His stint on television started nearly eight years ago, but his claim to fame came only recently with a controversial rape scene in the Balaji saga Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki.
Rajeev Paul isn't sitting smug on his laurels though. Success and recognition has taken a long time coming, and he wants to savour it as slowly. Plus Channel's Swabhimaan eight years ago now seems aeons away as he prepares, like many TV stars, to eye the big screen.
"The best thing about this role (that of Deven Garg in Kahaani… ) is that I'm not an out and out baddie. In fact, when I'm introduced, I appear to be a positive character and it's only gradually that my vices surface. It's a challenge to enact a role that has multiple shades," he says. In an interview with indiantelevision.com correspondent, Amar, Paul talks about his life, career and of course, Kahaani…
Can you trace your evolution as an actor?
Right from childhood, I have been attracted to acting as a career option, in the same way that other kids want to be doctors or engineers. Even when I came to Mumbai, I just wanted to act all my life because it excited me. I believe I have always been very passionate about acting.
Are you a trained actor?
I have been to an acting school but I don't think an acting school teaches you many things, apart from boosting your confidence. There is a huge difference between acting in an imaginary situation and acting in front of the camera. Most of my training has taken place on the job. I have been lucky to have worked with directors who have been very patient with me and who have actually taught me so much about how to face the camera and how to move in front of it.
The late Bharat Rangachari and Deepti Naval are a few of the directors to whom I owe a lot of what I have learnt in acting.
"When I started off, I was portraying a 'goodie-goodie' image, but of course, this goodness would be laced with a certain smirk by way of facial expressions and gestures "
In hindsight, do you regret not having trained in acting?
No, I believe the ability to act is something you either have in you or don't. I have been lucky to be blessed with talent that I have nurtured and developed over the years. In any case, an acting school doesn't equip you so well. Instead I would recommend assisting in direction or getting involved in production so that you get to closely observe what acting in front of the camera can be like.
Do you follow the method school of acting or do you go by your instincts?
I go purely by my instincts.
Have your instincts ever failed you? Is there a performance you are really ashamed of?
Well, as TV requires a regular shooting schedule without too much of a break in between shooting days, one gets to improve on the performance as the episodes progress. So, as such I can't think of a performance that really rattles me.
But yes, there is a vast difference between how I used to perform seven years ago and my performances today. When I watch those serials, I do feel a bit sheepish.
"Every actor has an individuality and a natural performance comes out only when that individuality is not hampered"
How did you prepare for the role of Deven Garg in Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki?
From the time my role started till the episode where the rape scene is enacted, there was a gap of three to four months or nearly 80 episodes. Moreover, the characterization had to be gradually built up for the nefarious act, instead of showing the character as out and out villainous. So when I started off, I was portraying a 'goodie-goodie' image, but of course, this goodness would be laced with a certain smirk by way of facial expressions and gestures. But at no point of time did I allow the audience to believe the wickedness this character was capable of executing. Gradually, towards the buildup to the crucial episode as my darker shades began to surface, even my dialogue delivery became quicker vis-?-vis the earlier episodes, showing the additional energy levels and excitement within. All in all, I'm happy that the character, albeit negative had other shades that I found interesting as a performer.
Who are your favourite actors?
I have great admiration for Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan.
"I would recommend assisting in direction or getting involved in production so that you get to closely observe what acting in front of the camera can be like"
Are there any stylistic elements you have imbibed from them?
None. In fact, one big advantage of being to an acting school is that you are always taught to be a natural. Whatever trait of emulation you show is checked by the instructors who tell you to be such that other people would emulate you. In fact, I too have always wanted to carve out a style of my own.
Does television acting tend to get taxing or monotonous?
Yes, it does tend to get very taxing what with the endless rush to meet deadlines and can episodes. But I won't say it's monotonous, because unlike films, which follow conventional cliches of romantic and action plots and conventional characterizations, there is greater scope to bring out different shades of a character and try out new twists and turns in the story line on television.
Who would you list among your favourite directors?
Rakesh Sarang, who I believe is technically among the best in the business. I have also enjoyed working with Ajay Goel, Chitraarth and Anil Vishwakarma.
Have you planned or phased out your career - say you're going to shoot for n number of days a month or work on n number of episodes at a given point of time?
My experience in the last eight years has been that you can't plan your career on TV. I normally like to limit my shooting days in the month to between 20 and 25, but there is no way I can be sure it won't exceed these many days. Also, it's difficult to plan out how many serials I work on at a time because given the channel vagaries, often a serial never moves beyond the pilot stage.
What are the factors you consider before taking up a role?
Primarily, I look at whether a story interests me, secondly, how interesting my character is and then how important or central my character is to the story. Of course, money also plays an important part.
Does TV acting pay well?
Initially it doesn't, but over a period of time, one gets to demand one's price.
Have you reached the stage when you have started demanding your price?
(laughs) Well, I would like to think I am being paid well.
"There is greater scope to bring out different shades of a character and try out new twists and turns in the story line on television"
On a scale of 10, what would you give yourself in acting?
Four or five. I have improved a lot over the years. When I started off, I didn't deserve even one.
Are you comfortable with directors enacting scenes and expecting you to follow suit or do you like to act your own way?
If a director enacts a scene out before I do it, it really helps because I have a fair idea of what is expected of me. But again, when I actually perform, I expect some freedom to be given, because every actor has an individuality and a natural performance comes out only when that individuality is not hampered.
Which has been the happiest moment of your career?
There isn't any one particular moment, though I would like to believe the last eight years have been a very happy journey.