INTERVIEW: 'Most actors buy followers': Lakadbaggha actor Anshuman Jha on not chasing numbers, making an impact and more

His latest release fetched him the Best Actor Award at the South Asian International Film Festival held at New York. Read more in the interview.
A still from Lakadbaggha
A still from Lakadbaggha

Actor Anshuman Jha might be called a fairly young actor but he has been around for a while. The 36-year-old embarked on an acting career at the age of 14 with Prithvi Theatre’s productions. By 17, he learnt the ropes of acting under the aegis of theatre personalities like Barry John and Quasar Thakore-Padamsee. From being part of Barry’s plays like It’s All About Money Honey to shifting his base to Mumbai and finding luck in movies like Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010), Fugly (2014), No Fathers in Kashmir (2019) and Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele (2021) and more — he has over 12 films and 13 prolific brand endorsements under his belt. His latest action-thriller Lakadbaggha is earning rave reviews. It garnered an 8.4 rating on IMDB, fetched him the Best Actor Award at the South Asian International Film Festival held at New York and a standing ovation for the film at Kolkata International Film Festival. Anshuman plays an animal rights vigilante in the movie that is based on investigating a surreptitious animal trading cell.

Helmed by Victor Mukherjee, the film also stars Ridhi Dogra, Milind Soman, Paresh Pahuja, Eksha Kerung and Kharaj Mukherjee who play consequential roles. We dial Anshuman, a week after his latest release to get him talking about films and more.

Anshuman Jha
Anshuman Jha

What made you take up Lakadbaggha?
This film is a mix of two of my biggest passions — action and animals. I love dogs and have two adopted ones at home. In fact, one of the dogs in the poster and the hoardings that we used for the promotions was my adopted one Casper. On a creative level, I want to tell an ordinary story of a simple guy. I believe being ordinary is a superpower. It makes characters like Arjun Bakshi believable. Also, I wanted to do this movie as I love action genre. I knew nobody is going to give me an action film in Bollywood because there is a certain prototype to action heroes and society likes to follow those ‘types’.

Since you love dogs, did the topic of the film impact you emotionally?
Yes, some things did affect me. One was the revelation of a ‘dog biryani’ racket in Kolkata. I find it sickening to think of people using dog meat to get money! I also got to know about the illegal animal trade of butterflies, turtles and other exotic animals in Sundarbans. Animals can’t speak for themselves, so the whole idea of making this movie was to become the voice of the voiceless.

Speaking of impactful issues, what kind of movies do you like doing?
I want to be part of stories where someone who sees the film 20 years from now says, ‘wow they made a film on animal vigilantes in 2023’. I feel any kind of cinema should have a life. I don’t want to do movies that only entertain, it needs to have a voice; otherwise, it’s a miserable proposition. That’s why even if you see my past films such as HBATBA, there was a conscious effort to show the LGBTQIA++ community in a positive light and it did make an impact. When the movie was doing the rounds at a film festival in New York, a homosexual man came up to me and said that the film was a reflection of his life. For me, that is a victory! After watching Lakadbaggha, many NGOs have told us that the dogs at their care facility are being adopted at a higher rate.

Your movies have strong female characters. Is that a conscious choice you make?
In my view, women are the superior species amongst us. I have been brought up by my mom and my sister, so I come from a school of thought where whatever I am is because of these two women, and now my wife. I like stories where female characters are shown in a powerful light. In this movie too, we have Ridhi’s character, who plays a cop, integral to the plot.

Love for dogs
Love for dogs

In times when social media impressions determine an actor’s influence, you have a humble following. Does the number game bother you?
Most actors buy followers! It is an inside truth. I feel that people like them will be forgotten very soon as it’s the craft that stays, not the numbers. The truth is, time will eventually eat an artist’s existence even if it’s one of the greatest entertainers of all time like Charlie Chaplin. But, if you are able to make an impact on human consciousness with your work, that is sure to last. That’s why people miss actors like Irrfan Khan. I don’t know how many young actors have that impact in today’s time. Today, we have a bunch of people who are not convincing as artists and are being roped into projects. It’s unfair to the business, to the art and to the audience. If they’re not good, they can work on themselves and get better. But they’re more concerned about superficial aspects like their hair, body and skin than real work. An artist needs to be very cognizant of things.

What are some lifestyle choices that you’ve made as an adult that proved to be worthwhile?
I practice little habits like sleeping and waking up early, eating healthy, not drinking and smoking and being dedicated to my craft. I sometimes go back to our texts like the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita to seek answers to life’s questions. And one important learning I have had, is to think good, speak good and do good to yourself and others. I do not compare myself to anyone and believe that everyone’s journey is different.

Lakadbaggha is running in theatres.
Twitter: @RanaPriyamvada

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