'Method acting is not acting'

Amit Behl could rank as one of the most conspicuous faces on television. An engineer by profession, Amit started his innings as an actor on TV with Shanti in 1994. Seven years later, he stars in popular soaps like Kora Kaagaz on Star Plus and Shaheen on Sony.

In between Amit has acted in nearly 50 serials, encompassing all possible genres.

However, sooner than later, monotony does catch up with a TV actor and so has been the case with Amit. In order to break free from it, Amit has turned producer.

In a candid interview to www.indiantelevision.com's correspondent Amar, Amit holds forth on a wide range of issues.

What brought you into acting?

It all began with theatre at school and college level. Then, in 1986 I did my first professional play with Feroze Khan. However, after completing engineering in 1990, I went off to Delhi on a job assignment. Moreover, the decision to move to Delhi was a deliberate move as even my folks felt that moving out of Mumbai might help me concentrate on my job and keep me away from acting. However in Delhi, I started doing theatre under Ibrahim Alkazi, the founder of NSD (National School of Drama). From there, there has been no looking back. A couple of years later, I returned to Mumbai and took to acting full time when I got my first break in Shanti.

How do you define acting? What is acting for you?

Acting is the art of getting away from oneself. It is the art of getting into the skin of some other character. And of course, how effortlessly one does it or how much of an inherent capacity one has to do it shows how good or bad an actor is.

Which technique do you follow - are you a method actor or do you go by your instincts ?

I always go by my instincts. In fact if you ask me, method acting is not acting. I personally believe there is no scope or time for method acting on TV or in cinema. In any case I don't think if I am playing a murderer, I have to go around knifing people for six months or that if I am doing a drunken scene, I have to actually consume liquor. Why do we call ourselves actors after all?

'But the scope of roles is so limited on TV that once I know what kind of a serial it is (horror, family drama, comedy etc) I also know 60 per cent of what my role is going to be like'

Supposing you have just started work on a new project and the script for it is given to you for the first shot. How do you go about conditioning yourself to play the character?

See, most of the time, the script is handed over to us just about an hour before the actual shoot. But the scope of roles is so limited on TV that once I know what kind of a serial it is (horror, family drama, comedy etc) I also know 60 per cent of what my role is going to be like and what I am expected to do. The rest 40 per cent I come to know by speaking to the director and finding out the preceding scene, the succeeding scene, the character graph, etc. There have also been times when I have been given the script one month in advance and I have worked on my physicality, voice etc. for the given role, but on reaching the sets, I've found the script has been altered significantly.

What is your work schedule like?

It's erratic. Sometimes, I have to shoot endlessly for months and sometimes I even manage to get 10 days off at a stretch. Right now, I am working on five projects which keep me occupied anywhere between 20-25 days of the month. At present, I have cut down on my assignments on TV, partly because I am rehearsing for two plays and partly to devote time to my production company.

Doesn't this erratic work schedule affect your family life?

Not really. My wife Vaibhavi is also an actress, so she understands the demands imposed by the profession. We might feel bad missing out on a marriage party at times, but then that is not as important as my accountability to the production unit.

Amit Behl with his wife Vaibhavi and friend Seema Kar
'I remember once I shot continuously for 72 hours, at the end of which I collapsed'


Have your schedules ever led to a burn out situation?

Yes, that too has happened with me. It happened in 1998, when I had all of 14 serials on air and in almost all of them, I was playing the central character. I remember once I shot continuously for 72 hours, at the end of which I collapsed. That is when I realised that I needed to cut on my assignments drastically if I had to survive here.

With the number of scenes a TV actor is supposed to complete in a day, you must be indulging in a lot of ad-lib?

Oh yes. Within the context of the scene, I do adlib. Sometimes, a writer may write the dialogues inshudh (pure) Hindi but you realise that the character you are playing should speak more Hinglish, then the actor should be intelligent enough to make adjustments in the dialogue.

Doesn't TV tend to be monotonous? How do you motivate yourself after all these years?

Well, the only way one can avoid the monotony and remain motivated is by being selective about work and try and do as many different and varied roles as possible even though I must admit that getting what you want on TV can be difficult.

How do you select projects?

My role, how it is related to the main story, and the director, in that order.

Do you follow a certain regimen at this stage to keep yourself charged up as an actor?

I get my overhauling as an actor by doing theatre. Yes, voice exercises help. Also, I take up a lot of physical workouts to keep myself in shape.

What is your main objective behind turning a producer?

Is it to play the kind of roles you wanted to but did not get to play?

No, no. In fact, I am not even acting in all my productions. We just felt that there was too much of the same kind of programs on TV. Hence, it was the desire to design something pathbreaking and different that propelled me to be a producer. In fact, very soon, we are launching, Agnipankh, which will be India's first serial on the Air Force.

'It was the desire to design something pathbreaking and different that propelled me to be a producer.'

How do you balance the roles of an actor and producer?

Well, it's a new experience for me altogether. I am involved mainly with the creative designing of the projects and the negotiations with channels. I don't come to the office everyday because of my shoots but whenever there is a problem, my staff gets in touch with me.

What is your production setup like?

Well, I believe in starting on a small scale and then expanding as things start shaping up. Right now, we have two production people, an executive producer, an accountant, a full fledged office staff and we are buying our own equipment. Once one major project is on air, we'll expand in a major way.

As of now, we have produced a two-and-a-half-hour telefilm on Zee called Kala Heera, a serial calledMere Mehboob Mere Sanam for UTN and shot a couple of pilots.

Are you satisfied with what TV has given you? Does it hurt that you have not achieved the same level of success that your contemporaries Shekhar Suman and Madhavan have?

See, an actor should never be satisfied with what he has got. It is this dissatisfaction that makes you crave for the best. As far as Shekhar is concerned, I don't consider him to be a contemporary. He is a senior actor who I respect a lot. Yes, I am very happy for Madhavan. But I don't think there is any reason for me to feel disappointed. This is a profession where anything can happen anytime. In fact, let me tell you that I have already signed seven films. Though I am not playing the lead roles in them I am playing important supporting roles.

Who are your favourite directors?

Manjul Sinha, because he gave me my first and most memorable comedy role in Jee Saheb and Asha Parekh who directed me in Kora Kaagaz.

Which has been your favourite role?

The role of a footballer, who gets trapped in a conspiracy in Khiladi. Even today, in Calcutta and Kerala, people remember me only as the footballer in Khiladi.

Your advice to aspiring actors.

Never stop learning and never become complacent.

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