Harish Khanna is currently on cloud nine as he has been receiving praises and appreciation for playing protagonist Manoj’s (played by Vikrant Massey) father in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 12th Fail.
In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Harish spoke about his experience with Vikrant Massey and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, his learnings and unlearnings and how he has handled the ups and downs in his acting career.
How are you feeling after seeing this kind of response for 12th Fail?
It feels like you’re on cloud 9. The amount of effort and prep that has been put into this film, I’m really so glad, so happy about it. People are liking the characters along with the film, which is so beautiful. And the movie business is also doing well in theatres. Because of word of mouth, people have started to go to watch this movie. The story inspires everyone. I think that’s the reason a lot of the audience is going there, which is nice. In the beginning, Ramveer, who is a father, compliments him in the temple that he won’t give up. He believes in that, don’t bow down to corruption. Here, Manoj is complimenting him. When he sees that Baba is losing hope somewhere, he gives him a positive energy. I really want to thank Vidhu Vinod Chopra sir for considering me for this very important part.
How was your experience with Vikrant?
He is such a humble person. I remember the day when I spoke to Vidhu sir. There was a video conference. Then after that I was called for a look test. We were there for almost 6-7 hours. He is such a humble person. With all his patience, with his all beautiful energy, we both had complemented each other. I was so lucky, I was so relaxed to meet such a beautiful person on set. And Vidhu sir, I remember the day, we were doing a test on October 3 2022. In that, we were doing the rehearsal. I don’t know what happened, but it went to a different level. Vidhu sir was so happy and to my surprise, he rewarded me at that time. He gave me some extra amount apart from the fee. It’s a blessing. And that’s because of Vikrant also. His positive energy was so strong, the camaraderie between the two was such that the scene came out so beautifully. He did non-stop. So, it’s a combination of Vidhu sir’s suggestions as well. Vidhu sir is an institution. His suggestion, in any situation, is so prepped that he acts like an eye-opener for you. That’s what I felt. He’s such a big director and he has so much aura. And he makes everyone so relaxed and he’s so democratic in a way. He gives space to an actor. Do what you want to try to do. Which is such a beautiful thing. So, we all became like a family when we were in Chambal. And we had such a good relationship with everyone.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra celebrates ‘12th Fail’ success; Vidya Balan, others attend the event

Recently, Vidhu said that actors like Vikrant should be a star and not those who make bodies in the gym. What’s your opinion on this?
Vikrant’s purity as an actor is so sincere. Everyone wants that. He is totally into his character. He brings the craft whether it’s emotional level or he has to play a child or he has to play IPS officer. But I would say he works in a very entertaining way. He lives the moment. And he is a star. He is a nice, beautiful human being. And he is a fantastic actor.

How did you bag this role?
It was last year. I think, in April-May. I had a video conference with Vidhu sir. So, it was a little love at first sight. Any actor has a dream to work with Vidhu sir. And for me, that dream, in a way, I would say, fulfilled. I would like to work with him more and learn from his guidance. When we talked in the conference, he didn’t show that he is such a big director. He made me feel relaxed. It’s like he knows you a long time back. He asked about my background. I did tell him everything. And he spoke in Punjabi. So, it started like this. After a month or so, I got this scene with Vikrant, like I mentioned earlier, to be prepared. I booked a place called Exotica, in Madh Island for 2 days to avoid getting distracted. During the look test, he had given me this kurta-pyjama. Then I did the scenes. I had some time. Then I went downstairs. Vidhu sir came and hugged me. Then he started giving more detailed suggestions. And I’m really thankful for those suggestions which made that scene so impactful.
There must have been some learning and unlearnings…
Yes, definitely. With every director I have worked be it Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Meera Nair, Tigmanshu Dhulia or Deepa Mehta. I have also worked with so many young directors who are doing independent cinema, with whom, I have started working a lot in the last few years. Because I was feeling that the kind of roles I have been offered, I was not able to add anything to the story. In that way, I had pulled myself back. This was my restart. I have 6-7 independent films to come. Some films have already traveled to international film festivals. They have won awards. One of them is God in the Balkans, which also played in MAMI and people were appreciating the film. So all directors have their own style. I think that’s very important to understand that space. Then things work out. A good relationship is formed between that actor and the director. Then you start enjoying it. From the last 8-9 years, I started doing independent cinema because they have good content. It gives you satisfaction as an actor on a different level.
With Anurag Kashyap, when I did Gangs Of Wasseypur, during discussion, I suggested that if my character’s words are removed, it will be more simple. Anurag was so happy with that. He removed my lines. So when this Yadav ji, the gun dealer comes in three scenes, he says it all with his expressions. Anurag has given me credit also, which is the beauty of him. He keeps everything for every actor. He gives space. It has now become a cult film and Yadav ji is remembered by everyone. I still get recognition.
How did your journey begin?
I stayed in Jammu. Both my parents have migrated from Lahore. My brother was born in Delhi, my sister in Bihar and I was born in Kota, Rajasthan. We went to Delhi from there. I did school in Delhi. Then for High School, we went to Jammu. There, I joined a theatre group called Natrang. After going there, I came to know that there is an institute called National School Of Drama where Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Annu Kapoor, Ashish Vidyarthi, all these people have passed from there. So one of my seniors was applying there and he also asked me to try. We filled out the form in 1989. But zero sessions happened and no one was interviewed that year. In 1990, they called us for the interview just by sending the application. We both went, I got selected but my senior’s name wasn’t listed in the results.
What was the turning point of your career?
I feel 12th Fail is like a restart for me. Just like the game of Snakes and Ladders, life also shows you its ups and downs. So, with me, I got critical acclaim for 7 Khoon Maaf. And working with Vishal is a different level of comfort. His personality is like that. He will not share anything but you prepare your character. And the day you go for the reading, you are very much there. His smile is so beautiful that you just fall in love with him. Unfortunately, that film didn’t do so well. But definitely, I benefited from that film. Then, the same kind of roles were being offered to me. But those were not adding to the story. I had to refuse many things. I was losing interest. So I had to step back and restart. Then I got Typewriter, Maharani season 1 where my character comes in 4-5 episodes. Then I did Jamtara season 2. So, in a way, it was a conscious decision to play different roles. And I am lucky that I am playing a variety of roles.

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