Shantanu Maheshwari has been gaining immense appreciation for his role in Gangubai Kathiawadi. He had a decent fan following among young viewers post his TV show Dil Dosti Dance, but featuring in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial has put him on a different path. A trained dancer and choreographer, Shantanu has no regrets about not having any dance scenes in the movie and is glad Bhansali believed in his acting skills.

In an exclusive interview with MW, Shantanu Maheshwari talks about being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s actor, working with Alia Bhatt, how Gangubai Kathiawadi has changed his life, things aspiring actors should know, and much more. Excerpts:

How are you feeling after the film’s release? How are you absorbing the success?

Loving the response the film is getting overall, and obviously, I am extremely happy with the positive response my character is receiving. So many messages are pouring in and people are calling me and appreciating my performance. I am extremely happy and excited about it.

How did you get the film? How was it meeting Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Alia Bhatt for the first time?

I got a call from Shruti Mahajan (casting director) and I was called in for an audition. A series of auditions happened. There were several rounds of look tests and photoshoots, and then Sanjay sir said he wanted to see me. When I met him for the first time, I was super nervous yet excited because I was meeting someone whom I have admired deeply. During our chat, I could see that he was observing my profile, the way I talk, and my basic features. I was nervous and didn’t know if I’ll be selected or not. I didn’t know if I’ll ever get this moment back or get the chance to meet him again. So, it was a very big moment for me and I was trying to absorb sitting opposite the legendary Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I met Alia after getting selected and she doesn’t carry around the vibe that she is Alia Bhatt. She is very friendly, very approachable. It didn’t seem like I am meeting Alia Bhatt. I was not nervous to meet her, it was very chill.

You’ve made it big with your hard work. Do you feel satisfied?

No, not at all. I don’t feel satisfied. I think there is a lot to learn and there is a lot to be done. And, yes this is a big achievement for me, it is like goals are being achieved but there is a lot more to achieve. I’m enjoying this process and this whole journey. I mean, as they say, it’s the journey which is more important right. So, I just do not want to get satisfied and continue enjoying this journey.

From preparing for CA to dancing, and now Bollywood. How has your journey been so far?

Unpredictable, with a lot of ups and downs. I am glad that I understood that my calling was not being a CA. My parents gave me the freedom to think about what I want to pursue as a career. I began dancing at a very young age, dancing helped me get into acting. I started to enjoy balancing both dancing and acting and so many years later Bollywood happened. So yes, the journey has been full of ups and downs, but as I said the journey needs to be interesting, and once you start enjoying this journey, you forget about the lows and just remember about your ups and the people who made a difference in your life. I am glad I have witnessed those downs for me to enjoy my ups and it taught me a lot.

Shantanu Maheshwari Interview

How was it being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s hero?

Amazing, I will always fall short of adjectives to describe the experience. It was a life-changing experience. The way he works, the way he approaches, the scenes, the way he choreographs, it’s just amazing, it is a different experience altogether. A few people are so passionate that their passion will ignite something within you and that is what has happened with me. I felt so good, so charged up, so refreshed after working with him. It is an experience that you can’t describe in words. As an artist he makes you explore places when you are performing which are not easy to explore and once you can explore those areas within you, where the acting is coming from, where the whole performance is coming from, it is a different high altogether. He makes sure that you perform from deep within and that is how your emotions are reflected in your eyes when you see any of his characters perform. It was a life-changing experience and an amazing one. I hope I’ll get the chance to work with him again.

What is your takeaway from the film? Have you evolved as an actor?

I have evolved as an actor and personality-wise also. Sanjay sir makes you explore acting in a very different light and he teaches you how to be just in the moment and just play with your character and have your character’s thought process in your mind. When you play, you are happy, and when you are happy, by default it will translate on your screen as well.  He approaches scenes in multiple ways and that is something I feel I would like to incorporate in my life, approaching anything in life in any situation, in multiple ways because there is no one way, there is no right way, there are multiple choices, few might be longer, few might be shorter, few might be fun, few might be frustrating but you’ll always have the choice, you have to decide which one.

You’ll be finishing 11 years in the industry. Do you remember your first day in Mumbai? How did it all start?

I had to do only one scene for the show Dil Dosti Dance. I only had one line and I remember the next day India won the 2011 World Cup. When the director said it’s pack up, I was so happy and I felt like it is so easy. I wondered why do people make such a fuss about shooting for long hours. I was very young and naive; I was just happy with the fact that I’ve earned a certain amount of money by just saying one line and only had spent 2 to 3 hours on the floor.

Three things you would want to tell young actors trying to make it big in the industry.

1. Be honest to your heart, just don’t do it for fame and money. I mean, yes, those can be some things you aspire to achieve but that shouldn’t be the only reason.

2. There are no shortcuts, just keep working hard.

3. Surround yourself with positive people and believe in yourself, don’t delve into self-doubt. It is very important to criticize yourself. Self-criticism and right criticism from your friends are very important because it helps you grow. We all have flaws, we need to accept them, we need to deal with them and work around them.

How would you describe fashion? What are your three go-to steps to look stylish?

It is a way of expressing yourself. I don’t know the three go-to steps to look stylish but wear what you are comfortable in, don’t do it because someone else is wearing it or someone else looks good in it. If you are comfortable in what you are wearing, by default you’ll look stylish in some way or the other. That’s my only mantra.

What’s next?

There are some projects in the pipeline. I am not going to say anything and right now I am enjoying this phase because I didn’t expect this kind of praise and this kind of appreciation. The movie is doing so well, also I am trying to understand how post-release things work and I’m trying to cope with those things. I am in a happy space right now, I just want to enjoy this moment and then maybe think about what is next.

(Featured Image Credits: Instagram)