Ever since his adult acting debut in Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar in 2007, Neil Nitin Mukesh has been under the microscope. He was honoured with a Filmfare Best Debut award nomination the same year for his role in the critically acclaimed film.
He proved himself again with New York and Jail in 2009, garnering another Filmfare nomination: Best Supporting Actor for Jail. His work in Lafangey Parindey in 2010 and 7 Khoon Maaf in 2011 received rave reviews.
Last year’s Players – a remake of The Italian Job by Abbas-Mustan – was perhaps his first work that was not appreciated by the critics.
While the film performed badly at the box office, Mukesh’s performance was questioned as well. With the release of his latest film David (directed by Bejoy Nambiar) tomorrow, Mukesh is confident that the performance barometer will spring back in his favour.
“David is an action-packed film,” says Mukesh. “It’s a ‘drama meets the facts of life meets comedy meets entertainment meets masala meets Bejoy Nambiar’. It’s about three men, all called David – three lives, three destinies, one name. The stories are set in 1975, 1999 and 2010 respectively. All three men start off with something they want to achieve. By the end of the film, through a series of flashbacks, you get to know whether they achieve what they set out to do. The film features brilliant musicians and superb actors.
“Technically, it’s brilliant, with a different cinematographer for each story. The colour palette of the film is very interesting and intriguing – black and white (which my part was shot in), a cool, bluish tone, and a warm summer tone. It’s got a lot of drama, emotion, action and good performances.”
Nambiar – director, co-producer and co-writer – made an indelible mark for himself with his Bollywood debut Shaitan (Devil) in 2011. Already familiar with Nambiar’s work, Mukesh first got to know of his involvement in Nambiar’s second Bollywood production through the grapevine.
“Talk that I was part of David was floating around and I wondered who was telling people that I’m in this film, especially since Bejoy hadn’t said anything to me yet,” recalls Mukesh.
“In the end, he called me and said: ‘I’m in Mumbai and I want to meet you.’ By then, I knew he had already begun shooting for the film, so I wondered why he wanted me at this late stage. I was very sceptical but was in for a surprise. I met Bejoy, he narrated the script and I fell in love with the film instantly. That one experience has taught me to never make hasty decisions.”
Mukesh recalls how Nambiar seemed to be holding something back. When Mukesh asked him what it was, the director admitted there was a catch to Mukesh’s role in the film: it would be shot in black and white.
“I said: ‘That’s not a catch, my friend!’ It takes a lot of guts to make a film in black and white, it just made me want to do the film even more.”
Asked why his films are so few and far apart, Mukesh says he likes to focus on one project at a time.
“I don’t like jumping into four or five films at the same time. I like to concentrate on a certain look, my body language. As an actor, I am in no hurry. If the script connects, I will do it. I won’t pick up everything that is offered to me. I like working at my own pace. This year, I have four films releasing back to back – first there’s David, then 3G comes out in March, Shortcut Romeo in April and, after that, Ishqeria.”
• David is out across UAE cinemas next week
One big break
Bejoy Nambiar has gone on record to say that though he was initially nervous about casting Neil Nitin Mukesh in David, he now believes that no one else could have done justice to the role. He has referred to Mukesh as “a revelation” in the film: “He is just something else in front of the camera … He is an underrated actor. All he needs is one big film and he’ll be at a different level.”
Mukesh says he is humbled by Nambiar’s words.
“That is a big deal, coming from a man who is extremely talented,” he says. “I do agree that one big film can change everything. It’s very difficult to make it big in the industry today. You keep thinking: ‘Two more films and my struggle will be over’. But, trust me – 14 films down the line and I’m still telling myself the same thing. Bejoy is kind to say I’m an underrated actor. I don’t want to rate my own work. But I will say that it’s important to compete with yourself. You have to keep fighting to better yourself as an actor. The struggle never ends.”