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IB71’s Ashwath Bhatt: ‘It’s high time makers give due credit to actors who enhance the credibility of a film’ | Exclusive

The actor will play Afzal Agha in Vidyut Jammwal’s much talked-about spy thriller IB71

IB71’s Ashwath Bhatt: ‘It’s high time makers give due credit to actors who enhance the credibility of a film’ | Exclusive

Ashwath Bhatt will feature as an intelligence officer in Vidyut Jammwal spy film IB71

Last Updated: 08.32 PM, May 10, 2023


From Raazi to Mission Majnu, noted actor Ashwath Bhatt has played prominent roles in several spy thrillers in recent years. Now in Vidyut Jammwal’s highly-anticipated film IB71 - which is set in 1971, when an IB agent was assigned to block the airspace in a bid to prevent Pakistan and China from attacking India - Ashwath will be seen as Afzal Agha, who leads the intelligence bureau in Pakistan. 


Scheduled to hit the theatres on May 12, the Sankalp Reddy-directed spy film also stars Anupam Kher, Vishal Jethwa, Dalip Tahil, Danny Sura, Suvrat Joshi and Diwakar Dhyani.  

In an exclusive conversation with OTTplay, Ashwath shares insights into his character, his experience of working with the team and why he thinks many actors are not given their due credit by the makers in the industry. Excerpts. 

Q. IB71 is yet another spy thriller, but your character seems to be different from the previous films you have done in this same genre. How would you describe your new avatar?

A. I play Afzal Agha, the head of ISI. He is a very sharp and intelligent person - somebody who knows his job and who has an eye to kind of understand what’s going around. He can see beyond people’s persona and smell things, if something is not right. Of course, somebody who is from the intelligence department needs to have that kind of keenness and sharp personality, but he’s also someone who is kind of cool and likes to keep thinking. In the course of the narrative, he goes after the lead characters in the film, as he somehow knows that they are agents in guise of passengers in the flight. It’s a well-written character and the director was very clear about what he wanted from this role. He specifically shot what he wanted.

Ashwath Bhatt as Afzal Agha in IB71
Ashwath Bhatt as Afzal Agha in IB71

Sankalp is one of those directors who shoots only what he wants. He gives freedom to the actor and allows the character to evolve. For Afzal Agha, I came up with a couple of looks and he finally approved what you see on screen. Anyway, my aim has always been to try something that I have not done before. Look-wise, in this one you will see that the tone is different. Even the voice resonates more with the Pakistan-side of Punjab, which has a touch of Urdu. These minute details help to add layers to the character.

Q. From Raazi to Mission Majnu and now IB71, you have been part of quite a few spy thrillers in recent years. Does the experience help to get into a character from that era more easily now? A. On the contrary, it has become more difficult now, actually. Because if you are doing a particular genre or playing a particular character from a particular geographical region, it’s not easy to bring about a fresh and new perspective every time. That said, keeping in mind what I have done in the recent past, what I can do and what my comfort zone is, my aim has always been to explore those aspects of my own personality that I have not done in the earlier characters. I often joke that I have a PhD in such characters. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do. You have to constantly figure out a fresh way of portraying such parts. No one can say Mehboob Syed (in Raazi), General Zia ul Haq (in Mission Majnu) and now Afzal Agha (in IB71) are the same person.

Q. IB71 marks your second collaboration with Vidyut Jammwal, the first one being Khuda Haafiz Chapter 2 - Agni Pariksha. Tell us about your experience of working with the actor-producer..

A. Vidyut is a very humble guy. Especially, when it’s an ensemble cast, he is somebody who would gel with everyone on the set, without giving an impression that he is a star or something. He thinks of himself just as an actor. 

And I think one of the reasons he’s gotten into production is to prove himself as an actor which, I believe, is a hunger to not be termed only an action star. He has the urge to do varied kinds of roles and portray different emotions. For IB71, I should confess that Vidyut was my casting director. I was shooting in Egypt (near The Great Pyramid of Giza) for Khuda Haafiz 2, when he called me and said that he was launching his own production house, and that there is an important part, a performance-oriented role in IB71, and ‘I want you to please do it’. 

Vidyut is somebody who has reached this place in life through his hard work and dedication. And he also has the power of grasping people who are hungry for work, just by looking at them. He wants to work with an ensemble, where everybody is respected and everybody is hungry to do something; create something as a team. And somewhere, I believe that is what filmmaking is all about. It’s not about hierarchies - a fact that a lot of our people are yet to realise.

Q. You have been vocal about actors not given their due credit when it comes to publicising a film before release. Tell us more about it…

A. There are films, in which you only see lead actors being promoted all the time, and the ensemble is not given due credit. But somewhere, I also see a little hope, because some production houses are realising that it’s time to give credit to all the actors in the movie. Because the audience has evolved, particularly during the pandemic. They now look for quality content and quality acting.

For instance, during the promotions of Bholaa recently - which Ajay Devgn produced, directed and also acted in - every actor was getting publicity. So, you see the sensibilities of the stars and the superstars are changing for good. Somewhere they are realising this, that we have to give credit to everybody in the cast. 

This is what I have been telling to other production houses as well. I said ‘you guys don’t even consider us as part of the film, you only ask us to post things on our social media handles’. But do they even realise how much we bring to a film? In fact, I find it absurd that in private parties or during premiere shows, they talk so much about your character and what you have done in the movie. But when it comes to publicity and giving due credit to the actor, suddenly they just forget. 

Thankfully though, with IB71 and a few other action films lined up now, it hasn’t been the same. And I kind of respect people who respect actors in the industry. Especially, the producers have to learn that you have to respect the ensemble, even when you are publicising a film. You need to tell your PR teams that look, give space to every major character in the film, because that’s how the build-up happens. And audiences are looking forward to knowing who all are there in the movie. If you’re doing an all-India tour with just two people, that doesn’t make sense. That’s something people need to understand. Whether it’s young or old actors, that way you are also promoting talent. There’s a huge ‘club of underrated actors’ in the industry now. And, in fact, many consider me as part of that club. That said, whether or not somebody will cast me in their films or series, I will continue to speak up about these things. If they respect talent; if they respect somebody’s integrity and authenticity, they will anyway cast you.

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