Hankaar: The dark side of the web
Ujjwal Chopra, Rajesh Balwani and Ram Menon talk about their roles in Hungama's second original series, Hankaar
Hungama’s second original series, Hankaar, depicts a Mumbai that is ruled by a dreaded underworld don Z who ensures that every major criminal business in the city belongs to him. We speak with Ujjwal Chopra (Z, an underworld don), Rajesh Balwani (Pradeep, a real estate agent) and Ram Menon (Joy, a techie). The show is directed by Sanjay Bhatia, Ravi Iyer and Yogi Chopra, while Tarun Rajput serves as the creative director. Excerpts from a conversation with the actors:
How did you get on board?
Rajesh Balwani: I didn't audition for the part. I knew the directors, Ravi and Sanjay, even before we began work on this series. Hankaar doesn't have a conventional approach towards crime and I liked all the characters. Hence, I was interested to be a part of it.
Ujjwal Chopra: I have worked with Sanjay on several projects. We met at director Yogi's place when they pitched me Hankaar. I didn't understand a lot then but they insisted I will once shooting began. That is how I signed on to play my first negative character.
Ram Menon: Yogi knew me first through a film called Speechless that went viral. As an actor, I wanted to experiment from what I had done earlier and so chose Hankaar.
Could you elaborate about your respective roles?
RB: I play a broker, and wanted to play it in a simple and sweet way. Unlike the other characters, the conflict surrounding me is external, and so, I had to make sure I don't go overboard with emotions.
UC: My character does not express much and has to hide his true intentions. It is easily the most challenging role I have ever played.
RM: I play a hacker. Personally, I am somewhat tech-savvy but nowhere close to the level the character demanded. I managed to do some basic research about hacking and darknet and also learned from some friends. At the end of the day, however, what matters is only the emotions. The audience won’t measure my performance with my computer skills.
What differences have you experienced in working for television as opposed to films?
RB: When it comes to TV serials, it is absolutely fine to give 60-70% as we are constantly running against time. I don't have the liberty to reshoot and my first take has to be my best. Also people don't pause and judge me for each and every single expression, unlike in cinema.
UC: The way we shot Hankaar was very different from Padmaavat. A director like Sanjay Leela Bhansaali is particular about everything. Even if I move my eyes a tad more than I should, he will ask why I did so. Web series gives you a lot of freedom despite us shooting in real locations amongst real people. On the other hand, we shot Padmaavat in a controlled environment and we had to maintain pin-drop silence.
RM: Cinema is about continuity, because the story isn't shot chronologically. You have to play it subtly. I guess I would say it’s the same with web series too. So it wasn’t really a big change for me.
What is your takeaway from having been part of Hankaar?
RB: Working with Hankaar reminded me of my time in Swades. I liked the integrity that was present throughout.
UC: The way we have shot Hankaar is very realistic and engaging.
RM: I interacted with the green screen a lot and was thrilled when a real character joined me. The roles were so well-written that I was jealous of other roles too.
How do you see stepping between all three mediums?
RB: I've worked across in almost all mediums of entertainment. All that matters is the integrity. Irrespective of whether it's a commercial or an art film or any other production, all I look for is the sincerity of the maker and whether they are giving their best. I'd rather work in an ad than a film without integrity.
UC: I think it is a very neccessary change. At one point Amitabh started doing TV shows with Kaun Banega Crorepati and Anil Kapoor followed with 24. Now a whole bunch of stars like Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin and Irrfan Khan have started to work in web series. I think it gives a bigger platform and is available across the globe. But for a film to reach the audience it has to be released in a theatre near them. I think an actor has to keep himself updated to survive in the industry.
I never look at a web series as a downgrade. There is a whole new audience who are unaware of television and watching the series. The whole film industry will start moving towards the web and we are going to have web stars in the future. For instance Sumeet Vyas, is a star in the web and has a lot of fan following.
RM: Personally, I feel the web series creates content that caters to me as an audience. Paying 600 bucks to watch a big star's film in the theatre might not be possible for everyone. But I can happily catch my favourite show whenever I like and on the go. One can do a lot more on the web than the cinema.
Do you think the domination of web series would decrease the headcount in the theatre?
RB: When television was first introduced everyone thought that since entertainment was now available in the home, why would one go to the theatre? They also thought that radio would die. There would always be certain stories that can be told better on cinema than on the web and vice versa. For example, if I have a story which demands a ten hour run-time and I cannot shrink it into a film, I definitely have to make it into a web series. Fast-paced thrillers with shorter run time will always works better as cinema.
Since there is lot of money involved in marketing cinema, it will definitely continue to draw audience towards the theatres. Entertainment will always find a way to reinvent itself. The same happened with cricket. It began with a Test match, then ODIs and now T20s. Each form has got its own set of audience. While the older generation prefers Test matches, this generation's kids love T20.
UC: I don't think so. Just like how Gangs of Wasseypur increased the bar for films, these web series will definitely increase competition among the filmmakers. Films are made at a different level, they have songs in them and cater to a different set of audience. Going to a theatre with the family is a charm and nobody from my generation would sacrifice that.
Is censorship necessary for web series?
RB: As an individual, I don't think there should be censorship on the web. Since theatre and TV already have censorship, there should be one medium for the creators to express themselves without any restrictions. If child security is the only priority, the parents can always install child lock software.
At the same time, I don't support the usage of foul language and graphic sex scenes when it is irrelevant to the story. Hankaar does have verbal abuses at places, but am completely fine with my 12-year-old son seeing it.
UC: I happened to see a couple of web series recently. They were really gruesome and cheap. It would be great if filmmakers choose to make films which are made in a presentable manner.
RM: Personally, I don't think censors should trim scenes even for films. It is only a board established to categorise films based on audience. But if you're going to make a third-rate product taking advantage of the lack of censors, your work will die naturally. As an actor, I feel that either nudity or violence should be completely justified in a script and if that's not the case, I'm definitely not gonna take my clothes off.
Have you watched any South Indian films?
RB: I'm crazy about Tamil films. I love the heroes who send henchmen flying in the air with a single kick. I would love to play an antagonist in a Tamil film in the future. I played Raavan in Emami ad for several years. I know mouthing longer dialogues would be a challenge but am totally game for it.
UC: An actor shouldn't have any linguistic boundaries. I've already worked in the Malayalam film Take Off. I would take it up as a challenge.