The Avinash Tiwary interview: From being a junior artiste in a Karan Johar film to becoming his leading man in Ghost Stories

Anish Mohanty

Avinash Tiwary was studying engineering when he realised his heart lied in acting. This realisation marked the beginning of a journey which started with doing theatre with theatre veteran Om Katare’s group Yatri. That was followed by acting in two Doordarshan shows – ‘Bikhri Aas Nikhri Preet’ and ‘Ek Aangan Ke Ho Gaye Do’ – directed by Lekh Tandon, playing the antagonist to Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Yudh’ and several popular TV commercials. He made his film debut with ‘Tu Hai Mera Sunday’ (2016) and then, played the lead role in ‘Laila Majnu’ (2018). In this exclusive interview, he talks about being directed by Karan Johar in Netflix’s ‘Ghost Stories’, dropping out of engineering, being a part of the remake of the English film ‘The Girl On The Train’, acting in the genre-bending ‘Bulbul’,  being misquoted while talking about an issue, why he still feels like an outsider and more.

A lot of the work you had done in the past, be it the TV show ‘Yudh’ or films like ‘Tu Hai Mera Sunday’ and ‘Laila Majnu’ did not find an audience for themselves upon their immediate release. ‘Ghost Stories’ reached out to a lot of people as soon as it came out and is still being discovered by a lot of people.

I really had no clue about the response the show was getting when it first started streaming on Netflix. It is not like I was bombarded with messages. With theatrical releases, things happen suddenly. You get to know in a day or two whether the film is being liked by the audience or not. As far as digital content is concerned, people take their own time. All the four filmmakers try to do something experimental – something which they could, perhaps, not done in the cinematic space. I am happy to be a part of it.

It is a clichéd question but one has to ask – how was it working with Karan Johar?

He is an amazing person to work with. I think people do not give him enough credit as a filmmaker. During the shoot, he told me how he wanted to become a filmmaker but his father did not want him to as he had seen a lot of failures as a producer. There have been very few actors who have got the opportunity to be the leading man in Karan Johar’s films. I feel fortunate to be a part of that small tribe. I was studying acting NYFA in Los Angeles. I got a casting call from the casting team. They were looking for people to be a part of the crowd for a sequence in the film. I was a part of that crowd, so technically I worked as a junior artiste on Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. I was paid 105 dollars for it. From doing that to working with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Yudh’ to being directed by Karan Johar in ‘Ghost Stories’, it has been a long journey.

You also got to wear clothes designed by Manish Malhotra.

Yes, that happened too. I had not really interacted with Manish before or during the shoot of the film. After watching the film, he sent me a message stating that he liked my performance.

You will be seen again in a horror space with ‘Bulbul’, the digital film, produced by Anushka and Karnesh Sharma’s company Clean Slate Films, which is about to stream on Netflix sometime this year.

Actually, it is very difficult to describe the film. It has an interesting mix of genres. I was talking to Anvita (Dutt, director) one day as to how do we describe this film It is a fantasy period family drama with a tinge of horror. We have finally started making genre-bending films in India. I was talking to Anvita (Dutt, director) one day as to how do we describe this film. I have not seen the film but I am hopeful people will like it.

You recently shot for the Hindi remake of ‘The Girl On The Train’. You will be reprising Justin Theroux’s role in it.

Yes, shooting the film was a very good experience. The original film was a slow-burner. I did not enjoy the film as much I liked reading the book. Ribhu (Dasgupta) has handled the drama in the film very well and it has been made keeping the Indian audience’s sensibilities in mind.

You had earlier worked with Ribhu Dasgupta on ‘Yudh’.

Yes, that’s right.

You recently said in an interview that your parents are still slightly upset you not finishing your engineering course.

Yes, my mom keeps telling me I should have at least finished the course and got a degree (laughs). It remains an unfulfilled dream for her. There is a lot of hard work involved in studying engineering and I guess I was not ready to work that hard at that time.

There is a lot of hard work involved in acting too.

Yes but unfortunately a lot of people do not realise that. Acting is still not considered to be something which needs to be studied and worked upon.

You said in an interview ‘if I have a better way of living in another country, I will definitely go and live there’. That was quite a controversial thing to say.

I never expected that to be the headline of the article. The whole conversation started with the topic of nationalism. We all love our country and I am very much a patriot. There are times, when our friends and relatives move to a different country for better career opportunities and  a better lifestyle. We do not judge them for that, right? It was said in that context. My father read the article and was very upset. A lot of other people must have read it out of context too. I stand by most of the things I said in that interview.  

You have been vocal about social issues in the past.

I am not very vocal about very social issue. I am not someone who stands up against all the wrong things that are happening in the society. But, there are certain things which affect you on a personal level. I respect those who do not wish to speak up about issues but if I really want to talk about a certain thing, I will.  

You started your acting career with theatre in 2003 after you dropped out of engineering. Now, that you have so many important projects lined up, do you feel you are in a more secure space?

No, I do not feel so. This is a very fickle industry and I am aware of the fact that I am in a very unstable profession. Today, you have work and tomorrow you might not have any work. Then, you might get a call and things might change again. I hope I manage to sustain myself as an actor for a long time. The goal is to keep working for the next 30-35 years. I have worked with the likes of Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor but I still feel like an outsider. I feel I have a long way to go before I will be accepted whole-heartedly by the industry.

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