Had he not been an actor, Nakuul Mehta would have liked to be a sportsman. Fortunately for his legion of fans, he’s the much-loved Aditya of Pyaar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaara, Shivaay of Ishqbaaz, Ram Kapoor of Bade Achhe Lagte Hain 2 and Sumer of Never Kiss Your Best Friend 2.
Mehta’s journey began with a feature film debut. The 2008 film Haal-e-Dil fared poorly, but his decade-long journey on television, which began in 2012, has been more than satisfactory. Today, Mehta is focused on his mission statement: to be your mother’s favourite TV star.
With the release of the second season of Never Kiss Your Best Friend (Zee5), Mehta takes a look back at 10 years of being a TV star.
While 'Never Kiss…' is a young, breezy romcom, 'Bade Achhe…' is a more mature romance. What is it like being associated with both these shows?
What I find interesting about being able to traverse a mature love story on TV that is a character closer to my biological age, spaced out with a breezy no-lessons-given kind of romcom, is that it really does liberate me.
Television as a medium can be extremely gruelling for the cast and crew. The machinery goes on seven days a week. After a point, there is monotony because we are the same bunch of writers and the same actors and the shows don’t evolve with time. Those are the challenges of TV, which is in itself a world where you can get lost. The audience is huge, such that sometimes an artist can start believing in their own demi-god nature. Unlike OTT and films, TV audiences are very forgiving and loving. Even when we are not great at our jobs. But I need creative spurts, which I get with a show like Never Kiss or an audio outing or a short film.
As an actor, how do you interpret your characters, whether Sumer or Ram, especially when working on both simultaneously?
I was six months into shooting Bade Achhe when Never Kiss started, so I had found my feet. A month or two into a show, you find your sweet spot. Ram was more evolved and an older character, while Sumer is younger. So we did a lot of back and forth before we left for the London shoot. I would shoot for 10 days in London and then fly back to shoot for Bade Achhe. But once you take a flight, get there, get into hair and make up, get out of Ram's suit, put on clothes that you wear as Sumer and step out into London which has its own vibe and youthful energy, it all adds to the process. Also the shows are fairly in the same genre, with a lightness of being. The difference is in the pitch. Ram Kapoor on TV is pitched slightly more dramatically and Sumer would be as real and unrehearsed as he could be. That is the switch I have to be aware of at all times.
After a decade of being a working actor on television and now digital, do you still aspire to get into feature films?
Cross-pollination is happening very seamlessly nowadays. Many of my peers left TV to jump to film, but it is not an easy leap to make and to become a bankable star. I was clear of not losing the branding of being a TV star. I would rather look at projects that are interesting and those happen to be on TV or OTT. I take television very seriously. Growing up, I wanted to be in the movies. I tried, and the first one did not work out. It is hard for an outsider to figure out this journey.
TV happened at a point when I was tired of being an audition actor. I wanted to be a working actor and suddenly I realised the joy of being on a set every day, to give shape to a character that evolves with you, where you get daily feedback. So I stumbled upon TV and then soon good sense, some wisdom and education made me understand that what I look forward to in life is an audience that you can build credibility, a relationship and engagement with. Television threw me into stardom and opened up doors to hosting awards nights, a cricket based show and a reality show.
What would your 10-year report card say?
Very satisfied. In 2012 I was doing TV at a time when film was hard to come by. I wanted to be a working actor. Through the opportunities I garnered I have been able to find my voice and I have a much better understanding of the craft. You have to be very agile to be a television actor. So I feel I have grown a lot. We all have careers, but the question is have you been able to evolve, while maintaining sanity and not giving into the pressure of maintaining a lifestyle or having paparazzi follow you. For me, internal satisfaction is far greater than an airport look. I am proud of how I have been able to build my career, in this first leg at least.
Besides acting, you are also a producer and have put out a poetry special called #TooMuchDemocracy. How did that come to pass?
I have always seen myself as a citizen of this country who happens to be an actor. Though my greatest passion is sport, I am a better actor than sportsman. During the two years of lockdown we all went through a lot. Though I didn't know him, Sushant’s (Singh Rajput) passing away hit a nerve. It felt personal because we have all faced rejection, been lost and on the cusp of making difficult choices. And then everything else that was going on, from CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests, to lack of nuance in discussions and the ease with which the country can be divided based on religion, and the lockdown gave me the time to sit back, feel and address all of this. So the idea was not to make a poetry special but it was triggered by something a friend wrote after Sushant's passing. I put it on Twitter and the response was overwhelming. We then spoke of politics and my friend Ajay Singh suggested that maybe we can put out our voices, unfiltered and un-critiqued. Anyway the end of the world was coming. There was no vaccine and we were all experiencing deep feelings of anxiety and helplessness. These thoughts were borne out of those dark times.
Your Instagram bio reads ‘Your mother’s favourite TV star’. Isn’t that limiting?
Television makes me a part of homes every day and with that consistency, I become a habit, which is my sole mission as an artist. A digital show is in the news in a burst, for a couple of weeks, and then slowly savoured through the weeks. But a television show is daily. I am a habit, and that's what I love. My mission statement is to be in your home every day and be loved by your mother because if your mother loves me, inadvertently you have to watch me too. So I must make shows that are loved by mothers.