Actor Siddharth Arora has been around for over a decade doing a variety of television shows but he calls playing Mahadev in &TV’s Baal Shiv, a life-changing opportunity. Other than a chance to showcase his craft in a new light, the role also brings with it a soul-satisfying experience. Every time he dons the shiv-attire, an instant meditative phase ensues, which makes acting a spiritual experience.
This artist-cum-entrepreneur, who has a conventional small-town background with an MBA from Banaras Hindu University, always knew he wanted to act and persevered till he made it. Now, who doesn’t love a dreams-come-true story? So I caught up with him for what turned out to be a very interesting conversation.
We started with the most obvious question. Playing Mahadev post the Devon Ke Dev Mahadev era, in another Anirudh Pathak show. That has to be daunting! After all, Mahadev already has a universally accepted face now, thanks to Mohit Raina.
S.A: Well, the only request I made to the team around me when I went in for a look test, was for them to not mention the previous portrayals when I was there. I also refrained from watching DKDM. I wanted to create a bubble that would allow me to bring a completely fresh quality to Shiva. I was convinced I could do it if I gave it my honest effort. It also helped that my directors had a very clear picture of what they wanted and it was totally different from their previous venture.
D&D: How did creator Anirudh Pathak communicate what exactly he wanted and how was it different from his earlier vision?
S.A: Anirudh Pathak’s vision of Shiv is so comprehensive that no amount of words can capture it. And he ensures that the actor assimilates his vision completely even before the first shot. You will be surprised to hear the amount of training I had with him on a 1-1 basis for days that stretched beyond twelve hours. Every tiny detail about Shiv, whether it was his voice, his eyes, or his body was discussed thoroughly and listed down.
For example, we established multiple aspects just to get his voice right. The voice needed to communicate a smile. It had to have a healing aura combined with a power to instill peace. And above all, it needed to possess gravity, what we call thehrav in Hindi, that can ground you from within.
He has eyes that smile, even when his lips don’t. He has a face that is benevolent yet exudes the control he has over the universe.
We also did a comparison of what qualities and shortcomings I had against the qualities of Shiv that we were aiming to portray. I think that comprehensive study helped me blend my own personality with the character. This merger between the actor and the character is what has allowed, in my opinion, unique quality to this particular portrayal of Shiv. Both Anirudh Pathak and director Animesh Varma had a clear vision that this Shiv is above all, compassionate and kind. It has helped us create this particular version of Mahadev. We shot multiple times on phones, corrected postures, voice, and looks even before we started shooting.
D&D: This kind of boot camp training is unheard of. Have you experienced anything similar in your previous roles?
S.A: Never. The creators don’t generally want you to. But this was different. The passion was flowing from top to bottom; everyone from the channel head to the directors to the creatives, they all were deeply involved in the preparation and that helped me transmit their clearly defined vision on screen.
D&D: What preparations did you go through to get yourself ready for this role?
S.A: You know, initially, I was very reluctant to play this role. When I received the call for an audition, I told them they have got the wrong person. I have been born and brought up in Varanasi. You can imagine what Shiv is to me. He is everything: God, Mentor, Friend. I couldn’t dare touch Him! The reverence was too much to even think about it. But once on set, with the help of the team, I could see it was actually a blessing. Again Mr. Anirudh Pathak told me something very important: Prepare a lot, but while playing Shiva, do nothing. Just be. And that brought a very enduring calmness to my screen presence. For other characters, you find inspiration from the outside. For this role, you look within. It’s as simple as that. So the first prep was on the mental level: I can do this. And pranayams helped!
It goes without saying that physical preparation is an integral part of this role. It’s a fight that’s ongoing. I am still not there but a combination of weight training and the required diet is in process.
There’s also another level of preparation on the spiritual level. It’s a role that comes with a huge responsibility. The responsibility of keeping the respect intact is huge. And that’s why I approach this role spiritually. I feel the difference in my bones. I am not exaggerating when I say it’s changed me.
D&D: So a Benarasi lad born into a business family, with an MBA degree, goes on to become an actor. That has got to be an interesting story!
S.A: Oh I always wanted to be an actor. I was performing on stage and attending small workshops even when I was in school. But for a small-town guy, with no connections in the industry or even in Mumbai, going after acting as a profession was out of the question. So I had to find a more conventional route to reach the city. Initially, I wanted to pursue my MBA from Mumbai, but I ended up doing it at BHU. But God was on my side as I was selected for my on-the-job training in Mumbai. When the training was about to end and placements were to be announced, I went to Siddhi Vinayak temple and prayed hard that I should be offered a place in Mumbai. And I got it!
Eventually, after working full-time in a corporate for two years, but still managing to attend theatre and acting workshops at night, I quit and started auditioning for different production houses. That’s how the first show Mukti-Bandhan happened. The process was slow and there was a lot of hustle but I have been able to do good work past ten years.
D&D: Who is your biggest influence in this industry?
S.A: I had a very lucky opportunity to work with Chandraprakash Dwivedi ( best known for directing the 1991 TV show Chanakya and playing the titular role) for a mini-series produced for Loksabha TV. It’s not talked about a lot, but Surajya Sanhita was a show that made me grow both as a person and as an actor. Steeped in history, the show showcased different rulers in India from the Vedic period to the Harshvardhan period. For the sheer amount of learning I gained, just by being around him, my respect from Mr. Dwivedi knows no bounds. In fact, he told me something that resonated with me strongly and I practice it to date: Never make art your business. I totally get that. Sure, everyone needs money, but if you start acting for money, it’s the end of the artist. Keeping that in mind, I have also opened a boutique hotel business in Varanasi, which cushions me enough to not compromise on roles. I can be an artist at heart, thanks to my entrepreneurship on the side.
D&D: That’s fascinating. If my research is correct, the show was never broadcast without any explanation.
SA: Always disappointing for the people who work hard on a show, when it doesn’t reach the audience the way it’s supposed to. But the learning is never lost. I had a similar experience with Bahubali: Before the Beginning. The show was shelved after shooting for a year and a half. But these two projects remain dearest to me in many ways for my growth and learning.
D&D: Before I let you go, what’s the best part about an acting career, and what’s the worst?
S.A: Well, the acknowledgment, the applause, the love! No amount of money can replace that. And the worst part is that you might need to wait for years for that acknowledgment to come. Sometimes it may never come. That’s the irony but you toil on.
Photo Credit: Siddharth Arora