Neeraj Kabi loves staying away from the public glare to keep the actor in him alive
Actor Neeraj Kabi believes that one of the major keys to his success is keeping the real Neeraj away from the limelight. That’s precisely the reason why Kabi — who is now the talk of the town for playing Sanjeev Mehra, an opportunistic editor-in-chief of a popular news channel in the web series Paatal Lok — fiercely guards his private life and refuses to entertain even such benign questions as what keeps him busy during the lockdown.
This 52-year-old fluid actor has steadily risen to fame with impressionable acts in films and webs series including Ship of Theseus, Hichki, Talvar, Once Again, Raahgir, Sacred Games and others, where he has portrayed diametrically opposite characters. A well-conversant and charming personality, Kabi floored us during this interview, much like the suave Sanjeev Mehra. Excerpts from the chat:
How is life after Paatal Lok?
It’s amazing and enthralling when audiences love your work in such a manner. It’s all over in the social media, which is encouraging for me and ensures that I continue to be worthy of love and gratitude that the audience has shown me.
Who was Sanjeev Mehra modelled upon?
This wasn’t moulded on one character though it comes close to one or two journalists of today’s time. Sanjeev represents the philosophy of journalism and through that, you can see clearly who the real Sanjeev Mehra is. For that, I researched and read books, articles and watched video recordings of ’90s when investigative journalists were heroes besides visiting news channel offices. Apart from that I always undergo a physical regime for each character I play which is not only about putting on or losing weight but getting an overall physical intelligence.
How do you manage to become a new person every time with each new role?
I never wanted to be typecast so I always wanted to remain a mystery for the audience — like a bahurupiya (one who can assume appearances). People will never be able to make out who this guy is if they see me in public. I miss out on what could be a great fan following but that’s a conscious decision. It has been over two decades before you got recognition.
How was the journey?
Without going into too much detail, I would say that it’s been a long, arduous journey, tough and tiring and also courageous. I had taken some bold decisions that had helped me to come at least this far but I haven’t reached my destination, there’s a long way to go. I am still preparing myself for those absolute big roles that I have dreamt of. When we try different genres, we are always scared about audience response but I give myself a report card immediately after the shoot and never wait for others’ assessment, I know what I have done.
Actors like you, Adil Hussain and Pankaj Tripathi, are all late bloomers, do you have regrets for getting late recognition?
You can be an entertainer at a young age but acting happens at a mature age when you have gathered enough life experiences to portray varied characters. I am glad I came in late. The universe gave me time to train myself and be worth it when I arrived. I could have never done a Sanjeev Mehra in my 30s.
What are the other projects in the pipeline?
There’s a Hindi feature with a leading Bollywood actress up for shoot immediately after the pandemic is over, besides a big Hollywood web series with an international ensemble cast that I will resume shooting for.