Sunday, November 5, 2017

Actor Ranvir Shorey speaks up on surviving climate change and Bollywood

Apocalypses are not Ranvir Shorey's cup of tea. Instead, he keeps it casual. Wearing a white tee - his retort to a hot November morning - he clambers down a staircase leading to the basement library of one of his favourite haunts in Versova, a comics cafe called Leaping Windows. Later, he tells us about his vast collection of comics, now lost to adulthood, and offhandedly recalls how his friends once called him Suppandi, after the popular simple-minded character by the same name. "I had an extended head just like his as a child,' he says, showing us a side profile for good measure.

Ranvir Shorey plays the role of a relentless loan recovery agent in an upcoming film. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Ranvir Shorey plays the role of a relentless loan recovery agent in an upcoming film. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

This, however, shouldn't throw you off the exacting standards that Shorey keeps. With equal earnestness, he says, "We have always been warned about an impending environmental disaster. But, I don't want to be a doomsayer and talk about it in apocalyptic terms." You have to watch Shorey segue back and forth between the serious and the playful. It comes naturally to the 45-year-old actor, who awaits the release of his new film, Kadvi Hawa on November 24. The film, directed by Nila Madhab Panda, who also made the National Award-winning I Am Kalam, is touted as the Bollywood's first feature film on climate change.

Shorey clarifies that Kadvi Hawa is a human story, not an "issue-based" film. Neither is it Hollywood, he adds. Commenting on how Mumbai's winters have turned into milder summers, Shorey says, "Climate change is not going to be the way they show it in Hollywood disaster movies. They use it to show hurricanes, volcanoes and tsunamis. There is no big wave that is going to wipe out a country India's size. It's not going to be dramatic; it will be a slow, painful death. And, the people who are going to be affected are the masses and not the one percent."

The human story that Shorey is referring to in Kadvi Hawa is essentially an interplay between three characters - a loan recovery agent, a blind farmer and climate change. Shorey portrays the character of Gunnu Babu, the relentless Odiya loan recovery agent who is thrown into the hinterlands of India, Chambal in Rajasthan in this case, on a mission to deal with farmers in debt. Gunnu, who has a reputation of driving farmers to suicidal ends, meets an aged blind farmer, played by Sanjay Mishra, who is hit by the famine like many others. Soon, both farmer and agent, who are caught in a predatory shark and prey scenario, realise that the very pool they inhabit is under threat from a common enemy in the form of floods and famines.

Survival instincts
If you have followed Shorey's filmography, you would have caught that his acting is nuanced, right down to the idiosyncrasies, and his characters often have a good portion of oddities attached to them. In A Death in the Gunj (2016), even in the role of Vikram, who continuously harasses his younger friend Shutu, you cannot help but relish the menace that Shorey is. "What you are talking about is vulnerabilities," Shorey says, holding his gaze steady. "No matter how dark or negative the character is, it is  important to let those vulnerabilities come to the surface."

When we ask him to try his Odiya-influenced Hindi, one he had imbibed for Kadvi Hawa, with us, Shorey refuses. "I don't carry my roles with me. Only later do I recall my lines when I see the film onscreen." It's obvious. Closer to the film's release date, Shorey looks nothing like the pot-bellied and balding Gunnu that he has portrayed; his face is now heavy with a salt-and-pepper beard and he looks more like a prophet who will herald a disastrous flood or two.

In a lead role in Kadvi Hawa, Shorey candidly shares that he has not been the go-to actor for mainstream Bollywood. "It is almost as if they have forgotten I exist; they see me as someone who doesn't toe the line. But, that's a conscious decision I have made," he says. Having skinned his heart and his knees in Bollywood, Shorey talks about In the Shadows by Dipesh Jain, screened at the MAMI Film Festival recently. "I worked with Manoj Bajpayee, Neeraj Kabi and Shahana Goswami on the film. I didn't have a central part but I had an important part. The script was fabulous. Sometimes, as you are digging for the big diamonds, you can't let the little ones slip through your fingers," he says. Then, he adds, "It's just survival." He is laughing, but you know he is deadly serious.

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