Purab Kohli | The Spool

What are the pressures of your profession as an actor?

I think to put it in one word it is acceptance. Everything you do, everything you say, your Friday release, everything really depends on how much the audience wants to see you and accept you.

So there’s that pressure at the end of the day. Everything else is a mission to get that acceptance. So the pressure distributes across the board. You know if this does well then people will also want to come for the next one. That’s extremely pressurizing. On the day of release you will be sitting down, looking at reviews, looking at numbers trying to see what’s come in, how many people are watching it. That’s pressurizing you know. And sometimes that also plays off when you are doing a performance. Often I have caught myself and I try hard not to do it but you think, acha this will look good or this is what the audience will like because you are trying to play to the gallery to get that acceptance. But you have to stop yourself and say I have to listen to this man/woman directing me and only work towards that acceptance at that point.

With acceptance comes fame, fortune & money. The public perception is it’s a well paying job. But what are the real economics behind being an actor? Is money a concern or is it all sunshine and hay all the way?

I think if you are a regular working actor, money, at least for me, has ceased to be the prime concern. I mean you do worry about money every now and then; bank balance is going down sort of thing. But there are projects that you can always say yes to and make money you know. After P.O.W got over, there were calls from some of the biggest television shows to go on and do but I think it’s nice, for me atleast I can’t speak for everyone, to actually be driven by the work to see if I’m being fulfilled. Like I said if you are going to spend 12 hours a day away from your family, this is a choice I made a long time ago, I better want to be on that set and money is not strong enough to keep me on that set. I mean it is an important factor, I wont say no, I enjoy the luxuries money gives me, I have a luxurious and stretched lifestyle and I need money to pay for that but that’s not the only thing that’s going to keep me on the set. I need a lot more than that, I need satisfaction, to be able to express myself, to be able to want to play a character, and to be able to do work with the people I am working with. I think all of that is far more important than the amount of money you are making on the set.

You started off as a heartthrob for young girls everywhere, with Hip Hip Hurray, were you a heartthrob growing up all along like in school?

Hahahahaha I’d like to believe that. You’d have to ask the girls around. But not really actually, I don’t think so. I was very shy when I was younger. I actually started interacting and getting comfortable in the company of the opposite sex only when I started working with them.

You know, when I started acting in Hip Hip Hurray it was ’97/’98 and at that time there was no social media to actually find out what the reach of your work was. I was a person who grew up in Bombay and my life was this little bubble. I lived here in Bandra never looked beyond that bubble, it was very hard to tell who was watching. I mean all that mattered was the 5000 Rupees that you got at the end of the month for the 4 episodes you shot for Hip Hip Hurray. Only in ’99 which was 2 years later, while I was doing a show for Channel V shooting in Jabalpur at Dhuandhar Falls, this girl comes flying across and leaps onto me saying Mazher! Mazher! So that was the first time I realized that people beyond that bubble were watching me on television.

At that time a VJ was the coolest thing, because where else did you learn from what is cool? You heard cool music from them, you saw what they wore, you saw what they said and there’s this whole country that looked up to VJs right? What was it like to be that VJ, did you have to prep to be that cool, how was it?

I don’t think my shows were really considered to be ‘cool’; I was really doing backpacking type of travel shows. I was in my shorts and in my big sandals. I travelled a lot with my father and for me, that was how you travelled, sort of very unkempt with this massive backpack. I remember traveling to some of the places in the really small parts of India where local people always thought I was a foreigner. They’d start talking, ‘hello how are you, 10 rupees’ and they’d start coming to me and I’d start breaking out into Hindi with them and these kids would be like eh ‘uncle do na kuch, uncle do na kuch (uncle, give something)’. I didn’t have a stylist really on those travel based shows, there was no room for that. More than often I was operating cameras and doing some sound or carrying tapes. I have done a show where I carried 150 DV tapes in my backpack for 17 days. But ofcourse when we came into the studio we had stylists, scripts, good lighting, a complete studio setup and there was a team that did all that.

The generation of Video Jockeys before us were really the true VJs, people like Sophiya Haque, Laila Rouass, Meghna Reddy, Danny McGill.

I don’t know if you even know these names? I think they were the true definition of an artist sort of VJ where they did everything themselves, writing their own scripts, choosing their own music, styling themselves, doing their own makeup that’s what they did, day in and day out. We were hired as a larger bunch because they wanted to kind of industrialise it. I think it was the start of the disappearance of music television.

When you are a VJ, even if not complete freedom, you do have a little freedom to be yourself; your personality, your attitude is you, it’s not constructed. But acting on the other hand is where you are expected to be a character, take on another persona altogether, how did that transition to acting happen after Channel V?

So I’ll correct that a bit, because especially

hosting shows for music television, you have an audience that starts at about 13, early teens and then goes on to 21-22 and maybe 25-26. After a point you realize that you’ve grown out of it but your job still expects you to be catering to that age group. People who have grown up with you have gotten busy and moved on to watching late night shows or movies or something else. So I grew out of it too, after a point I really couldn’t be myself.

I had to be someone I was rather than someone I had become. The travel really let me be myself, and when Channel V started cutting down on the travel and moving everything into the studio, that’s when I decided to move on, to films. Because I was acting first, through my time in Channel V I was continuing to act. Though I did not know what I really wanted to do because I started as an actor, then I was hosting shows, but quite honestly I was just having fun. I was earning money, having fun so it kind of all just fit in.

In 2005 I did a film called My Brother Nikhil, it was my 4th film actually. And working with Onir and Sanjay on that film was superb, ofcourse the idea was quite path breaking for it’s time nobody thought of making a film on that sort of subject. It was a lovely time and then when I saw the film on the screen I was like, ‘wow’, it really moved me. I felt for the characters and I felt how important my job was as an actor. That’s when I decided to become an actor, stay in this medium, make it a career. Until then I was thinking, ‘okay once the party gets over, I will go back to college and figure out what I want to do’. For me it was a party going on for 5-6 years. Now I had made a choice and that’s also when the struggle started. Until then I didn’t want, it came my way so I did it, I was picking from the buffet what was available. But now I was making a conscious choice, like here’s a movie but now I want that, which is not on the buffet so I have to figure out a way and get it. So I kind of stopped hosting for a while, started even doing production to fill up my time. Started consciously looking for film work. That was a tough period, ‘cause I kind of had an identity fixed because of being projected on Channel V. Like you say, the cool the trendy that kind of limits you when you are an actor. People only look at you with that image in their mind saying he fits as an urban yuppy character, that is not a heroic sort of character in the Bollywood bracket. So I think I’m really breaking out of that mould only now, with stuff like Airlift, P.O.W, you know where characters are quite contrasting to what people have usually seen me in.

You also did another movie, Jal…

Jal yes. But only you and 5 other people saw it, so it doesn’t matter in the larger context of anything. That film is very close to my heart, it’s a film that kind of put my life on standstill for 4 years. The role was something that I kind of imagined I should have so when it came into my lap it was like the universe had answered my questions. I gave it a lot you know. It was a hard journey for 4 years. A silly thing I did was I put a stop to everything else and said I’ll just wait for Jal to come out and I packed my bags and moved off to Goa for 4 years. And Jal came out and disappeared in one Friday evening. I was like, what just happened there. It was a shock to everybody, the producers, the director, us. It just didn’t get its chance in the theaters. I mean it’s got a lot of views on YouTube now but in the context of making it in Bollywood you have to have the numbers in the theater. And that didn’t happen. It didn’t go too far.

How do you deal with disappointment when it comes to things that are so personally close to you?

I mean it was a reality check for me. I also realized at the time of promoting Jal that because I was away for so long, people had forgotten who I was. The audience has a small attention span. It started from marketing the film itself, nobody remembered me. I was introducing myself in smaller towns when we were doing PR work for the film. When the film tanked, I first packed my bags and came back to Bombay. I said I have really been living in a dream world. I had a first couple of months of panic to be honest. ‘Oh god! Everything I have built for so many years, I have destroyed. I am 34 yrs old, life is coming to an end. What have I done. Argh!’ But luckily for me I’ve always gotten calls from people in the business, they think I’m good so they keep calling me back but

there’s stuff that you normally wouldn’t take up and suddenly all of that was looking attractive because you just want to feel wanted again, you just want to let people know you are around, let people know that you are good at what you do and you try and bring dignity to any sort of crap work also that comes your way

and I took up some random stuff and came back to Bombay and started working again. Because I loved the film (Jal) that didn’t mean that everybody who sees the film is going to love it. I was a bit naïve to think like that and I was back to work and before I knew it, I was doing Airlift, then the new cycle began.

So is it a conscious choice to do more unconventional roles or are you just built like that? Do you sometime feel a conflict that maybe I should not be unconventional in the roles I choose in the way I am?

I don’t think it’s a conscious choice really to be unconventional but I mean that’s the choices I make. If it’s different from everybody else’s and it’s unconventional, I don’t think of it that way, for me it’s the only choice I know. I wish I had not done some things and done some things definitely. I think we all look back often and contemplate, it’s good to do that to atleast make sure you are moving in some direction. But at the same time having said that, I do feel that I have enjoyed most of the things I have done. At the end of the day that’s what you look at when you work. I see, specially in today’s day and age, living in a city like Bombay it’s so difficult it’s so hard… I have seen people and have some friends who work extremely hard and are extremely unhappy with what they do, I mean they start off in a place where they are driven to do something and they end up just making money and just paying the bills, you know. And I feel quite fortunate that the choices I have made have helped me live, sort of a happy and an easy life compared to most other people.

Ofcourse there are disappointments, there are things I feel, like if I look in hindsight and say I wanted to be a Bollywood actor from day 1 then Channel V was a disaster. It set this image of me in people’s mind and till date I get called for the same bloody role.

I mean if you read the script sometime, you are like, ‘Fuck! Come on man think of me differently, why am I being offered this part and not that?’ So those are frustrations of the actor inside me. But it’s really the way you look at life, I mean I really enjoyed those 8 years of my life and I think this is a fair and easy trade off. I guess you gotta give some to get some.

Watch Purab candidly speak about the aspirations as an actor while balancing it with one's own personality

All jobs come with their brand of hustle - there are deadlines, you have work life balance, you are trying to do so much at the same time. With actors you know the public perception is it’s cool, it’s all good, they are rich and famous, it’s all fabulous, but what is the hustle of being an actor?

It’s not glamorous, let me tell you that. It’s horrible, I mean you should have come to our set of P.O.W and seen how hard we work. Nikhil Advani who is the director of the show, it starts with him, he is a workhorse he works like a madman and when you see him working, you can’t put your feet up and say, ‘acha abhi mujhe aadha ghanta break chahiye (ok now I want a half hour break)’, nahi hota hai woh (that does not happen).

First of all, to explain it in one way, everybody has 9-5 jobs, which is about 8-10 hours of work, in a shooting set it’s always 12 hours.

So if everyday in a month you are shooting 12 hours, say 9-9 there’s no time for anything else. And in a city like Bombay you are travelling one hour before, one hour after, so you have 14-hour days. You leave your house and you are back after 14 hours. I shot P.O.W for one year in that one year I was waking up every morning at about 6/6:30 AM, 7:30-8:30 was the only time I had with my daughter because, I’d come back in the night and she’d be asleep and then I’d go off and come back in the night at about 10 o’clock and then go to bed and then get up again and the whole cycle continues. And sometimes when I was really feeling fit and was in the mood to go and work out then I’d go to the gym at 5:30. So it’s extremely hard. Hats off to television actors who do it for years you know. I have friends who are in the business and have been doing TV shows for 2/3/4 years and it’s a lot of money, it pays you well but it is a lot of hard work.

I guess what really looks glamorous is that you don’t really see the hard work, you see only the end product and then you see the media reporting how much we have partied. But when you work so hard, you need the release and you go out and you go nuts. And we have good parties, we have a great time and that’s the glamorous side and that’s what people really catch and take note of. And it’s not just the shooting, there’s so much that goes on before and after the shoot, the prep, the writing, the post production. It’s an extremely hard business and I think people who make the kind of money they make in this business, deserve every rupee.

Do you ever wish that you had a 9-5 corporate job and you had other colleagues and a pay cheque at the end of the month?

I mean the comfort of it sometimes. Being a freelancer can be a bit frustrating. I’ll tell you how our lives our, specially actors. A filmmaker calls you sometime, someone you admire and you show interest and they offer you a very important role, this has happened many times in my career, they’ll offer you a really important role and suddenly the economics don’t work out, not from your point but he will realize when he is trying to sell the film forward that, ‘oh we can not cast him because the producers and distributors don’t think so’, and it falls apart. When that happens a few times, it’s really frustrating. There are emotions, as an actor you are sensitive, your job demands you to be that and you are supposed to be feeling everything. So when you read a part even when it is not confirmed you are feeling that part already. So it’s disappointing when it doesn’t work out and you’re like shit, like almost there and it was going to happen in two days.

It’s a fragile industry and as an actor you have to be sensitive but you cannot be fragile, you have to be strong and hold on to that.

When those discussions happen and things don’t materialize, you kind of think, could I just not have to worry and have an easy job? Where you finish at 6 in the evening, life is good, you can go for a walk, watch a movie, really life would be easy, you do think like that. But when I think with the unaffected logical mind I don’t think I could do that, I don’t know how to do it, I’ve never done it. I’ve always lived out of structure. Only structure I know is the 9-9 shift or a 2-2 shift or the 7-7 shift. If you ask me today in my life if I stop acting what would I do, I’ll have to find something in the business, maybe some production, some direction. I’m trying to write a script so I’m actually taking some time off to focus on that film script. I know this business now and I only see myself on a set. I understand cameras, I understand sound, I understand light.

I have been here for 20 years now, I don’t know anything else.

We saw your Wild Stone ad. Did you move to Goa because you are too hot for Mumbai?

Ooooo… hahaha you can melt in Goa, it’s even hotter there. I loved it yaar, I had never seen myself like that. I got a call from someone I knew from an agency, O&M and he said, ‘okay how is your body looking?’ I said, ‘what?’ I knew him so he says, ‘yea yea theres this film we are planning to use you in and there’s some body shots in that, are you all flabby or…?’ I said, ‘when do you want to shoot it?’ He said, ‘in a month’ I said, ‘in a month I can get somewhere for you, tell me’. So he said, ‘okay the production is going to call you, but start training cause we are quite on’. So I started…

That was the journey of Wild Stone. I was just very amused that someone saw me in that light. I was this urban, boy next door, Nescafe boy through my entire life and suddenly O&M and Wild Stone and Bharat Sikka saw me as this hot and sexy guy. Next thing I knew I shot Wild Stone and I had fun doing it. Playing football with some kids and some pretty women ogling at you and spraying you with water, it was amusing and funny. And the first time I saw it, I actually cracked up. My friends watching with me they cracked up, but it makes you feel nice in a strange way you know. So Wild Stone is really happy, they have renewed their contract for 5 years, they are not taking it off air. People still think I have that body and I still look like that. I mean it’s great.

I think I feel lucky to be shot and displayed like that. It’s great for the ego.


Yudi or Gaurav?

On television or off? Haha okay ummm… I think on TV Gaurav, off TV Yudi.

Three secrets about Goa?

I think they are better left secrets, because everything else is not a secret no?

  1. Not a secret but I think unexplored are the hills of goa, on the east. Thankfully they are still forests. One of them is even being proposed as a Tiger park. Mahadev Sanctuary.
  2. February is a great month for urac. Alcohol is bad if overdone yes, but urac is lovely because 2 pegs and you are gone, not drunk but just pass out. Urac is the first distill and feni the second distill.
  3. It’s a secret, but I’ll give it away, there’s a restaurant near Bambolim church on the highway. Right alongside the church is a little road that goes in, take that road and go there lunchtime, and the minute you see lots of cars parked, essentially only local taxi drivers. I have seen it when it was literally a garage. It’s a place called Shaarda. People also call it Gopal, because I think the cook’s name is Gopal.

One person in the industry you fangirl over?

True to my character Deepika Padukone, in the Nescafe ad. I was quite excited to have done those films with her.  I really admire Alia, and she is a really fine actor. She is a star. I am a fan of hers, when one of her film comes out I look forward to going and seeing her in the film, more than any other actor.

One role that you regret giving up?

Umm… the role was good but I didn’t think too much of the film, which was Badmaash Company. There was a part that was offered to me, it was a nice part. I was in a different space that time it was after Rock on, so I didn’t want to be a non-protagonist.  I think I should have done it.

VJ Purab or Purab the actor, who has better luck with women?

The constant thing is Purab, but I think I have been considerably lucky, I’d like to imagine that. When I was a VJ I was a lot more fancy freak. I don’t think I was in a serious relationship with anybody then. When I turned into a full-fledged actor I turned more serious in life.

Do you think having a pretty face distracts from talent, a lot of people say Purab’s damn cute

With Noor I think that’s definitely been it. I have been seeing what people have been saying about it, everyone is like oh you are looking so hot and I’m like you think I did a good job also? I mean ofcourse you feel really happy that people are appreciating your peacock beauty but I think you also want to be appreciated for your work which you work hard for.

You get messages saying they should have taken your shirt off at the beginning not at the end for Noor. You kind of feel like an item number.