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Exclusive! Arjun Mathur on Bollywood’s rough patch: We worked ourselves into an unhealthy spot, depending on formula and the star system

Arjun Mathur and Gagan Arora starred in the Amazon miniTV short film Don’t Drink & Drive.

Exclusive! Arjun Mathur on Bollywood’s rough patch: We worked ourselves into an unhealthy spot, depending on formula and the star system

  • Shilpa S

Last Updated: 03.45 PM, Nov 18, 2022

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In their latest venture, Arjun Mathur and Gagan Arora sought to explore a dark and pertinent social issue, with a dash of humour. The duo were recently seen in the Amazon miniTV short film Don’t Drink & Drive, which saw a drunk driver and an unwary hitchhiker get into trouble with the law, and then some. In a candid chat with OTTplay, Arjun and Gagan discussed why they opted to be a part of the project, how they approached their characters and their success in the OTT sphere.

What made you say yes to the role?

Gagan: The primary motivation for me was actually the director and the crew. I have always been very fond of the director as well as my co actors, and I really wanted to work with them. The director and writer had a very interesting take on a very important topic that should be talked about; one that gains even more importance during the festive season. Because the take was so interesting, I was on board the moment Jai narrated the story to me. I have seen what he's done before, and all of his short films had such a different take on things that I was really interested in doing this project.

Arjun: I've known Jai for a few years and we've been wanting to associate for a few years. I met him through my partner, Tiya Tejpal, who is the production designer on this film. And her brother, Karan Tejpal is the writer of the film. And her other brother, Kabir Tejpal is the DOP of this film. So I didn't have an option but to be in this film(laughs).

This was an interesting and new and wacky character for me to try out as well, which added to the allure of the project. So the choice was quite simple that way. And as it was a short film, the shoot for the same was easy as well, since they are mostly a one or two day long shoot. So it doesn't take too much out of you. I had just come off of 14 months on Made in Heaven. So it was an easy choice,

The film deals with quite a very serious subject, which is explored with humor. Was it difficult to emote two polar opposite elements in your performances, that is humor and dealing with a serious subject?

Gagan: Yes, but I think that the subject is very alien to the character when we are playing them. As in, the characters are never thinking about the subject. The situation they end up in of course gives off the moral of the story, and the audience are supposed to learn from it. But the characters are actually living the situation and hence, it is a later realisation that they come to. So while, in a scene, I would also always kind of think of a singular emotion at that time,rather than the subject.

Were there instances where you guys got to improvise as well?

Arjun: There were sections of this film that were very based on a treatment. So they were quite technically specific. But I think throughout, a lot of it was all open to interpretation and open to improvisation, right from the dialogue and rehearsal period.

Gagan: I think we kind of hashed it out in the rehearsals only. There was one segment in the film, where we, the characters, are talking to each other a lot. And we are in a scuffle, and we are talking to each other. I think that was a place where we could only have improvisation because, the rest of it is a very treatment heavy film. But I think the space was always there from the director. And it was explored well, with everybody around.

One of the pivotal moments in the film, which sets the story in motion is the scene where Arjun’s character hails a lift from Gagan’s character. Have either of you had instances where hitchhiking led to some interesting situations?

Gagan: No, not really. Hitchhiking has helped me out of situations where i found myself stuck. When somebody came out of nowhere and helped us out of a situation where I was stuck.

Arjun: Correct. And I have found myself on the other side as well. Where I've helped people.. But I’ve never been in a sticky situation because of it yet. And hopefully, I will never have to take a lift ever again.

Could you open up a bit about the dynamic between both of your characters?

Gagan: I don't think we can disclose much about that.

Arjun: Basically, they’re just two strangers. One drunkard and one hitchhiker, and dynamic kya banta hai dekhna padega aapko.

But what we can tell you is that it's a very interesting mix. The combination is very interesting, because both of them are coming from very different worlds. So its gonna be interesting for you to watch.

As actors, you both have been part of the OTT sphere for quite a while. The digital sphere seems to be thriving of late, compared to Bollywood, which has found itself in a rough patch of late. I’d like to know your take on this situation?

Gagan: If OTT is thriving, it's a great situation for us as actors, as it means more work and more interesting work. People are more bold with their choices on OTT and I kind of owe my whole career to OTT, as its where I started.

but I don't think it ever takes away from the silver screen. I think the big screen is doing its own thing. And there are still projects that are working really well also. I just saw a very beautiful film a couple of days ago called Kantara. And I think, to create that also must have taken a lot of effort. And in terms of OTT, well, I feel it's a great time to be an actor, because we are having an outflow of work that is outrageous. And that actually means more opportunities for us to get on to more interesting projects.

Arjun: Honestly, long story short, I think that we, unfortunately, kind of worked ourselves into quite an unhealthy spot. You know, as an industry, I think our dependencies on formula and the star system, and all of this got really too great. I don't think we checked it in time. And suddenly, I think around us, everything changed really fast, as in the audience that was consuming our content and the platforms where we could exhibit it. Of course, many things contributed to it, from COVID to whatever political situation as well as the situation with the boycotts and stuff. Right now, I just think that we are in a place where we really need to just focus on doing good work. That's it really. It’s like we're going down this other spiral of like, just trying everything. Some may think that so maybe South India has the answer. So now let's just try and stick to only remakes, like trying to copy their formula.

Even take up Brahmastra for that matter. It was a first for India. I'm sorry but we’ve been seeing this done for decades now by Hollywood. I think that we really need to find our own voice, our own originality, and come from a more authentic space. Until that happens I think we’re just going to keep floundering as an industry.

Gagan: Also facilitate better writing.

Arjun: Exactly, thats what it really comes down to. We do live in a country that's so rich with culture and stories. But now we also have limitations on what stories are okay to tell and which are not. So I don't know, there are many factors contributing to it as well. It's not that simple a question or answer.

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