Exclusive: Tahir Raj Bhasin – On Life After 'Mardaani'
Making a debut with stalwart Rani Mukerji in what is essentially her home production, would have been daunting for any actor, let alone a newcomer, but debutant Tahir Raj Bhasin, clearly had no airs about being cast in a film revolving around child trafficking and that too as its principal antagonist.
Cool, calm, eloquent and collected, Tahir took time out from his hectic schedule to talk to BollyBrit® about the response and unanimous praise he's received for the film, his earlier struggles and what the future might have in store for him. Excerpts:
Mardaani is a dark film and your character is manipulative and twisted too. Any apprehensions while doing the part? Would you have not rather made your debut in a more conventional set up like perhaps a love story? Are you afraid of being typecast?
There were initial apprehensions of course, because like you said, it's a dark part, but I've been struggling in Mumbai to become a film actor for four years so when Pradeep Sarkar, and a banner like Yash Raj Films offered me a film, I was in no position to have second thoughts about it. I just decided I was going to give this film my best shot and make the best of the chance I was given.
My biggest concern was that after seeing the film girls were not going to like me, but surprisingly, when the film released, it was the girls that liked the part the most. They came up to me and said they hated the character, but absolutely loved the performance, so I think that's the biggest compliment for me from both the film and the part.
I agree that the character was really dark and twisted but that's what made him interesting to play and that's why it was worth it in the end.
Tell us about your background.
I come from a middle class Indian family, my father used to work with the Indian Air Force, and I've basically moved all over India and I've never stayed in one school for more than two years, so I grew up all over India. I am from a Delhi family and that's where I'm from originally.
I started acting at the age of 15 with Barry John, a renown acting coach in Delhi, and then I moved on to TV production houses and worked in television for a while, after which I did my masters in film and media at the University of Melbourne for a year. I then moved to Mumbai at the age of 23, where I enrolled into an acting institute called the Institute of Advanced Acting and Behavioural Studies and along with getting auditions for advertisements and films I used to workshop with different theatre groups from time to time, which were quite intensive, but I had to so that I could keep my acting skills going.
And then, of course Mardaani happened four years later. I make it sound simple but trust me, four years is a really long time!
What's the general feedback been with regards to you and your performance? What was more important for you? Critical appreciation or to be appreciated by the masses because these days, it is the commercial aspects of a film that seem to be more important?
I like the fact that Mardaani cannot be slotted – it's not entirely an art film that tries to be out of the box or a festival circuit kind of film and at the same time it's not commercial either, complete with item numbers. It's somewhere in the middle. It's a film that is commercial – a crime drama that ultimately entertains.
So what's important for me is a mix of both. I would love for people to go out there and watch it, but because it's my debut, I would love for critics to say that it's a good part and so far we are looking good on both fronts. It's been an ideal situation since it's released and I hope it continues to go strong as the weeks go on.
Have any new films or offers come on the back of Mardaani?
You know, the film's only just released, so it's far too soon to comment on what's going on. There are a number of people that have taken notice, a number of senior people so that's a great thing, but it's just too soon to say 'this is what I'm doing next'.
Do you think Bollywood has come of age by exploring darker topics like child trafficking? Do you think the industry does enough to raise awareness about these issues which are rampant across India (we read about cases in Delhi all the time) and yet are usually not openly discussed?
I think it's very harsh to put the responsibility on Bollywood to raise awareness. It is ultimately an entertainment medium, but what it can do is integrate that social message in the form of entertainment, and layer it in such a way, so that it doesn't sound preachy to the audience, because the Indian audience, actually any audience, doesn't like to go into a cinema, pay Rs.300 or $50 or whatever, for a ticket and be preached to, because ultimately that's not what you're going to watch a film for. But definitely there is that crossover where Bollywood is making social issue based films that entertain audiences and it's great to be making a debut at a time when someone with an educational background can be taken seriously in the acting field. It's also good to be blessed with the kind of look where you can play an anti-hero, a romantic lead or even a gangster, so it's great that audiences are taking chances with films and film makers are taking advantage of the fact that audiences have a more open mindset than before.
Gallery/Porfolio: Tahir Raj Bhasin (All photographs courtesy: Joy Datta Photography)
You had Rani Mukerji as your co-star, who's a very well established star and obviously a great actress to boot. It’s her home banner so were you concerned that you might not get enough footage in the film, or that you'd get overshadowed by her?
Overshadowed yes, but it kind of helped me up my game a little bit and I realised that in order for this film to work, my character needed to be as impactful as hers and that audiences felt as threatened by my presence as they do protected by hers.
I was a little concerned initially, but at the same time I had read the script and had a number of meetings with the writer and the director so I knew my part would not be edited out. Ultimately Mardaani is a chase film so the protagonist and antagonist go hand in hand. So if you remove any of Rani's parts my parts wouldn't make sense, and similarly if you chopped off my bits then the story wouldn't tie in properly. So in the end I knew the story protected my part to a large extent, so I didn't have any insecurities about any of that at all.
What was she like as a costar?
Wow! That was scary at first but I must give her credit, she made me feel really comfortable on set. She gave me my due a an actor and she would even come up to me and say if there was anything I wanted to rehearse or if there was anything I was uncomfortable with, I should not be afraid to ask. I was never made to feel like a newcomer, and whatever has been written about my performance in the film is because of that – not being made to feel like an outsider on the sets of the film.
Have Yash Raj Films got any further films for you in the pipeline or it too early to say?
It is too early to say. I know I'm on an exclusive contract until the end of this film, which is till September but at the moment, I really cannot say what's going on after that.
Who in the industry do you aspire to model your career on?
I would really like to carve my own path! I've made my debut at such a different time in Bollywood, compared to any superstars in the past. Aamir Khan made his debut at a different time, Shah Rukh Khan made his debut at a different time and the same with Amitabh Bachchan and anyone before him. This is just a very different time and the kind of films we're making and the kind of audience outreach they have so I'd rather carve my own path. I can tell you the directors I aspire to work with though. People like Vishal Bhardwaj, Homi Adajania, Habib Faisal, Shaad Ali – these are guys that are not afraid to make commercial and socially relevant films for today's times.
And with that our chat with Tahir, who seems to have his head firmly planted on his shoulders, came to an end. As an aside, Tahir is now on Twitter and his official handle is @TahirRajBhasin, so be sure to unfollow any fake accounts if you haven't already done so!
Mardaani released on 22 August 2014 and is running successfully all over.
Have you seen the film? What did you think of it? Do let us know below!