwarts, Tahir Raj Bhasin has now had four back-to-back releases in about one-and-a-half months, and he is just getting started
It is 2013. Ali Hashmi makes his debut in the Indian Cricket Team with an exquisite cover drive hitting a boundary. And just like that, Ali Hashmi aka Tahir Raj Bhasin, the actor playing the young batsman in Kai Po Che!, gets off the mark.
Cut to 2021, he dons the cricket whites and opens for team India again, this time to play one of the legends of the game, Sunil Gavaskar. One can say that life has come full circle of sorts for Tahir Raj Bhasin. “I had been in Mumbai for a month at that point and I had never been on a set before. I had landed the part because the actor who was supposed to play the role had dropped out at the last minute. I was told that it is the character of a guy who, in his very first match playing for the Indian cricket team, gets to open for the team, and hits a boundary in the first ball. I thought it was a beautiful metaphor for the very first thing you do on screen. Never had I thought then that I would get an opportunity to play Sunil Gavaskar on screen,” he seems still in a state of daze.
In between, Bhasin has proved his mettle as an actor — be it as part of an ensemble cast, or playing an alpha-male antagonist. While he dominated the screen as cold- blooded human trafficker, Walt, standing next to Rani Mukerji in Mardaani, it was Derek, the college stud in Chhichhore, that really changed the game for Tahir. The movie not only won five Filmfare nominations, it also bagged the National Award. “Chichhore was the biggest turning point. Derek might be a college stud, but he was also an emotionally fragile character. After that, the industry started to see me from a more commercial hero’s lens. 2022 is the culmination of a lot of work that I got after Chhichhore.”
2022 is the year of Tahir Raj Bhasin, and he has started his hero’s innings with a stunning boundary. Within a span of less than two months, he has had four back-to-back releases — 83, Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein, Ranjish Hi Sahi, and now Looop Lapeta. He has successfully transitioned to the quintessential romantic lead, albeit in rather unconventional stories. Ranjish sees him as a struggling film-maker in love with a top heroine in Mahesh Bhatt’s semi-autobiographical web-series, while in Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein, another web series, he is a small-town lad stuck in a love triangle, and in Looop Lapeta, he is a bumbling wannabe gambler who is drawn to a sprinter and to flying bullets.
In fact, Looop Lapeta is his first outing as a romantic hero in a movie. “It is a new chapter for me; I am playing a romantic hero. What attracted me to the project was, however, the character that I am playing. Satya is vulnerable and erratic. The conflict that tailspins the story into chaos is the fact that he wants to plan a nice birthday for his girlfriend, Savi. It was so endearing how he does everything for love, and manages to goof up whatever he does.” This Taapsee Pannu-starrer turns the idea of the quintessential ‘romantic hero’ on its head; here, Prince Charming swaps places with the damsel in distress midway in the story, and needs to be saved, thrice over.
But the idea of the ‘hero’ is changing anyway. “Over the years, the audience has matured; now they are more accepting. They want to see characters that are somewhat on the spectrum of grey. Even if it is a love story, they are warming up to something like a Ranjish Hi Sahi, where the hero is a flawed man, or a Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein where your morality is being questioned. I think this is the best time to be an actor, to be a lead, to play a hero, of such interesting stories,” he points out.
Tahir Raj Bhasin has been a time traveller of sorts. If Manto was set in the ’40s and ’50s, Ranjish unfolds in the ’70, 83 depicts one of the landmark events of the ’80s, and a part of Chhichhore was set in the ’90s. Point this out, and he guffaws: “I would like to believe that I am a timeless actor.”
Also, he has a rare distinction of playing characters inspired by real people — Shyam in Manto was based on Sunder Shyam Chadda, in Ranjish Hi Sahi, his character is inspired by Mahesh Bhatt and in 83, he plays the living legend, Sunil Gavaskar. And it isn’t an easy task. “People often think that when you are playing a real-life character, how do you mimic them? The thing is, you don’t. The attempt as an actor is never to mimic a person but to understand the essence of what they stand for, and then to portray your version of them,” says Bhasin.
Although he has picked up the nuances of the job and sharpened his skills over his nine-year-long stint in the industry, Bhasin wanted to be a Bollywood hero ever since he was a kid. “I was in love with Bollywood. When Kuch Kuch Hota Hai released, I got myself the ‘COOL’ necklace like SRK’s; when Mohra released, I invested in a black bandana similar to the one Akshay Kumar wore in ‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai’,” he reminisces. But being from a family of aviators, his father and grandfather both served as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force, his world was far removed from the world of Bollywood. “Yeh sapno ki duniya hua karti thi aur lagta tha ke yahan sab kuch jadoo jaisa hai; even wanting to become an actor seemed like a distant dream.”
It was not until he was around 18 that he shared this dream with his parents. “But it was only when I moved to Delhi and joined my first acting class and started really enjoying it, that I started considering this as a serious career option.” After finishing his graduation in Politics from Hindu College, he went to University of Melbourne on scholarship, and finished his Masters in Politics, Media, and Acting. After coming back, he decided to shift to Mumbai to pursue a career in acting. But it wasn’t easy. It took him almost four years to land his big Bollywood break. “I don’t look at my initial days in Bombay as my ‘struggling’ phase; I think the word carries a rather negative connotation. I would like to call it my ‘aspiring’ phase.”
“I would wake up and make a list of people I would need to call to set up meetings. I would then find out the auditions that were happening, and go for those with hard copies of my photograph. By evening, they would announce a shortlist. In between, I would go to my acting and dance class. In the evening, there would be a gym session. I would end the day with some reading. The idea was to make small gains each day so that it piles up to something worthwhile by the end of the week, then the month — it has piled up to a stage where I am now giving such interviews,” Bhasin says.
But that initial phase was riddled with rejections, and not one for the faint-hearted. “To make it in this industry, you need a certain amount of mind-numbing conviction and block out all apprehensions from people around you. You need to shut out all the noise, and keep walking on the path you have chosen. My plan B was to make plan A work,” says the actor.
Tahir Raj Bhasin continues, “I had consistently been shortlisted for a lot of big studio films, but never made it to the cut. It had taken me about four years before I got my big break in Mardaani. The only time you can feel that you have been wronged is when you start believing that the universe, or the people, or the institutions owe you something. They don’t. Once you free yourself of that delusion, there is no disappointment. I think it is because of the years of meeting people, learning, faltering, revising, and coming back that makes me value a month like January 2022 much more,” he expresses.
To more such back-to-back releases, we hope.