‘Brahmastra’ actor Markand Soni talks about his experience of acting in Ayan Mukherji’s magnum opus

Ahead of the film’s release, the young actor talks about his character in the film, his experience of working with stalwarts and the pursuit for perfectionism of director Ayan Mukherji
Markand Soni in Brahmastra
Markand Soni in Brahmastra

Having been working since the age of three, actor Markand Soni has been part of more than 400 ads for some of the best brands in India. He has also appeared in popular television shows like Sanjeevani and made his film debut in Khichdi: The Movie in 2010. But perhaps none of his work has been as significant to him as his work in the soon-to-be released film Brahmastra, where the character he plays is part of a secret society that protects the different astras (weapons) existing in the universe. In a candid conversation with Indulge, the young actor opens up about his character in the film, his experience of working with stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor, the pursuit for perfectionism of director Ayan Mukherji, and the way his journey in Brahmastra has changed him.

How did you get into acting? Tell us a bit about your journey so far.
I started acting at the age of three — I got into it by chance. In the early 2000s, casting agencies would go to schools to find new faces. So, somebody (from such an agency) picked me up from my school; that’s how I got into acting. My parents supported me because they thought the exposure would help me open up because I was a very shy, introverted kid. Somewhere along the way, I grew up and figured that I really love doing what I do because it helps me step into somebody else’s shoes. Acting helps me express myself in ways I hadn’t imagined before. I get a new perspective towards life, towards the world and see things differently.

That’s interesting. But how did you get into Brahmastra?
I took a break back in 2010 to finish schooling. Then, in 2017, I got a massive Coca Cola project. It was one of the biggest ads they had made that year. In that ad, I worked with Sanjana Sanghi, who was doing a film with Mukesh Chhabra back then. People at his office saw the ad and they were like, “Hey, could you please get us in touch with that kid?” So, Sanjana put me through Mukesh Chhabra’s office and then I went and auditioned. The first audition I did was a two to three minute-long monologue, which was completely in English. After that, I was called to the office at Dharma (Productions). They auditioned me there, dressed me up as the character, did my hair and makeup. I auditioned again and then I was told that I got the part.

Tell us a bit about your character in Brahmastra.
My character in Brahmastra is a primary character. There are four of us and all of us are supporting Ranbir in the second half of the film. So, there is a very secret society alongside humanity, which is called the Brahmansh. The Brahmansh is protecting all the astras (weapons) that exist on planet earth. I’m a member of Brahmansh, and I’m supposed to be one of the smartest of them. You know how every superhero film has a nerd? I’m that guy in the film, I’m the nerd of the group. I know everything about everything!

What was it like to be in a film with such an ensemble cast?
It was quite fun, it was a learning experience. You learn so much ’cause you have all the A-listers. Now, there are lots of actors, who are A-listers but just for the sake of it. But these people are not just A-listers — they’re some of the best in the industry. Like Ranbir Kapoor, Amitabh sir, Alia — they are three of the best actors in the industry right now. Getting to see them work, to see them bring their characters to life, to see them bring little details into the characters, the nuances and everything — it’s insane. It’s just amazing.

But did you ever fear that acting in a multi-starrer like this might not fetch your performance enough attention in the beginning of your career?
I think starting with a multi-starrer like this puts me on the grid rather than the other way around. I could have done a film that was way smaller with not a single star in it. But projects like Brahmastra ideally happen once and you get only one shot. If you don’t take it, you miss it, and then you regret all your life that you didn’t do it. Because think about it: everybody is going to see something like this, and they will get to see me, even if I’m in the film for five minutes. I’m still making my mark in those five minutes. And considering Ayan Mukherjee, who’s a brilliant director, knowing the films he’s done previously — it’s a no brainer, you don’t think twice (before taking up such a role). You don’t think about whether it’s gonna put yourself on somebody’s list. I don’t look at it that way, I look at it from an experience-perspective. I’m a better actor than I was (before this film). I am a better human being than I was (before this film) because you work with such well-known people and then you realise that they’re all so grounded, they’re all such beautiful human beings — even after achieving so much in life. So, I didn’t think of it that way. Brahmastra is one of the biggest projects in the Hindi film industry right now, so I looked at it that way.

Performing alongside veteran actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Nagarjuna must have left you with a lot of valuable lessons to better your craft. Can you tell us about one such lesson that has stayed with you?
I came from a TV background. As a child actor, I did about four or five TV shows. And the thing with TV shows is that they’re over the top — they’re never natural. The other thing I did for the majority of my career was advertisements, which also have over-the-top acting. So, I didn’t know a lot of things like body language. My body language was either way too loud or not there at all. When I went on-set, they (the other actors) would be like, ‘Hey listen, you’ve gotta do this with your body, you can’t really you can’t overdo it, you’ve gotta be very natural.’ So, I felt they were always there, helping me with something or the other during the scenes.

This is the first time you have worked with Ayan Mukherji. How was your experience of working with him?
Working with Ayan feels unreal. He’s absolutely amazing. You think there’s a certain way (in which) directors function. And then you start working with Ayan, who is completely opposite of that, ’cause he will take his own sweet time. Be it Ranbir, or Bachchan sir, or a smaller actor — he is gonna take his own sweet time to get the shot he wants, because he is a perfectionist. Until he does not get exactly what he wants, we’re gonna keep doing retakes. He is somebody that will make anybody look good on screen because he knows just how to get things out of you. So, he’s a very fun director to work with.

Can you tell us about any funny or memorable incident that happened on the sets?
We have memories from the set that don’t really mean much but it does help you understand how sweet Ranbir is and how easy it is to get along with him. At the end of the day, he’s Ranbir Kapoor — he does not really have to entertain somebody like me who’s just beginning their career, he does not have to be so nice and accommodating. He does not have to be like that with me. But he’s very sweet. He makes sure that everybody around him is comfortable. At the Dharma office when we would be doing our look test or something, he’d enter the office to go around saying “hi” to everybody and then come back to get his things.

Markand Soni with Ranbir Kapoor
Markand Soni with Ranbir Kapoor

As a young actor, working consistently in this industry is a challenge. Do you have any definite career-plan or strategy for choosing projects?
I worked like a maniac between 2000 and 2010 because I was doing daily soaps. Back then, I was a child, so I didn’t really have the choice to pick projects. My parents were doing that for me. It was quite easy for me back then because there was somebody who always had a plan in mind for me. Now, there is nobody to do that for me (laughs) and I’ve to do it on my own. So, it’s very difficult as a young actor to have a plan — there’s never a plan. You go along with the flow, you pick and choose the work that intrigues you the most.

Are you going to make a comeback in the next film as well?
It looks like the character is gonna be in the next part as well and I really hope that it is.

What films are you working on these days? Any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Unfortunately, I can not. I do have a few projects in front of me, but I’m still in the process of figuring out which film intrigues me the most and what’s best for me next (smiles).

(With inputs from Nikhita Anna Sam)


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