Whoever has seen Masaan will talk about the young actor who wows the audience with his nuanced performance as a young man trying to grapple with heartbreak and loneliness. Even though his father, Shyam Kaushal, is quite well known in the film industry as an action director, Kaushal did not have it easy. “I was doing theatre with Naseer Sir [Naseeruddin Shah] and Manav Kaul. I worked on a bunch of productions with both of them. I used to sit in for Naseer Sir’s rehearsals and later, he got in touch with me for a role in one of his plays. I worked with Manav Kaul as the production guy in a few of his plays and I still remember the first time I stood on the Prithvi theatre stage, introducing the play to the audience. I remember the rush I experienced. I always knew I wanted to be there, be an actor. That dream was paramount.”
Between attending theatre rehearsals, he would drop in at film auditions unannounced. “I would just ask them if I fit the role. Some days, I did not fit into anything. Other days, I would be asked to prepare a scene in ten minutes and perform for them. I would often get shortlisted and then not be confirmed. It was a gruelling process.” Kaushal was locked in for Zubaan before Masaan happened. After almost five call-backs, director Mozez Singh finally confirmed him as the lead. “I was so used to rejection that I was not able to process the information. Only when my family started celebrating did I realise how I should be reacting,” He laughs.
Zubaan was a fantastic experience for him because it was his first time as a lead actor, and he had to learn all the ropes of the trade on the job. “I had no prior experience of shooting for more than 20 hours straight. When I was able to accomplish that, the confidence it gave me was an encouraging high.” Interestingly, Zubaan and Masaan have been mutually beneficial for themselves and for Kaushal. Zubaan was shot before Masaan, so it helped Kaushal get over his acting jitters and be a more confident actor for the second film. And now, because Masaan has released before Zubaan and has become such a success, Zubaan will enjoy a burst of interest from the industry and audience alike. People know Kaushal now and are looking forward to his performance. Zubaan’s delayed release has actually been a boon for Kaushal and hopefully, the film too.
“Zubaan was a tedious process, because I had to portray a character who is physiologically eccentric and has an extremely nuanced personality. There are details to this character that required much training and long hours of preparation. In a variety of aspects, my character in Zubaan is quite different to who I am.” From the trailer, Zubaan is a coming of age story of a young man who is trying to free himself from the ghosts of his past and is trying to create a beautiful future for himself. Also starring Sarah Jane Dias, the film looks like an avant-garde experiment.
What is next for Kaushal? He is the stereotypical tall-dark-handsome chap that Indian audiences quickly warm up to. And he has acting chops to boot. While he looked like a lanky loser in Masaan, Kaushal is playing a Punjabi stud in Zubaan, and from the way his T-shirt stretches over his lithe physique these days, you realise that the chap has been pumping some serious iron at the gym. He is a cross between Kunal Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao – good looks, acting talent and earthy intensity. So, is he vying for the top spot? “No, I am not here to become the next megastar. I am stressing on good scripts and looking forward to working with interesting directors. But I also understand that I have to entertain the audience on one hand and make money for the producers on the other.” It is heartening to see that he is not idealistic about becoming a niche actor. Maybe it is this young crop of talent that will finally bridge the art-mass divide in the film industry.