Actuary to being an actor, Ankur Bhatia talks about his acting journey

Smrithi Mohan
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Ankur Bhatia

Passion, uncertainty and the final jump, Ankur Bhatia talks about giving up a full time job to become an actor and do what he loves.

Everyone has a passion that they are too scared to take up until they find the right push they have been looking for. Ankur Bhatia has had a life that was full of surprises, taking chances and working up the courage to give up a job to pursue something that has now become his career. Hailing from Bhopal, Ankur worked as an actuary for a consulting firms before he decided to quit his job to pursue his career as an actor. Something that started as a part time thing that he took time out for on weekends with short-films and student assignments soon became a full-time job. It was his Payal Sethi's short-film Grant St. Shaving Co produced by Mira Nair that drove him to thinking of acting on a serious level. The film was selected in over 10 film festivals worldwide, including Cannes Film Festival Short film Corner in France and River to River. But it was his other short-film Coconut Grove when he received the Best Actor Commendation Award at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Film Festival.

He has since worked on various Indian movies that have become a notable addition to his acting profile. He was part of Zanjeer the remake of 1973 Bollywood film that released in Hindi and Telugu. Later in 2016, he appeared on the screen alongside Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Omung Kumar's Sarabjit and in 2017, in Apoorva Lakhia’s film, Haseena. But it was his role in Disney+ Hotstar's Aarya that got him the fame and recognition from his Indian audience. The actor became a household name and continues to work on movies and series that keeps enhancing his skills as an actor.

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The actor shared his journey so far, projects people can look out for and more:

How did you go from being part of a consulting firm to being on the big screen?

I worked for consulting firms in New York for almost about seven years before becoming an actor. Initially, it started as a part time thing, which I used to do on weekends. I used to act in short films and was very passionate about becoming an actor, but never had the courage to kind of quit my full time job and pursue this passion of mine. So initially, I started at part time where I would go to an audition after finishing my work or during lunch break, and then look for work, which would probably be independent short films, or student films, which we would shoot on a Saturday or a Sunday. And that's how I started.

And I realized very early that it requires a lot of training and education to be an actor. It's a skill set that you have to acquire all the time, which I did by working in short films. And eventually, one of the short films that I did, 'Grant St. Shaving Co' which was the first serious project that I got, it did pretty well. It went to many film festivals and then 'Coconut Grove' happened which was within value, after which I'd quit my job because by that time, I realized that I have what you call the business skills and now I have to go get something bigger and meaningful. And it could only happen if I do it full time. So I entered LA, stayed there for almost six months. And then I thought of trying out in Bombay and that's how Bombay happened. From small gigs, every film kind of taught me something new. I was getting stronger as an actor, I was acquiring the skill set and then one after the other, things started happening. Earlier the gaps were like, one film in two years, then every year I started doing something and at this time, I'm constantly busy. It took seven-eight years to get to where I am from where I started.

What was it like to be a part of Payal Sethi's Grant St. Shaving Co and how did that shape you as an actor?

Grand Street Shaving Company was pretty much one of the stepping stones for me to be an actor. Before that, I was kind of fiddling around in New York trying to get myself a serious project. And I was not. I had given numerous auditions, which I didn't get through. This role was supposed to be done by an actor from India, who had some date issues and so I was called for an audition. Initially, the movie was supposed to have this character called Bunty, who would be a pickup brand driver and all the lines were in English. I did the audition but I didn't feel it. And so I requested them if I can say it in a lingo that probably a Bunty from India would use, which would be a mixture of Hindi, Punjabi and English. They agreed on it and I did that. And right off the bat, I knew I got it. That victory actually gave me the confidence that I was on the correct path to becoming an actor. And then when I did the shoot with Payal, I learned a lot because she had worked with me, and she had a clear vision of what she was doing. And then there was a co-actor of mine, which was Kishan Mehta, who had worked in lots of old Bollywood films. He was very good at what he did. And it came up like he came across as someone who is like a mentor to me on that film. And he gave me some insights of the art of auditioning and how he reads the script and how he understands the character. So I had a fair amount of bookish knowledge that I acquired before the Grand Street shaving company. But this was the first practical experience that I got, which was kind of a one on one for me to start the journey of an actor. And that's what Grand Street shaving company was for me, and then even post its release in different festivals. There was a festival in New York specially where a woman from the audience asked if Bunty was a real cab driver, and Pooja Kohli, who's the producer, invited me to the stage and introduced me to the audience. It just gave me acceptance as an actor and to myself, to understand the stand that you know, I have whatever I'm doing because as an actor, you don't get that validation. Unless and until your work is out there and people are watching it and someone says you're a good actor. That was my first step towards that. So yeah, it's a very special movie for me.

You were awarded the Best Actor Commendation Award for 'Coconut Grove.' Can you tell us a bit about being recognised and how the happened?

Coconut Grove was an NYU short film with a bunch of talented NYU students pursuing a filmmaking master's degree course. And it happened that after the Grand Street shaving company, I was more trained towards the auditioning process. I auditioned for it and I got the film. And it was a very unique kitchen story of an Indian restaurant and what goes behind the kitchen of an Indian restaurant in New York. And, you know, it was a vase, like a simple coin kind of a conflict, but very real about how there is competition in waiters to become the head waiter. You realize that the street smart guys are always a notch ahead someone who is more deserving maybe. So it was a short film, but still, my character had a lot to do within it.

My father used to own a restaurant back in the day, so when I had a little knowledge, and by this time, I was doing Coconut Grove, I was pretty much observing people and kind of taking some essence of myself to the character and also including some real personalities that I've seen over the years. And so that's what it makes of it. I did that film and I just went to a screening at the NYU Tisch festival. And, to my surprise, I won the Best Actor commendation and that was the final validation I needed, because that fine day, I came back home and I told everybody that I'm gonna quit my full time job because there was always this hurdle that I could only take part in short films because I was working full time. So it's 40-45 hours a week of workload. And after that, you're pursuing this passion and it is insanely crazy to pursue it like this. And a feature film takes about 30 to 40 days or maybe even more and thus it requires a lot of dedication. I wanted to get to another project of a feature sooner than later and I would have to leave the job anyway. Coconut Grove acted as a validation and a driving force for me to quit my job and pursue this full time.

You have been part of films as well as series. What are your thoughts on stories getting multiple platforms and their impact on you as an actor?

As an actor, I don't find any difference in terms of what I'm doing while performing. As an actor, I'm facing the camera and trying to be as honest towards the character that I'm playing. So that doesn't change anything. I think a good thing that OTT has done is that it has given us a wider audience. During the lockdown when Aarya happened, it was seen that my work was appreciated. And so it has been a blessing for actors, I think there is so much happening in terms of work that if you talk to any actor, they have work these days. A little, if you go the flip side towards that is because there's so much content that is coming out. Sometimes your work might get appreciated but most of the time, it happens just for a short duration as something new is coming almost everyday. If you talk to me as an actor, I think it's a great time for all of us because films are being made, films are being released, films are having the OTT thing as well. So you know, it's a great time.

Your role in Aarya was highly appreciated. How did that show happen and what was it like to work with Sushmita Sen?

Yes, my role in Aarya was highly appreciated. It was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. At that time, I was pursuing a project in New York and a few months before it happened, I completely moved to New York and kind of in the middle of settling down. And then, I got a call from Abhimanyu Ray who is the casting director of Aarya. He narrated the whole concept to me but honestly I wasn't very keen on it at first as I just moved to NYC and wasn't looking to go back for a smaller thing. But Abhimanyu convinced me that this role will change everything for you. He told me to read the script and so I did. I sent some audition clips and just after some time, I was about to start working on it. I didn't know Sushmita Sen was also a part of this project till I went there and started with it. On the first day of our workshop, I talked with Sushmita Sen for about 2 hours discussing a number of things. The first day of the workshop did it for me as it helped me build the chemistry. If I talk about Sushmita Sen, she is one of the kindest people I have worked with. Working with her was very smooth and things get easier if you have that feeling of comfort while working.

Your credits include stories that revolved around strong female characters. As an audience how do you think storytelling has changed, especially when it comes to female characters and their portrayal?

Yes, my work includes stories that revolve around strong female characters. I agree. I started with a film called Sarbjit, which had a very strong protagonist played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and it was a very tough role. Then, the next movie I did was with Shraddha Kapoor, where she was the protagonist. And it was also a biopic. She was playing Daud Abraham's sister. Then, Arya came out with Sushmita Sen playing Arya. I think storytelling over the years, has changed in a way whether these female characters are are being shown as they are being the strong women have always been there being such strong characters that they are, but I think lately when you see, all these films that I've done, all these  wonderful actresses have performed so well. I think people are accepting it and they want to see more. Arya being one of the biggest examples where because of some of the family members, business deeds and bad dealings have affected a woman and her three children. Now she has to take charge of everything and how beautifully she does that. People are appreciating it. So I think that web series and OTT platforms have given these new opportunities for these strong characters, strong storytelling to be narrated to the audience.

Are there any future projects that you would like to share with our audience?

I have finished 4 projects this year and all are to be released. The first one I finished was 'Cracked Down' season 2 which is going to be released on Voot. Then, I did a film directed by Ali Abbas Zafar and it's called 'Bloody Daddy,' Shahid Kapur is the lead actor in this film. Then, I did another film with Jimmy Shergil called 'Operation Mayfair' and then, recently I finished shooting for Taali that has Sushmita Sen. I'm excited to work on new projects in 2023. 

We are excited to see more of what Ankur has in store.

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