The Salaam Venky  actor hasn’t seen much paternal love in his life, but is lucky to have the lady luck on his side.
By Mayur Lookhar
Coming from a humble background, it can be overwhelming for an artiste to be in the presence of accomplished names. That anxiety is palpable on the face of Vishal Jethwa. He seemed overawed in the presence of Kajol, Revathy, Rajeev Khandelwal at the trailer launch of Salaam Venky  few weeks ago.
Few weeks later, he’s honouring his media commitments. A solo interview and not having Kajol or Revathy around perhaps made him little comfortable. He feels that there is a special connection with the Mukherjees/Mukerji having being thrashed by Rani in Mardaani 2 , and receiving wholesome love from her cousin Kajol in Salaam Venky.
He humbly stated that he’s not good with English. Jethwa proudly revealed that his mother used to once work as a domestic maid. Though just 28, he’s experienced many things in his short life so far.
That life experience has come in handy to play a dying character. Venkatesh lived only 24 years. His remarkable life will be told in his upcoming biographical film Salaam Venky . This group interview gave an insight to the life, career of Jethwa.
Be it Sunny in Mardaani 2 , or Venkatesh in Salaam Venky. What is the motivation behind choosing such roles?
Choosing? Those who get many opportunities are the ones who get to choose. For me, it is all about getting good work, and working with good people. I can speak about how I play my characters. When I worked in TV, I never thought about the characteristics. My schooling improved from Mardaani 2 . The acting workshops helped me a lot. They don’t teach performance, but you learn how to immerse yourself in a character. Does that work 100 %? I’m not sure about that. If you are not an actor, there is no way that you can perform, especially intense ones. Or you be like Kajol or Rani Mukerji, who can switch on, switch off any time. I’m a director’s actor.
Some movies can take a toll on mental health. Has there been times when you have taken work home?
Yes, that happened with Mardaani 2 [ 2019]. I wore Sunny’s clothes for three months. When I resumed wearing my clothes, that is when I started feeling uncomfortable. I looked at my old photos to realise that yes, I’m a good human being. I entered a dark zone for the first time then. It did disturb me. It gave me headaches. You lock yourself into a room, thinking about a character. That’s not easy. However, as an actor, you are paid to act. A friend once told that if ever it gets difficult, ask yourself one question – Who told you to become an actor? The answer is self. So, you keep quiet and just do your job. Acting cannot be coerced. One can be made to learn in school, you may pass, but acting doesn’t work like that.
What does an actor think when doing a Mardaani 2 or Human ?
That is part of the workshop. I was told to contemplate what Sunny would be thinking before going to sleep? Another thing which I was told was to relate my character to an animal. To become the character, we need to think like the character. You learn this with experience.
But you are young.
I don’t want to sound pompous. I’ve experienced many things in my short life thus far. I’m only 28, but I have seen many ups and down. My mother used to sweep-clean floors [domestic maid]. I’m not telling this as any sob story, but I’m proud of my mother. She has sold sanitary pads, purses, clothes door-to-door. I’ve worked as a background dancer too. I’ve done blink-and-miss roles. I haven’t got work for some period. I’ve cried, been depressed thinking that there is nothing left in my life.
I may have prepared for my script in just five days, but my performance will cover my life and not just bank on those 5-day prep. Only those who have faced hunger, will be able to perform that particular role. I feel different experiences in life help to bring versatility.
Right after working with Rani Mukerji, you get to act with her cousin Kajol. What was your first reaction?
I felt as it there is some connection with the Mukerji family. I’ve also been part of a music album that too was composed by Arko Pravo Mukherjee. I got a call saying that there is a film that has Kajol, with Revathy directing it. I’d given 50 % consent then. Kajol has completed 30 successful years in the industry. You feel on cloud nine to be working with such artistes.
I [Beyond Bollywood] would say that you’ve been thrashed by Rani and earned love of Kajol.
(Laughs). Rani beat me so much that I ended up on the hospital bed [in Salaam Venky].
I’m sure you met Sujata [Venky’s mother], a lady who has lost a child. It must not have been easy, but how did you strike a conversation with her?
We were supposed to meet her earlier, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I then met her on the sets. Yes, it is awkward to start a conversation here. Normally you would have a set of questions to know about Venkatesh. However, it was difficult to ask a mother who has lost her son. I didn’t know how to start. Thankfully, that day Aamir Khan and Kajol were both present on the sets. They were already having such conversations with Sujata. I took the opportunity to ask few questions of my own. She is such a simple lady. You wouldn’t get the impression that this lady has endured a lot, fought court battles. I only asked her what was Venkatesh’s reaction when he came to know that he wouldn’t live long? The answer was simple.
My grandmother has lost both her sons. My father expired at 38. My uncle, too, passed away early. I feel I’ve had this ‘lady luck (love) in my career. My first film was with Rani Mukerji. Human [web series] with Shefali Shah. Now Salaam Venky where I’m working with Kajol and having Revathy as director. Even in personal life, I’ve haven’t received much paternal love.
For a character suffering from muscular dystrophy, how challenging was it for you to be confined to a wheel chair/ bed?
I didn’t know the placement of a scene when he shot it. I often asked Revathy to inform me on the movement of my body parts for the particular scenes. The biggest challenge as an actor was that gradually I was left with no body language. Whatever is left, is all down to the facial expressions. The character is either on bed or wheelchair. Now to do well in this situation is a big challenge.
Working with a seasoned actor like Kajol. What were the learnings?
Every actor has his/her own way to deal with new actors. I always assume that stars are unpredictable. I don’t know how they will react. There’ll be a day when they poke fun at you. But next day, I can’t behave in an all friendly manner with them. As a new actor, I prefer to play safe by maintaining a distance with stars. You come to know of their nature after a while and then you get comfortable with them.
Kajol laughs a lot on the sets. Usually, those who laugh a lot on camera are serious in real life. She can laugh on her own jokes. Even Rani has the same quality. She, too, takes everyone’s class, but in a good way.
Do you have any scenes with Aamir Khan?
Yes, I’m very fortunate to work with him. He’s my favourite Khan. I don’t know whether I can say that in the presence of other Khans –Shah Rukh Khan, Salman. But I like Aamir genuinely. We had our conversation but often [speaks in Aamir style] he would forget my name. In one interview, he had praised me as a fantastic actor.
Since we are talking of Khans, is it true that you are working with Salman in Tiger 3?
[laughs]. I don’t know.
I’m sure you have an NDA in your contract?
Locked hain (It’s locked).
Earlier, you spoke about imagining yourself as an animal as part of a workshop. So what imaginary animal were you in Salaam Venky and in Mardaani 2 ?
No imaginary animal in Salaam Venky. I wanted to have a process but Revathy told me that don’t learn anything before coming to the sets. In Mardaani 2, I imagined myself as a python. Before it was also monkey and what do you call that creature which changes colour?
I don’t even know how to pronounce it. I’d imagine that too but I was told that a python first squeezes its prey and then swallows it slowly.
Salaam Venky  is set to be released in theatres on 9 December.