The Mumbai Diaries 26/11 actor says he is not used to all the love and appreciation that he has been receiving for his character Dr Ahan Mirza in the Amazon Prime Video web series. In a chat with OTTplay, the 31-year-old talks about his process, preparation for his roles, his struggles over a decade and more.
In the past couple of years, OTT has blurred the shelf life of actors' careers and helped them show their acting prowess that is unlikely to go unnoticed. The recent outing Mumbai Diaries 26/11 has reminded people why Satyajeet Dubey has been an actor to watch out for in the past decade.
In an exclusive interaction with OTTplay, Satyajeet who plays Dr Ahan Mirza in the Amazon Prime Video series, spoke about his struggles over the years before he finally got his due credit. The actor also dished out details on his role, which has been lauded by the masses for being one of the best in the series.
What's your current state of mind with a lot of reactions and praises coming your way as well as for the show?
Interestingly, a lot of people are discovering me now, after 13 years of me being in the industry. I was 17 when I started acting and I'm 31 today. Everybody's wooed by my performance. But I'll be very honest. I've been working with the same honesty, integrity and sincerity. Sometimes, things just don't click. I am extremely grateful to Nikkhil Advani and everyone who's been a part of the process. It's (Mumbai 26/11 Diaries) quite a show and the way it's appealing to the masses, it's quite phenomenal. People are writing in-depth analyses and essays on the nuances of the show. My role has the least dialogues. He doesn't speak much. There are a few people who did the audacious comparison between my hero Irrfan and me. I had tears in my eyes. When I used to watch Maqbool, I wonder if as an actor, if I can touch a viewer's heart and soul. Nobody could hold it for me apart from Irrfan Khan. With Ahan, I wished I could do that and I did it. People are receiving it well. I don't know how to react to it. I'm not used to so much love and appreciation.
Having your character entangled in a Hindu-Muslim conflict, how did you approach those challenging scenes knowing that the conversation of bigotry is happening in the real world too?
I have only watched the show once and there's a dialogue where Samarth's character says 'tere log kar rahe hai'. Ahan so innocently says, 'mere log matlab, doctors?'. Just that one line sums up the character so beautifully. Ahan comes from a conservative Muslim family who lives in the Bhindi Bazar or Mohammad Ali Road area. In my head, I made it all up that his father must be running a shop and expects Ahan to take over. He saw something while growing up like his sister had epilepsy and nobody heard him it. He was maybe 15 then. He pleaded to his parents to let him take her to the hospital. I think that's why he decided to become a doctor. I am sure he must have gone through a lot of difficulties. For him, it was very easy to get discouraged and do menial jobs and take over his father's business. He must have gone through those prejudices and all the preconceived notions, with blinkers on, he never paid attention to it.
These kinds of prejudices exist everywhere irrespective of the religion and nation you reside in. He just wanted to do his best and help society, irrespective of anything. All these prejudices didn't come across his mind at all, as he is a simple guy. But when somebody keeps cornering you, once in a while I am allowed to lose my s**t. I immediately realise it too, and that's what made me realise that I am very much like Ahan. Not entirely, but sometimes when I read it on paper, I find it hard to believe that these characters are created.
A trainee doctor is not supposed to touch bodies. They are only supposed to check the pulse and BPs of patients but be any emergency, they call Ahan. Ahan suffers from impostor syndrome. He lacks confidence and feels he's a fluke. But if he were a fluke, he wouldn't have become a doctor. I had to convey his issues through my actions. I even told Nikkhil sir that we haven't disclosed about imposter syndrome in Ahan's character yet and he laughed and said, 'You're so good. I don't have to say anything to anyone. Your performance will deliver it.' I loved his confidence and I saw the reaction for the character.
Ahan is always there for everyone. He is there for Chitra Das (Konkona Sen Sharma) and also for the two female interns. We all need an Ahan in our lives. His religion is humanity, that's what I believe. Even within the realms of his religion, he is such a nice soul. He goes near the dead body and prays for the departed soul.
You are always seen in a hospital setting except in one and that's a flashback sequence...
I had reduced 5 kgs for that. I don't know if people noticed it but I look younger as a teenager. I requested Nikkhil sir to let me do the younger version of Ahan. He asked how could I look like a 15-year-old boy. I told him that I have a baby face and if I lose some weight, I can. I used to have one apple, kept running the whole day and I cut down my weight. We had a 15-day gap to start the shoot again. So, it was quite an experience.
What's your acting process?
For me, the whole thing was not to play a doctor but to become Ahan Mirza who is a doctor. I realised that I have to capture Ahan's mannerisms, body language and soul first. It's a very weird process. I am not an NSD pass out. But I've done a lot of theatre and I've worked hard. I don't have a mentor, but I've always picked up from a lot of great people. If I can move the audience without doing or saying anything much, that's the biggest victory for me as an actor. For Ahan, it was like a virtual video game. I used to keep imagining his life. Even when I'm driving or cycling, I used to think 'Ahan kya kar raha hoga?' He was on my mind 24/7.
If I were, say, playing a part of a guy who is going to die in six months due to a terminal illness. Something happens within me, my body language, tone and even the look in my eyes changes. I think it's a very emotional process and it can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. People say I am very moody. I sometimes jump around like a monkey and make everyone laugh, while at other times, I don't even feel like talking to anyone.
You had also attended several workshops along with other cast members for the series...
All the actors playing doctors and nurses in the series including me, Mohit Raina, Konkona Sensharma, Natasha Bharadwaj, Mrunmayee Deshpande, Prakash Belawadi and Gauri Balaji, did extensive workshops for 15 to 20 days under the guidance of Dr Sheikh. He guided us in understanding the basic jargon. I remember Dr Sheikh saying that he will try to teach what he has learned in 10 years to us in 15 days. We had to just stick to the script and the procedures that we need to do.
I remember Nikkhil sir used to keep a stopwatch and call out action and done. He used to then say, 'itne time mein thodi hoga, aadmi mar jayega' (The patient would die if you take so long). We used to feel that pressure. We didn't get time to think or react. I get goosebumps talking about it even now. In movies, one take lasts for 10 seconds at times but here, the take was going on and on, that's how the audience got sucked in. A lot of hard work went into it, not just from the actors' side but also DOP, cinematographer, steady-cam operator, the director. It was like a factory or a village of people working together.
How easy/difficult is it for you to switch off from a character?
It takes a while. When the characters are fun and just joking around, you're being a charming self. But here, I remember even in my sleep, I used to hear gunshots. During the bombing sequences, plaster of Paris (PoP) was used and the powder got into our nostrils and lungs, so we used to cough for almost three days. Even my shoulder got dislocated during a scene where Konkona comes flying towards me and I had to hold her. Two months later, I got hurt in my right shoulder.
Do you think OTT has given an opportunity to not only explore more content but also help in giving actors opportunities they might not get in movies?
OTT is such a boon for everyone, not just actors, but storytellers, technicians and even spot boys. There's so much employment happening all of a sudden. But with this crème de la crème, there is work that is artistic, and commercially great, but there will be raunchy work too, just to say cheap entertainment. That's one thing that I particularly want to stay away from.
Since the time the whole digital revolution happened, I was waiting to make a statement with my performance and it couldn't have been better.
OTT is like a big brother to the television industry and is the soul of cinema. All the shows are cinematically beautiful if you see, some of the shows are far ahead of the mainstream cinema. You wouldn't have seen a film like Mumbai Diaries 26/11.
It's a boon. People get confidence when they have constant work and stay employed. They can live their lives well. Sometimes, you may have to compromise, it's ok to do when you know the script is not good. But at least, you're able to pay your rent and run your life.
Despite being in the industry for over a decade, your filmography is very limited. Why?
After Always Kabhi Kabhi, nobody took interest in me. Although my performance and look were praised, nothing great came in my way then. I kept running from pillar to post auditioning. The makers would say I am a good actor but never gave an opportunity. I did one independent film Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat which had Sanjay Mishra, Rajpal Yadav and Vijay Raaz. I bagged Prassthanam because Sanjay Dutt sir watched Kerry on Kutton on a flight and he liked my performance.
It's not that I was being choosy. It's been a difficult 10 years for me. But I never stopped working on the craft. I kept honing my skills. I used to keep losing my heart but I would tell myself that I am made for greater things and kept going. Nobody validated my existence and nobody supported me. I started when I was 17 and today, I am 31. I have been into acting for a decade now and I do not have much work to show.
After Ahan Mirza, I feel I have been interning for 10 years and now I finally got a job. Things are finally taking off now. People are noticing me now and that's a great thing. It's better late than never. It's been tough 10 years but extremely evolving and beautiful. With Ahan Mirza and Mumbai Diaries 26/11, everything just clicked. Now I realise that as things are getting better, I need to pull up my socks.