* If you are okay about doing anything and everything, then there is definitely a lot of work. But I think if you have a certain idea about what you want to do as an actor then those choices can be tough
* The best thing about OTT is that it gives you an exclusive, individualistic or collective experience. The narrative will change more with time — we are moving towards more realism and stories we can relate to
There was a time when the farmer was often the central character in a Hindi film. He was honest, toiled through the day, and stood by his little piece of land. Decades later, as protests continue in different parts of India against Central laws on farming, the lens is back on the farmer. This time the quintessential Indian farmer stars in a film called Mere desh ki dharti , which features the immensely talented actor, Divyenndu.
Fans of Divyenndu Sharma — and he has a legion of faithful admirers — will be waiting avidly for the film’s release next month. The actor who made his presence felt as Munna Bhaiyya in Mirzapur , the hard-hitting web series, is basking in all the appreciation he has been receiving from the audience. The Delhi boy, who studied political science in Kirori Mal College, says he loves being an actor but is not hyper-competitive. The roles that Divyenndu — he is known by his first name — has essayed since his Bollywood debut in 2011 have been diverse and he believes they have allowed viewers to see various facets of him as an actor: As Liquid in the romantic comedy Pyar Ka Punchnama , Omi in the slapstick comedy Chashme Baddoor and Naru in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha .
Excerpts from a conversation with Divyenndu about his career and aspirations:
How much did your growing up years influence you as an actor?
I think my growing up years definitely influenced me as an actor. In Delhi, you get a mix of cultures — you have people from Punjab, Bihar, UP, Haryana, etc. I personally feel Delhi is a great place to grow up in. I don’t remember when I decided to become an actor; but it was always there in me. I was doing plays in school and theatre. I think I was born with it — it is a default setting!
How tough were the early years when you got into acting?
I always enjoyed my journey as an actor in in Delhi — in school plays or theatre in college. I then went to FTII (Pune) for a diploma in acting. Once you come to Mumbai, finding work takes a little while. You need to understand how the whole system works. It’s not tough but it takes time. It also depends on what you want to do — there is always work in Mumbai. If you are okay about doing anything and everything, then there is definitely a lot of work. But I think if you have a certain idea about what you want to do as an actor, then those choices can be tough.
Do you have a mentor you look up to?
Sanjeev Kumar, Balraj Sahni. Vijay Anand’s films. Different people in different eras. Parallel cinema in the ’70s and ’80s really inspired me to become an actor.
What was the turning point in your career?
I think I’ve been really fortunate that from the very first film of mine I got a lot of appreciation and recognition. I have been very lucky with work but with Mirzapur and OTT, I got a chance to show people a different side of me as an actor, a side that I really have been wanting them to discover for so many years. So you could say Mirzapur was the turning point in my career.
How did you prepare for the role of Munna Tripathi in Mirzapur ?
It’s your ‘riyaaz’. As I said, I started acting pretty early in life and that practice over the years really helps your craft. For Munna, I always say this — I saw him as a troubled soul. I just thought he was a very misunderstood guy who comes from a family where at the dining table you talk about guns and drugs. He feels an emotional vacuum since he doesn’t have a mother. I tried to look into all the insecurities of Munna which make him human. I was very clear that I wanted to make him as humane as possible.
Mirzapur has definitely changed my life in a way that I feel more satisfied now as an artiste; I could show a range where I could play Liquid ( Pyaar Ka Punchnama ) or Omi ( Chashme Baddoor ) or Munna ( Mirzapur ). The appreciation and the kind of love that people have given me is very heartening and is very special for me. Yes, an artiste doesn’t work for appreciation, we do it for our selfish interests, do what we like to do. But if we get people to appreciate it, then it’s a double whammy! I’m very happy with the maturity of our audience.
What are you looking forward to next?
I would always look forward to playing different characters, being part of different stories, things which can inspire and excite me. It would be nice if I could be a different person in my next role and do different genres of storytelling.
OTT has given actors like you opportunities to shine. But do you find any drawbacks to the medium?
Honestly, I don’t see any drawbacks on OTT — the best thing about OTT is that it gives everyone the freedom to express themselves. It’s your responsibility and your vision what you want to put out there. I think audiences are sensible and mature enough to pick what they want to see. The best thing about OTT is that it gives you an exclusive, individualistic or collective experience. It has changed the grammar of film-making in our country. The narrative will change more with time — we are moving towards more realism and stories we can relate to. It’s a great medium not just for actors, but for writers, directors, technicians and others. It’s a perfect place to come and experiment and do just what you want to do.
You are working in the film Mere desh ki dharti which revolves around the problems of farmers.
In the film, I play an engineer (Ajay). Ajay and his friend want to end their lives. They decide to go to a place far from Mumbai and land up in a village where they find farmers who are happy and they feel that life can be beautiful. But then they realise that a farmer has taken his life, and begin to understand that farmers have their share of problems. That’s when Ajay says that he can use his education for the benefit of farmers and help them improve their lives, if not his own.
This is important in today’s time because the basics are still the same — our farmers are still suffering from lack of knowledge about their rights; unfortunately, many are not so educated so they don’t know simple things such as new techniques of farming or how to sell their crops. It’s been an important issue because farmers are the ones who feed us and often we are not as thankful as we should be to them for putting food on our plates.
Latha Srinivasan is a journalist based in Chennai