Aftab Shivdasani may have been introduced as a bumbling fanboy in the Urmila Matondkar-starrer ‘Mast’ but he had been facing the camera since a long time. A child actor, who had played Amitabh Bachchan’s childhood version in films, Aftab went on to also bag roles in Sridevi’s ‘Chaalbaaz’ and ‘Mr India’. When he made his debut as an adult, he was slotted as a chocolate boy for his looks but with appearances in films such as ‘Kasoor’ and ‘Masti’, the actor shattered stereotypes. In ETimes’ #BigInterview, he discusses the career choices he has made over the years, the newfound creative freedom brought about by the advent of OTT platforms, and parenting his nine-and-a-half month old daughter. Read on:
You have been facing the camera since you were 14 months old. Not many child actors are successful in making a career in the industry as adults. How do you look at your journey so far?
When I had started modelling as a child, I obviously did not know that it would eventually become a career for me. But soon enough, I realised that I liked the camera so much that I was very comfortable in front of it. Despite being a very shy kid, I thought being in front of the camera was a really fun experience. During my growing up years, I had done close to 300 commercials and about 6-7 feature films as a child actor. Which is when I realised that it was what I loved to do. So, it became my passion and I saw myself doing it for the rest of my life. However, since I was not from a film family, I did not have any backing or contacts. So, I never thought about the implications of a successful child actor becoming a successful lead actor. But when you are a child actor, it is very different as compared to when you are the lead actor. They are very different sorts of roles. I had to start fresh when I was being launched as a lead actor.
I look back at my journey as a fascinating and enriching one. It has been 22 years as a lead actor. I have enjoyed my journey every single day and I continue to enjoy it because I think if I didn’t, I would not be so passionate about it. There were a lot of speculations about whether I will be successful or not when I was being launched but I never paid heed to such conversations. I just wanted to enjoy my work and not take any pressure.
You have worked with Sridevi in ‘Chaalbaaz’ and ‘Mr India’ and played the young Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Shahenshah’ and ‘Insaniyat. How was it shooting with these legends as a kid?
Yes, I have had the honour of working with Sridevi ma’am in ‘Chaalbaaz’ and ‘Mr India’. It was an amazing experience because she was and will be a legend in her own right. She was at the top of her game when I worked with her. There is nothing you can say that would match her stature. The entire world knows what kind of a performer she was. Just being in front of the camera with her was an amazing experience. However, it was all fun and games for me (smiles). I also played junior Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Shahenshah’ and ‘Insaniyat’. As I was playing the younger version of him in both films, I had not got a chance to interact with him. But just to be junior Mr Bachchan was a thrill for me! I used to get asked a lot of questions in school (chuckles). It was quite interesting and enjoyable for me. Of course, sometimes it would draw a lot more attention than I would have liked. But I am fortunate to have played such parts as a child actor.
It has been 22 years since you made your dream debut as a lead in RGV’s ‘Mast’ opposite Urmila Matondkar. How did you land the film?
It had all happened by chance. Back then I was a model, and was doing a lot of TV commercials. I had shot for an ad for a popular beverage brand that Urmila Matondkar’s sister Mamta had seen. Ram Gopal Varma was casting for ‘Mast’ and had auditioned a lot of boys for the role. Mamta happened to mention me to Ramu sir, who instantly called the DoP of the ad, Kiran Dev Hans, and enquired about me. One day, I got a call from RGV. I had seen ‘Satya’ and was a huge fan of his work. I obviously aspired to someday become an actor. When he called, my mother answered and told me who was on the line; I was in disbelief! He asked me to come and meet him, which I did that day itself for the lead character in ‘Mast’ opposite Urmila. I couldn’t believe my ears; it was a dream come true for me!
He didn’t take an audition; instead, he just asked me to do an impromptu act and liked it. A week later, he came to my house and narrated the script to my parents. After dinner at my home, I went down to his car to see him off. He shook my hand and welcomed me on board. As he drove off, I stood there and it started to rain. It was very filmy. The rain signified the change in my destiny. From that day onwards my life was never the same.
I also thought that the role was tailor-made for me, as it was a film about a boy in his late teens who is in love with an actor. Here I was with a wonderful director and a talented co-star. The film also had the likes of Farah Khan and many others attached to the project.
You have always tried to break out from your image of a chocolate boy with roles in films like ‘Kasoor’ and ‘Masti’…
Yes, people have always tried to label me as the chocolate boy or a comic hero or a lover boy. I think it is because of my looks that people put me in a particular category. But I always wanted to break the mould of predictability and do something different. I have tried to explore different facets of my personality, as an actor. I have done films like, ‘Kasoor’, ‘Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega’, ’Masti’, ‘Awara Pagal Deewana’, ‘Ankahee’, ‘Hungama’ so that people don’t box me up. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn’t, but I have always owned the outcome. I am often asked if I feel that I should have stuck to the roles expected of me but I don’t regret anything. When people look back at my filmography, they appreciate the work that I have done, irrespective of their box-office performances. I feel that it has earned me a lot of respect, as an actor. People have not taken me lightly. Now, with the whole OTT era coming in, people are recognising talent. Now every actor is trying to fit into the mould of being an actor rather than working on past images. I think this is very encouraging for all actors, of all categories and age groups. I think it is the best time to do something different.
You have been a part of many multi-starrers in your career. Did you ever have any kind of insecurity with respect to screen time or lines with your co-stars?
The kind of person I am in real life reflects a lot in the kind of actor I am. I am quite secure as a person. I have been the sort of actor who would happily give away the credit to another actor. If someone has got a better dialogue or a punchline, I would never want to take that away from them. I feel that filmmaking is such a united effort that if one actor tries to steal the thunder from another actor, when it is not due, it would be the death of the film. It is very necessary that all actors realise filmmaking is a joint process. It is a team effort and an actor is just a part of it. If somebody has felt insecure in my presence then that is his or her predicament but I have never intentionally or unintentionally tried to do that. I have thankfully had a very good track record with all my co-stars. I have never interfered in anybody’s business, both personal and professional.
You have worked extensively with Vikram Bhatt and RGV – but nobody ever associated you with any group or camp…
Yes, I have worked a lot with Ramu ji and Vikram and they have been very special to me in my career. Thankfully, I have never been associated with any sort of camps or groups. This is because I have never really socialised or actively been part of camps. It was quite prevalent at that time and still is. I have never stepped on or crossed wires. However, it doesn’t mean that I have been anti-social; I hang out with people but I think I am a very private person. I like to go back to my own space, to my family and friends. This is one thing that has kept me sane or has helped me not be associated with a group or a camp. Today, I can just speak to anyone without the fear of being called their friend. People judge you on the basis of who you are friends with. Luckily, for me, I am friends with everyone. People have groups and parties where they gossip about other people. I have never really loved gossiping. It honestly bores me.
In one of your earlier interviews, you mentioned that you had consciously rejected certain roles…
All the decisions that I have made in my career have been conscious ones. I have not made a decision due to external pressure. I think there are times when you go through temporary regret. But, as time passes by, you grow out of them. There is no point regretting stuff because regret and guilt are all negative emotions. I don’t take them seriously after a point. I think that is the way one should approach one’s career. You are not God, you are going to make mistakes. It is very important to make your own decisions.
OTT has given a new lease of life to many. How do you look at the medium, as an actor?
OTT is an amazing platform. It has given some great opportunities to actors of all age groups. It is a level playing ground for all actors. The whole star system doesn’t apply here as it would in films. That is the great thing about OTT. People have the liberty to watch what they want. It has got a vast reach as well. It also gives you freedom to do things that you perhaps would not be able to do because of censor guidelines in cinema. It is a great time, not only for actors but for technicians, writers, directors and others to venture out. OTT gives opportunities that recognise talent, which is so important. I would like to do a mix of both films and OTT going forward.
How do you deal with negativity and trolls on social media?
I am not that active on social media but yes I do make my presence felt when I need to. Some people live by social media; I don’t take it very seriously. I treat it with a pinch of salt and I take it at face value. I think it is a great platform to communicate and express yourself. But whenever someone says something negative, I just block them; I don’t like to see negativity on my feed. We are living in such difficult and challenging times. There is already so much negativity around and the least I can do is promote positivity with a picture or a thought. Even if it resonates with one person, I feel I have made a big difference. I think there should be certain accountability for trolls as well as they spread a lot of negativity and depression. Especially, for the sake of youngsters today who are so influenced by social media. Social media should be used responsibly.
Does your female fan following affect your relationship with Nin?
I have always enjoyed a female fan following and I still do. However, this has never affected my relationship with Nin. She is a super secure woman. There is no reason for her to feel insecure. She completely understands my work and the way my career is. Also, with the amount of love that we give each other, there is no room for any insecurity or any form of complacency. We recently celebrated nine years of togetherness and this has never been a topic of discussion between us. When we used to go out, people would come up and ask for pictures with me and she would happily let me do what I had to do. Of course, we do have guidelines as a couple. We don’t like to be disturbed at certain places or at certain times, and we respect our time together. I am blessed to have her in my life.
Are you enjoying fatherhood?
I am enjoying fatherhood every second. My daughter is nine-and-a-half months old now and she is a bundle of joy that Nin and I get to enjoy every single day. She is growing very fast. It is such an amazing feeling to be a father! Sometimes Nin and I look at each other and wonder if it is indeed us who has created this life. To see a mixture of her and me in our child is just so beautiful and touching! It is also a whole new ball game for us but both of us are completely ready for this. It is the most natural progression in our lives as a couple. Being parents is so much more difficult than being a couple; there is another person that you take care of and sacrifices need to be made. Our whole existence revolves around her at the moment and will do so for a long time. None of us has any complaints about it; I think it is an effortless transformation.
When are you planning to bring your daughter back to India?
Well, the plan was to bring her to India when the pandemic ends. Unfortunately, with the way things are going right now, I don’t think it will be possible till things get better. It is not advisable for both of them to travel during these sensitive times. I don’t want them to come to India and stay confined in the home; it is not healthy. In the UK, where my wife is currently with her family, there is the freedom to go to open spaces. In India, things are so precarious right now that you can’t really step out of the house. Of course, as times get better, both Nin and Navea will be back in India. I can’t wait for it. Till then, I am constantly shuffling for work between London and Mumbai. When I am in Mumbai, I miss them tremendously. I don’t want to miss my daughter’s childhood; I want to be a completely hands-on father. Nin and I are first-time parents so we will learn as we go.
Do you have friends from the industry with whom you hang out?
I am friends and on good terms with everybody. The one I am close to is Rahul Dev. He is like a brother to me. We sit and talk about anything but work when we are together. He goes more than being just a social connection; he is like a family to me. I have deep love and respect for him. We met when we were shooting for ‘Awara Pagal Deewana’ in New York in 2000. So it is a 21-year-old friendship. It has become deeper with time. We have done 3-4 films together. He was also a part of my first OTT show ‘Poison’.
Credit Source – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/biginterview-aftab-shivdasani-i-was-always-thrilled-to-play-junior-amitabh-bachchan/articleshow/83262940.cms