Akshaye Khanna: Newcomers today are more confident, fearless
Akshaye Khanna, Priyaank Sharma and Riva Kishan on kicking off the year with Sab Kushal Mangal, a triangular romance set in small-town India
The year’s first Hindi film introduced two new faces to the world. Karan Vishwanath Kashyap’s Sab Kushal Mangal, released on January 3, pitted Akshaye Khanna against newcomers Priyaank Sharma and Riva Kishan. Priyaank is the son of Padmini Kolhapure, while Riva is the daughter of Ravi Kishan. In the film, Akshaye’s character, Baba Bhandari, is a strongman who arranges forced marriages. He abducts a journalist named Pappu Mishra (Priyaank) and fixes his wedding with Mandira (Riva). It doesn’t go according to plan, and Pappu flees. Meanwhile, Baba Bhandari takes a shine to Mandira, unleashing a web of confusion in the fictional small-town of Karnalganj.
Priyaank grew up in the western suburbs of Mumbai. His mother was a big star through the seventies and eighties, later foraying into Marathi and Malayalam cinema. She was recently seen in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Panipat. Priyaank’s father, Pradeep Sharma, is a producer, while his aunts — Tejaswini Kolhapure and Shivangi Kapoor — are both actors. The family is also related on the maternal side to Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle.
“Hailing from an artistic family, I had an early inclination towards cinema,” says Priyaank. “After finishing school, I went to Lee Strasberg for a year. I minored in filmmaking and majored in acting. Post that, I returned to India and assisted Rajkumar Santoshi on Phata Poster Nikla Hero (2013).” It was during his assisting gig that Priyaank figured he wanted to act. He did workshops with coaches like Nadira Babbar and Neeraj Kabi. He also performed a play by Gulzar at Prithvi Theatre. “I kept auditioning and reading scripts all this while. I was offered an action film and another romantic drama before this. But when Sab Kushal Mangal came around, I knew this was it.”
For the part of Pappu Mishra, Priyaank went through clippings of regional TV anchors, studying their styles and mannerisms. “My character is a celebrity in a small-town, so he lives with a certain attitude. He acts annoyed when people approach him for selfies, but secretly, he enjoys it.” The actor says the character had the right mix of elements for him. “I have never been a genre guy. I love roles that blend everything: action, humour, emotions, heroism. I love the space of films like Sab Kushal Mangal and would surely return to it.”
Like Priyaank, Riva grew up close to the film world. She says she was inspired by her father, actor-politician Ravi Kishan, to learn acting professionally. “I grew up watching him work tirelessly across industries. It was my biggest motivation, but it also exposed me to the hard work and pain that goes into it.” Riva’s first acting experience was with Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre troupe. Afterwards, she moved to LA to learned acting and dancing. This was followed by more workshops in London. “I had just come back for holidays when I was told about the film offer. In a flash, I could see my London dreams shattering (laughs).”
Speaking about her character, Riva shares, “Mandira is a bubbly, fun-loving girl. She prefers to live by her choices, but is well-aware of family values. She’s a balanced girl with the right mix of innocence and spunk.” Sab Kushal Mangal was shot in Ranchi, Jharkhand — not a usual location for a Bollywood production. Riva says she fell in love with the city, especially its spicy street food. “Every day, after the shoot, I’d run out to try the chaat. It was just amazing. I’d feel guilty later on and immediately hit the gym.”
Akshaye — who started his career in 1997 and also hails from a film background — praises his co-stars for their professionalism. “Both Priyaank and Riva were well-prepared and confident about their craft. It wasn’t the case when I started out,” he says. “In those days, you had one new actor being introduced every two years. Last year, I guess there were some 20-30 debutants. Not all of them were from film families. So with that kind of competition, it’s difficult to put yourself out there, especially when you don’t fit the bill of a conventional, glamorous star.”
Akshaye says entering any form of public life in the social media age is courageous. “In today’s environment, when people can discard you in a second, it’s brave to offer yourself up for judgement. I am amazed at the conviction and fearlessness of kids today. They believe in themselves and are not running away from the world. It’s an obvious distinction between their generation and mine.”