I remember returning to my hometown in Lucknow after finishing college and discovering my mom’s addiction. It didn’t take her long to pass it on to me. Within a week we were partners in crime. We would sit together for hours and watch television. And among our favourites was Indian Idol, which was then a national rage. I can still hear my mother laughing her heart out while watching the episodes. It was a music talent-hunt show and trust me, she was not laughing at the contestants. It was Maniesh Paul, the anchor and his histrionics that kept my mother entertained.  

By 2018, Paul was already an established TV presenter. He entered the industry in 2002 as the spunky host of Star Plus’s Sunday Tango. He was also working as a VJ for Zee Music and an RJ for Radio City’s morning drive-time show, Kasakai Mumbai. But Paul had bigger dreams and he was willing to put in the hard work.  

Maniesh Paul

Soon he landed a few acting roles in shows like Radhaa Ki Betiyaan Kuch Kar Dikhayengi on NDTV Imagine, Zindadil on ZeeNext and Ssshhhh…Phir Koi Hai on Star One. But the small screen couldn’t contain him for long. After making a cameo appearance in Tees Maar Khan, he landed his first lead roles in the 2013 film, Mickey Virus. But it was his stint as the host in Saa Ree Gaa Maa Paa Chhote Ustaad and later, as a stand-up comedian in Comedy Circus, that truly turned him into a household name. In 2011, he also bagged the best anchor award for Zee TV’s Dance India Dance Li’l Masters. 

However, it was not always a smooth ride. In 2008, Paul decided to take a break from work. He was unsatisfied with what he was getting offered and didn’t take up any projects for about a year. But with his wife’s (Sanyukta Paul) rock-solid support and his own will power, he not only survived that phase but came back stronger.  

Today, he is one of the top TV presenters of the country. He even hosts Salman Khan’s yearly Dabangg Tour. But he is presently busy charming the audience with his acting chops. He plays Gurpreet in the recent Dharma hit, Jugjugg Jeeyo. Much like his onscreen character in the movie, his fashion game is also on fleek. A look at his social media and one can guess that he loves to experiment with bright colours and there’s no denying the fact that this guy has game.

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Edited excerpts from the interview. 

Your performance in JugJugg Jeeyo is being lauded. Has it made the industry look at you differently? 

Yes, definitely. The industry has woken up to this guy called Maniesh Paul again. When Jugjugg Jeeyo happened, I was very thrilled. I did my best and suddenly a lot of directors and producers have taken notice and I am in talks for different projects. So, it feels great that things are finally happening.  

Your wardrobe for the film was quite interesting. Does the character’s style align with yours? 

Probably. I am always in my track pants; I don’t like to wear denim much. I am more of a comfort guy. But I like wearing funky stuff. I generally wear quirkier shoes. At times, I experiment with my clothes. People do like it and they are always looking up to the kind of shoes I wear. The kind of clothes my character in Jugjugg Jeeyo wears, I will be very happy wearing those in real life as well.  

How would you describe your style in general? 

I don’t really have words to describe my style. I just have to be comfortable with what I wear. Also, I am rather fond of bright colours. I feel that they bring happiness. So, either you will see me in black or really funky colours. If it comes to me, I will always walk around in bright clothes. I am wearing orange track pants right now as well, so that is what I am. 

A look at your Instagram and one can’t miss your love for a good tuxedo. Your wardrobe seems to also have a variety of ethnic wear. Which of these two do you feel more comfortable in? 

I love wearing suits and that’s the reason I have not changed my stylist, Sandesh Navlakha. He has been designing my clothes for 15 years now, and I am very particular about my suits and how well they fit. There is a certain kind of pants I like to wear; there is a certain cut of the coat that I prefer. In fact, a lot of people from the industry have complimented me on my suits. I am very certain about that and I am glad people like what I wear. 

How do you think your personal style has evolved over the years? 

Style has to evolve all the time. However, I think style also repeats itself after a while. You will see how a lot of people are back to wearing bell bottoms, flair pants, etc. Just a couple of days back, Amitabh Bachchan sir had put up a post about how in the 1980s he used to wear big glasses. Now, we see so many stars doing that again. I like to follow what my heart says. I don’t follow trends. I like to create trends. I am very fond of hoodies as well.

You are now juggling between acting in films and hosting live shows. Which one are you enjoying more? 

The stage is a different game altogether. You cannot compare both these worlds. I am happy to be a part of and be accepted in both. I am more energetic on stage. On film sets, we take breaks, we are cutting in between scenes and then we get back to it… so it becomes a different thing altogether. But if asked what I enjoy more, I must admit that I am absolutely loving being on film sets right now, and the kind of work coming my way. I am enjoying the process of prepping for my characters. 

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How did your stints as an RJ and VJ impact or shape your journey? Was acting always on cards? 

Acting was always on the cards. When a young boy from Delhi comes to Mumbai without a plan, he takes up anything that comes his way. When he knows that he has to pay the rent, he has to make sure he has three meals, and he has no backing in the industry, he takes up any kind of job. But God has been really kind to me and I have no complaints. I landed in Mumbai and I started working with a show on Zee, then I became an RJ. I was doing something all the time. There was this one year where I was doing nothing and it was really tough, but apart from that things have worked out so well for me. I never felt ashamed of whatever work was given to me. I gave my best and it has kept me going and made me strong. It has also helped me polish my craft. 

I read how you were not satisfied with the kind of work you were doing and decided to take a break. What did that period teach you? 

That year taught me patience. I am a very restless person otherwise, always jumping from one thing to the other. This period taught me to wait for the right kind of work. It also gave me time to introspect and understand what I really wanted to do. I knew for a fact that whatever I was doing at that time was not making me very happy. It was not just about the money anymore, what kind of work was coming to me and what I wanted to offer the audience also became important. I became hungry as an artiste. I remember returning to work in 2009 and there has been no backing down ever since. 

You are everyone’s favourite TV presenter and making people laugh is the toughest job. How do you manage to pull this off so effortlessly? 

I believe that on stage, my job to ensure that everyone is having a good time. I always keep my mother in mind when I am creating content. I make sure that she has a great time while watching me and that she doesn’t get alienated. I don’t want her to feel that my work is boring or for her to wonder what kind of words I am using on stage. I know where to draw the line. According to me, that is the most important thing, especially while doing comedy. 

OTT platforms have become huge. You are also making your web debut with a thriller drama. Is that something you would want to put your focus on? 

I am not choosing the path, the path is choosing me. I believe in working hard and being ready for whatever comes my way. I will give my 100 per cent. Thankfully OTT is happening, films are happening, and I have a few things lined up for television as well. I think it is a big playground and I am game for whichever direction life takes me. 

Your online presence is huge and your podcast has been a hit. Does it ever get a tad overwhelming? 

I feel blessed. But at the same time, I am very grounded. I feel fame is temporary. I enjoy the moment and move on. My family and my wife, Sanyukta (Paul), keep me rooted in reality. People are suddenly talking about my podcast and that is great. I am happy that my work is talking for me.  

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What would be that one advice you would want to give your younger self?  

I don’t have any advice for him, but I do want to tell him to never let the passion he had come to Mumbai with go away, and not to lose his stubbornness. I become very stubborn when I want something (in a healthier sense, of course), and I want this zest to remain with me until my last breath.  

Apart from the web series, what else is on the cards? 

There are three to four film offers. We are in talks. I don’t want to stick to just comedy. My web series is a thriller drama. But it is more about the directors and the producers, and what they offer me. If they think I can do something, they will make me do it. 

Quick Takes

One actor you want to co-host a show with:  

Amitabh Bachchan 

Your guilty pleasure on social media is: 

Stalking people. Cannot tell you who. 

A colour you wish to wear more often: 

Just bright colours like orange and green. 

A comedy film you really enjoy watching: 

Chupke Chupke (1975). 

A role that you wish you would have done: 

Bachchan sir’s role in Deewar. 

If you could host one international show, it would be… 

The Ellen DeGeneres Show with Ellen DeGeneres, of course .