The world might have gone through an ocean of changes in the last decade but one thing that has remained more or less constant is your daily dose of Nakuul Mehta on prime time. The actor debuted in the television industry in 2012 as Aditya with the super hit show Pyar ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyara Pyara and quickly became a fixture in most homes that watched Hindi Television. Eleven years later, with his portrayal of the suave Ram Kapoor and other popular roles that came before, he has only succeeded in burrowing deeper into people’s hearts and making a permanent home there.
To decode this unusually long streak of success, his varied work portfolio, continued relevance and popularity, I went ahead and picked the brains of “your mother’s favourite star”. Nakuul is not your average show biz guy: Grounded in reality, and self-aware, he showcases impressive knowledge about everything under the sun, thanks to an inherently curious disposition. To top it all, armed with a self-deprecatory sense of humour, he makes any conversation with him a riot. As a result, I bring to you an enriching and entertaining conversation that touched on a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from being plagued with existential questions in a post-pandemic world to his plans of binge-watching the hugely popular Pakistani TV show Tere Bin. I did say a very wide spectrum, didn’t I?
TulikaD: You have completed a decade in the mainstream TV industry, still dominating prime time slots, delivering one popular role after another. What has changed for you and around you in these ten to twelve years?
Nakuul: A lot has changed in the world but for me, the inner change I have gone through is the biggest one. I feel I have evolved a lot as a person, through the prism of my own understanding. The larger picture and where we stand in the scheme of things as professionals or as human beings matter a lot more than before. My mind dabbles in new questions that never came to me back then. On one side, it amazes me when I see the scale of the impact some of my roles have on people, while on the other side, I can’t help but wonder if any of these things will matter twenty years down the line? I think I mentally strive for more meaningful work. Also, experience has given me perspective and I know more about the business. In many ways, this is very beneficial as it helps me in making informed /intentional choices but sometimes I do miss the little joys that existed when I was a rookie.
TulikaD: When you look back at yourself back in 2012, did you see yourself plotting such a long career in the industry? And while you have done everything under the sky, whether it’s OTT, satires, collaborations & plays, you have still managed to continue doing mainstream TV, which is known to be extremely gruelling because of the long hours and format. How do you sustain all this?
Nakuul: I was this wide-eyed extremely curious kid who knew very little when he started, so no, I did not see myself here. I never imagined I would still be relevant and would be able to expand my life in such a way as to make the choices I make now. On continuing TV, while it is true that it’s a demanding job with the threat of burnout always hanging in the air, I am happy with how I paced myself. There were well-thought-out breaks that permitted me to experiment with other mediums, hone my skills and spend quality time with my family. But it was very important to me to keep coming back. I respect this medium a lot because of the immense reach it gives you as an artist. Art is never made in isolation and the wider your reach is, the higher your impact can be. Having said that, it’s not been a cakewalk. Our TV industry is still dominated by women-oriented shows and finding roles that create value or purpose is a challenge. However, I have been patient and invested, and overall happy & satisfied with the shows I have done.
TulikaD: You are among a handful of artists in India who openly express their opinions on socio-political issues, keep in touch with current trends and come up with collaborations with people from diverse backgrounds. Is it in part at least, a careful strategy to stay continuously relevant?
Nakuul: You know I am an insanely curious person and my default answer to any experience coming my way is yes. I have to thank my parents for that because as a defence family, we never stayed at a place for more than a year so. I learnt very early to accept change and adapt to new things on the fly. Also being open and sensitive to things around me, including socio-political issues, has become a strength for me because as an artist I find different ways to engage with it, in turn creating things that people relate to. The end goal is never relevance, popularity or money. I am lucky that these are the byproducts of what I do but these things will never be factors that decide what I do or don’t. I am proud of the fact that I have been able to say true to who I am: an artist at heart. That’s why you don’t see me on dancing shows or stuck in a closed house, which are the conventional options to chase money or social currency.
TulikaD: Tell me about BALH 3. Why did you make this return to a show you quit?
Nakuul: BAHL 2 was hugely gratifying and so well received. I left because the show’s future writing did not align with my career path. But it was almost mystic when they came back with a fresh and most importantly finite version. For us, it’s a tribute to the BAHL2 audience for giving us so much love. During my break, I was touched by how many people approached me randomly wherever I was to tell me how upset they were and how they missed us (Disha & I)! This had never happened to me before. I find it so beautiful that people feel they have the ownership to approach me and even admonish me for leaving! So when the opportunity presented itself, I thought it was befitting to give them something to cheer about and remember me for.
TulikaD: That’s a beautiful way to look at things. While Bade is definitely one of your most popular roles, what is the one role that is your personal favourite, a role you enjoyed most as an actor?
Nakuul: It’s a tough choice to make although Ishqbaaz is something I consider a milestone because it made me a “star ” and gave me the wings to do so much more. Then again, PKD helped me gain that foot at the door and people still remember it fondly. But as an actor, the role I have personally most enjoyed playing is Ram. I felt much more in control of my craft and was able to do a lot more things with this role than usual. Even with a larger-than-life scheme of things in play, keeping Ram Kapoor real and close to the version I had in my head, was an experiment and I enjoyed it. In PKD and Ishqbaaz, I was still learning but with this role, I feel I have been able to put all those learnings to use, and I feel much more in command.
TulikaD: So when you are not acting, what are you watching? Your tweet about Tere Bin created quite a stir among fans. I am sure everyone wants to know if you started watching it yet?
Nakuul: I just started and I feel they are still setting up the story in the first few episodes. I am yet to create the bandwidth to get into it. I want to get straight to the hero and heroine as I have heard so much about them! I have been told things get going from episode 5 or 6 when the leads get more screen time, so I am looking forward to it. Honestly, I am super intrigued by the sensation this show has created all around! There’s got to be something special to attract this kind of love!
TulikaD: Of course it’s special and I would strongly recommend you to watch it. I was quite into it myself. Having said that the show is far from perfect and has some glaring flaws and logical lapses, but as you have been informed the leads carry it off beautifully.
Nakuul: I am then definitely looking forward to it…
TulikaD: Also this brings me to my next question which is about the perennial popularity of the male chauvinists on TV. As you admitted yourself it was Ishqbaaz’s Shivaay that made you a star in the true sense. There was a lot of noise around him being a toxic character. We just discussed Tere Bin, whose male lead, Murtasim, has also been called for the same reasons, yet again it is this role that turned Wahaj Ali (amazing work by the way) into an overnight sensation. Why do you think TV audiences love these men who they would not probably want to meet in real life?
Nakuul: Firstly I think on TV it’s foolhardy to call out a character toxic based on the initial episodes. Almost always there is an arc, which develops over 100s of episodes and builds the story. Shivaay definitely started out as an MCP and there were toxic traits but what the makers did with his arc was amazing. Having said that, it is true that popular culture has made “bad boys” an aspirational thing. You want to be someone with all these “cool” traits that movies and books have sold you as dreamy. This trope does work, whether it’s IPKKND or Ishqbaaz or now Tere Bin, but not always. It has to be true to its time, it has to be well-made and backed up with good acting. But at the end of the day you have to realise that these are fictional characters and the changes they go through in love are not always realistic!
TulikaD: You can say that again! Talking about the audience, as one of the rare actors who go out of the way to acknowledge the love from your fans, what keeps you so unjaded and grateful even after years of receiving this adulation? Whether it is organising an impromptu meet-up in London or doing a long post for a fan who travelled across the ocean to meet you, you don’t seem to take anything or anyone for granted.
Nakuul: I really don’t know. l am just constantly surprised at how deeply people react to someone who is just going out and doing his job. I feel grateful every day that I get to make someone’s life slightly better, whether it’s making them laugh through a low point in their life, or helping them through a trauma… I get goosebumps when people, in the flesh, meet me and explain how something I did just as part of my job, helped them through grief or gave them hope when they needed it. I value those interactions above everything because that’s the prime reason I work for. As actors, we get spoilt because there is so much love out there but it’s only natural to meet it back with as much love. All these interactions also enrich me professionally because I get to see first-hand what makes the audience tick, what makes them smile. I unconsciously use this understanding of human behaviour and channel it back into my work.
TulikaD: As a parting question, I wanted to touch on your mantra for happiness because you really seem to have aced it. Your life seems full with a fulfilling career, a lovely family, great friends and an attitude of gratefulness and contentment. What is the secret?
Nakuul: I would say two things have made all the difference for me: One is a sense of purpose: I was very lucky to find it very early on. Once you know what direction you want your life to take, the decisions come easy because they have to align with the larger purpose you have determined for yourself. Many walk through life without knowing they need a purpose and there are others who don’t know how to find it. The second crucial thing is to find the right life partner. Having the right person by your side makes navigating life easier because you get to share the problems and decisions. Life becomes much simpler. Even though I found professional success much later, because I could identify and find these two things early on, I had a clear advantage in terms of navigating life.
Written by Tulika Dubey