COVER STORY: Why Siddhant Chaturvedi is The Next Big Thing
It’s been years since an unknown face broke into the Hindi film industry and grabbed it by the collars like he has
Green tea. He prefers green tea.
This is my third time interviewing Siddhant Chaturvedi and while he still remains sort of an enigma, there are some things about him that I know for certain—he likes green tea, he’s a man with a mission and he’s not here to play around. “What do I even ask you? I interviewed you a month ago!” I say when I meet him at the KWAN office in Andheri. He’s more relaxed this time around and his greeting is warmer. We hug as his manager requests me to wrap up the interview in 25 minutes (she’s then kind enough to give me 40) and we sit down on a sprawling beige couch. “I don’t have many questions. Is there something you want to tell me?” I say once we begin.
“Something that’s happened in the one month since you interviewed me last is that there’s been a constant struggle to not be associated with my (Gully Boy) character (MC Sher). I’m done and I want to move on to my next character,” he says immediately. He’s pretty excited about his next character but also very tight-lipped about it. The film is being produced by one of the biggest production houses in the country. “It’s one of the top three production houses in the country and it’s not Excel. There you go,” he says when I push him to give me some more details. Is it Dharma or Yash Raj? He doesn’t say but gives me an exclusive—it’ll most likely release next May. It’s also going to be a dramedy which means it could be either of the two production houses that have been listed above. “I’ll be playing various characters in the film—it won’t be just one character. There’ll be so much to do. Every character has a different voice and a different look. I’m very excited about it. I’ve heard over fifty scripts by now and I’ve finally closed down on this. Then, there’s the action film that’ll take a toll on my body. I’ll have to push myself because the bar has been set by Tiger (Shroff ), Vidyut (Jammwal) and Akshay Kumar. I have to bring in something new and cooler,” he says. He’s also a little nervous about this action film, he admits. “I tore my ligament four months ago, yaar.”
The first time I met Chaturvedi, he was about 30 minutes late. During the course of that first interview, I remember asking him the one character trait he is most proud of. “Punctuality,” he had said with a laugh. “I’m always punctual but today there was a lot of traffic.” This time around, he’s there before I reach.
He’s hopeful that he’ll have two releases next year and has almost locked down on a third one which is a comedy. I remember him telling me earlier that he wasn’t too pleased with the scripts he was being offered. They were either in the same vein as Gully Boy or had characters that he didn’t want to essay at this point in his career. “Now, I’m playing on my strengths like dance, comedy and action. I’m not going to go into the experimental zone or doing something very niche. I don’t want to do that right now. The short-term goal for me is to gather an audience. Hit the masses, so to speak. As a hero. That’s the aim and the goal. I’ve heard some great scripts but there are roles I don’t want to do right now. There were roles that I’ll likely be interested in after three years, once I have an audience,” Chaturvedi says. I think this is a smart move and I tell him that. I’m reminded of Imran Khan, all of a sudden. Khan had burst on to the scene in 2008 with Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na at the same time that Ranbir Kapoor made his debut with Saawariya. While the former was pegged as the next big thing in Bollywood, Kapoor was sort of ignored. However, Khan most likely didn’t want to go with the chocolate boy image that the media had bestowed on him. He did Kidnap in 2008 which was a dud and Luck in 2009 wasn’t great either. Chaturvedi could learn something from Khan’s decisions.
“I come from the masses. I have watched a lot of good films that had good concepts but the problem is that I watched them on my television or my laptop. I haven’t exactly gone to watch them in the theaters. There was a film called Court and I watched in on Netflix. I was like yeh itni acchi film hai yaar, maine kaise isse theatre mai nahi dekhi,” Chaturvedi says. Of course, he wants to change the way we look at cinema but he’s making the decision to build himself up first. “I want to hit the equilibrium between entertainment and concept.”
Massy. Entertaining. Eventful. These are the kinds of films he’s looking for. Producers and directors, take note.
“It has to have a great concept like Badhaai Ho. Ayushmann (Khurrana) chooses great films like Article 15. It’s either that or a film like War where there’s Tiger (Shroff ) versus Hrithik (Roshan).” What a lot of people don’t understand is that filmmaking is also a business. Commercial success is as important as critical acclaim and while Chaturvedi is young, he understands that. It’s exactly what Kareena Kapoor Khan has stated in multiple interviews and while she may face flak for making poor films (prominent critic Rajeev Masand jokes that if there’s a bad film, Kapoor Khan will find a way to get into it), she’s still one of the top actresses in Bollywood after 19 years. “At the end of the day, it’s about maine itna paisa diya aur mujhko itna mazaa aaya. I’m from a small town where the Khans and Kumars still rule. They want a celebration and to be a part of a world that’s alien to them. Even here in metros, people have to be entertained or they have to take home a message. Take Super 30, for instance. I was so touched by that film because it had a message. Ek feel good feeling aayi,” he says.
“You’ve made it in the industry without having a godfather. Star kids will keep getting multiple chances but you need to be careful. Has that fact gone into making decisions about picking films?” I ask. Of course, I share names of star kids who’ve delivered multiple duds but still continue to mint money on account of their pedigree.
“A Siddhant Chaturvedi has to keep performing well and build his market. I don’t come with a market. Now, as a hero, I need to keep smashing it. I can either stick to my first character and go all alpha or I can show range and make people see that I’m versatile. I don’t want to repeat myself—isse accha toh mai CA hi nahi kar leta if I have to keep doing the same thing again and again?” he says. He wants to give the audiences a new Siddhant in every film. His eyes light up as he discusses his future projects and the plan he has for the future.
Chaturvedi is not laid back at all when it comes to his work—he is a professional and he is determined to make it big. He doesn’t want to be relegated to character roles and he doesn’t need to – he’s a fine actor and good-looking to boot. He’s not some dumb kid with a great jawline who’s been pushed into the limelight. He’s worked hard and he’s not going to stop. “I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t come with a market and I need to play safe. I’m here to stay and I want to stay,” he reiterates. But isn’t he afraid of the backlash? He asks me to explain what I mean.
“Your first film took an underground culture and made it mainstream. Now, if you start doing massy stuff, aren’t you afraid that people might…”
“I’m ready for that,” he says immediately. “I couldn’t sleep for nights thinking ‘yaar, itna pressure hai abhi’ because people think yeh cinema badalne aaya hai abhi. I know the pressure is there but bhai, mai alag tabhi la paunga jab mere paas janta ho. Even if it’s a massy setup, I’m going to make it as real as it can get. Think about Pankaj Tripathi. He plays these common characters but you love to watch him. Having said that, I’m going to get a lot of backlash and I’m ready for that,” he continues and takes a sip of his green tea.
“I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t come with a market and I need to play it safe. I’m here to stay and I want to stay. I’m not a fanboy anymore.”
“Because Shah Rukh Khan did a DDLJ, he could go ahead do a Swades, yes?” I ask.
He nods. “You got it”.
Chaturvedi is still a normal guy and he’s said that to me multiple times. Except now, he hangs out with star kids and fellow actos Ishaan Khatter and Janhvi Kapoor sometimes. They’re his age and they get along well. Arjun Kapoor and Vicky Kaushal are also quite fond of him and they converse often. He holds the latter in high regard—Kaushal had called him up when Gully Boy released and praised his performance. He’s part of a new generation of actors where there’s a lot of social media PDA and gossip columnists can no longer ride on rumors of feuds and such. How has fame changed him, then? “I’m not a fanboy anymore,” he says. When he comes across directors and producers who he’s worshiped as a boy, he’s respectful and in awe. But business is business. He says that he won’t take up a film now just because he is a fan of the actor/director/producer. The script has to do the talking.
Then, we get to talking about his poetry. What comes first—the picture or the poem? The picture mostly, he says. “I’m not a poet. My personality is, ‘Ok, he’s a thoughtful actor,’ but I don’t want to be known as a poet or a writer.” But has he ever thought of writing lyrics? Yes, he has. He’d written a few verses for his rap battles during Gully Boy. He even sang during the Rolling Stone India shoot. He does pick up his guitar and sing to himself but not as often as he’d like to. He loves Ed Sheeran and his vibe is a “mellow and indie” one. He’s close to finding a film that has a Sufi narrative to it and he tells me that in the future, he might even come out with an album. He wants to be known as an actor first and has pressed the snooze button on his musician dreams. Before his first film released, he contemplated releasing a rap song but didn’t want people to think that he was a rapper who had been cast in the movie.
“There’s so many things I want to do! Write a book of poetry, I want to write songs and perform them. I want to paint and have an exhibition. I haven’t even started yet,” he says with boyish excitement, rubbing his palms together and imagining the bright future he deserves. His manager pops her head in and I ask for two more minutes. I don’t have questions per se, but we are both enjoying the conversation a little too much. He talks about his parents and how he’d like to someday raise a child the way he has been raised.
The first time we’d met, he’d spoken about how he’s never had a former flame. It was hard to believe it till he told me that he’s only been in one relationship all his life and that he’s still dating this person. “It’s going good. Consistent. Always been consistent and it’ll always be consistent,” he says about his relationship. “I need that stability and balance in life. It’s very difficult for me to be a part of something that’s not serious. A serious emotional investment in a person anchors me. I can’t have 10 people on my side because that’s not me. I think I’ll lose my soul and my innocence if I do that,” he says. “The very essence of my poetry is that it’s true. I talk about love because I really believe in it. That one person being special rather than just fooling around,” he adds. So, fame hasn’t changed his idea of love? What about all the attention? “A lot of people have told me, ‘Oh, we’ll see what happens in the next two to three years.’ That scares me. It really scares me a lot because people have warned me about it.” Is this someone he sees himself having a future with? He bursts into a laugh. “Itne pyaar se tumne yeh question slide in kiya hai! Yeah, if I am with a person, I always think of that person siting on a bench or on Marine Drive and having our old-age conversations. I visualize the old face of the person I am with. I know it’s easy to get distracted and there’s so much DMing but yeah, I’m serious,” he says.
I have one last question for him—can he describe a scene from his imagined future to me? Of course, he can. Siddhant Chaturvedi sees himself acting alongside Amitabh Bachchan. That’s his future, not a future dream. And he sounds damn sure about it.
Siddhant Chaturvedi photographed for Rolling Stone India by Manasi Sawant
Wardrobe by Celio
Fashion Editor: Neelangana Vasudeva
Art Director: Tanvi Joel
Location Courtesy: The Little Door, Mumbai