In a candid chat with OTTplay, Tota Roy Chowdhury deconstructs his Dola Re experience, his journey of learning Kathak, and how he deals with the social bias against men who dance. Read on…
Last Updated: 07.34 AM, Aug 09, 2023
Not only is his soothing presence in Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani, but Tota Roy Chowdhury also takes his fans off their feet with his perfect Kathak recital in the film. In fact, along with Ranveer Singh, the actor’s brave effort to reconstruct the iconic Dola Re has been one of the most talked-about sequences from the film. In a candid chat with OTTplay, the actor deconstructs his Dola Re experience, his journey of learning Kathak, and how he deals with the social bias against men who dance. Read on…
Evidently, Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani involves Kathak training. Tell us about your learning journey…
Learning Kathak was a pre-condition for getting this role. I was asked to learn the dance form diligently. I learnt it for five months with 40 intensive sessions. Besides, I used to practice every day for 30–40 minutes. And then, there were rehearsals. So I practically learnt a new form of movement.
Did this learning a new art form help you in any other way?
Learning a new movement, especially at this age, is a bonus in terms of fitness. It helps to sharpen your muscle memory and general memory, in general. The fact that I could learn a dance form, perform it and then receive appreciation is a big achievement for me. I got a major morale boost.
Tell us about shooting Dola Re…
Karan sir’s brief to Ranveer and me was to become spitting image’ of each other. Our hand and leg movements – each chakkar, each bend, and each expression – had to be in complete sync.
It took us two whole days to shoot Dola re. Our choreographer, Vaibhavi Merchant, told us that she wanted nothing but perfection. Ranveer and I knew that unless we coordinate, we would not be able to pull it off. During rehearsals, we developed an understanding. When the audience watched it, they watched an amalgamation of many shots. Dola Re was not shot in the eight- or 12-beat division. Karan Sir said that he would shoot the whole song once. And then they shot many other times as we danced.
If Dola Re took two days, how long did Dindora Baje Re take to shoot?
Five days. Ranveer was constantly shooting dance sequences, and after a while, he said, “I have been dancing for almost a month now. I am just dancing.”
In our society, there is a sense of mockery towards the men who dance – something that the film addresses. Did you ever face anything of that sort?
Western dance has been my style of dancing, and hence, I probably heard it a little less than those who followed the Indian classical dance style. I used to take part in events where people used to buy tickets to watch our performances. However, many of my so-called well-wishers—relatives and neighbours—used to give unwarranted advice to my parents. They could not recognize the art form. Meanwhile, the Indian classical male dancers used to be brutally trolled and dishonoured. In fact, many times, I got into verbal altercations when something similar happened in front of me. Many people have a serious disrespect for classical music and dance artists. We could happily celebrate our patriotism on August 15 and January 26, but we cannot accept the true Indian culture. Now things are changing, and people have started embracing Indian culture, including classical music and dance forms.
There is a gender bias also... A man who dances is often mocked as ‘meyeli’ or effeminated…
Yes, all the time. I believe this disrespect comes from a lack of education, bad education, and ignorance. As I grew up and analysed the issue, I felt that this disrespect is actually a manifestation of insecurities. When people see another man (or a woman) taking a different path from the usual path that they are used to, they become scared and try to dismiss him or her. Labelling people comes easily but accepting a person as they are is not as easy.
How did you bag the offer of Rocky Aur Raani Kii Prem Kahaani?
Casting director Shanoo Sharma called me one Sunday. She works solely with YRF when Karan Johar makes a film. She sent me a script and asked me to send the audition immediately. I was like, “Today is a Sunday. I’ll do it tomorrow.” She said, “No way.” I recorded the piece and sent it. Within 30 minutes, she called and said that I had been selected and that this would be a film by Karan Johar himself. I was stunned to hear that name. I confirmed with her, “Do you mean ‘The Karan Johar’?” She said, “Yes. and that’s why I did not tell you anything about the director before the audition because that would influence you.” She told me that there would be a meeting with Karan sir, and within two weeks, I was right in front of him at his Mumbai office. He explained the story and my part of the script, and he asked me if I would like to work with him. I was shocked once again. What does he mean? Of course, I would like to work with him. I prayed to all the possible ‘cinema gods’ so that one day I could work with Karan Johar, and now the moment is here.
Unlike many other films, in RRKPK, the character artistes, including your character Chondon, are also the driving force of the story…
Yes. When we work as character artistes in other industries, we often get briefer characters and smaller screen time than RRKPK. We often do insignificant characters and there is nothing wrong with it. We all have our reasons. But Chondon is so well etched out. It is an important character and has such a long screen time. In fact, the director’s cut was initially three hours and 10 minutes and then 22 minutes were reduced. This is probably the first time, the ‘Tum Pas Aye’ tune of Dharma Productions logo was cut shot for the sake of the film. And more interestingly, it was Rocky and Rani’s shots that were reduced to keep the character artistes as much as possible.
How was it to work with Karan Johar?
He has three distinct features. First, clarity of vision. He exactly knows what he wants, how much he wants, and how to extract what he wants from his actors. He does not yell at the set. He is calm and fun. He is very intelligent and peaceful. He is not impatient. He shows love and empathy toward his cast and crew members. If someone takes time and other complaints, he says, ‘It’s ok to take time. We all do.’ He is humorous and he can laugh at himself. His sense of self-deprecating humour is something to learn. This comes from supreme confidence.
Second, he has his own philosophy of cinema, and there is no room for any doubt or ambiguity there. He doesn’t care what other people are talking about or writing about him or his films. He is confident with his style of filmmaking.
Another thing is, he does not sit at the monitor and dictate from there in his mic. He might as well do that and there is nothing wrong. But if there is something he wants you to do differently, or you have made a mistake, he would come up to you. Tell you how he wants you to change and would go back to the monitor. He shouts ‘OK’ from his seat though. I find this very interesting. His expression of honour and humility towards artistes is something to cherish.
Tell us about Alia and Ranveer. They are two of the top Indian film stars at the moment. How did you see them as stars and human beings?
Let’s start with Alia. She is a gifted artiste. What she has in her cannot be acquired or learnt. She has it in her. She is sharp, intelligent, and perceptive. She takes no time to catch what she needs to do. And if you are her co-star, you would always need to be alert. She can instantly come up with an expression and you will not know how to go about that. You will have to be focused.
As a human being, she is very sweet and a little introverted. She has no tantrums on the set. She is damn serious about her work and comes on the sets completely prepared. She does her homework.
And what can I say about Ranveer? Whatever I say will not be enough. He brings a positive vibe to the sets every time he walks in. He is jovial and happy. He carries energy with himself. He is very humble and down-to-earth. He has no ego (and neither does Alia). I have seen actors with one hit serial has more ego than him. And then, he is a trained actor. To make Rocky real, he worked on himself. First, he built his body. Then he grew his hair and then he focussed on the way Rocky walks. He went through dialect training. He used to visit Delhi while Karan sir was recceing. He used to hang around with North Delhi boys to understand them better. He started listening to Punjabi hip-hop. When he came to the sets, he turned himself to Rocky Randhawa.
You are a true pan-Indian actor with experience in various entertainment industries in India. Do you think you got your due from your own Bengali film industry? Or do you think your calibre was adequately utilised here?
(After a sigh) So many years have passed by that today it is futile to think about what I got from this industry and what I did not. I see it this way: I need the Bengali industry more than the industry needs me. I negotiated with this idea and the rest is not in my hand. If I don’t come into the minds of the makers, what can I do? It is like a marketplace where I have my artistry on display and the makers will need to buy it from me. If they are ready to buy my talents, I am all theirs. It is about the market – demand and supply. If they think that taking me might not be lucrative, I cannot do anything about it. I know a lot of talks have been initiated after Rocky Aur Rani and let’s see where it goes.
You just worked with Swastika Mukherjee in Ayan Chakraborti’s Nikhoj for Hoichoi. How was your experience?
Very nice. This is my first work with Ayan. I am impressed with his sensibility. He has an interesting worldview and that gets reflected in his writings. This time I worked with Swastika after ages. She is a true-blue pan-India artiste. She has been delivering fascinating performances in the OTT space. She has matured and is right now at her peak. I really enjoyed working with her. With Koneenica (Banerjee), Paranda (Bandyopadhyay), and others, it was a happy set. I am very satisfied. And there will be a second season also.
Nikhoj will be dropped on the same day Raj Chakraborty’s Abar Proloy will be dropped. Is there a chance of a clash?
No. It happens in theatrical releases when the viewers need to spend money to buy tickets every single time. On OTT, these two are of different flavours and people will watch both over the weekend one after the other.
I decided not to do anything for two months after Rocky Aur Rani. I am getting offers but nothing has been finalised yet.
It has been reported that you are pairing up with Mimi Chakraborty for a Hoichoi series…
I have not locked anything. After RRKPK, I started reading a number of scripts. I am also getting offers from Mumbai. Once things are finalised, the channels will announce within the next 15 days.