Delhi boy Suraj Sharma attained global fame playing the Lead in Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi. He is now all poised for an innings in Bollywood, playing the lead with Anushka Sharma in Phillauri. The affable actor who now resides in New York to study filmmaking, talks about his aspirations.
Q. Suraj, how has life changed since Life Of Pi?
Suraj Sharma: Life has changed completely since Life Of Pi. I really didn’t have any sense of direction back then. I was a lost cause. A lost kid. Ang Lee and Pi anchored my life. It’s ironical that they anchored my life when all I did in the film was bob aimlessly all over the water (laughs).
Q. It happens, when you are that young...
Suraj Sharma: Right. That kind of success and recognition takes its toll on your relationships. Kuch dost chut jaate hain peeche. Luckily, I have some friends who have been with me all through my journey. Some of friends from age 12 are still with me. Then there is my brother Sriharsh. He’s also an actor, doing theatre. I am jealous of him.
Q. After stealing Life Of Pi from him why are you jealous?
Suraj Sharma: Ha ha. That’s true. He was supposed to audition for Life Of Pi. I was the kid brother who had tagged along…. I am jealous of him because he gets to go on these epic adventures. He has cycled 2,000 kilometers from Delhi to Hampi. Now he is raising money for cycles to children to go to school. I am proud of him. I hope he’s proud of me.
Q. Where do you live now?
Suraj Sharma: I am studying filmmaking in New York. I am there for four years. I am here in India for just a few days. When I am in NY I miss my friends and family so much. I won’t be here for the release of Phillauri. It’s a very depressing thought.
Q. Back in 2012 when I interviewed you, you said to me that you were not sure you could act. Are you more confident now?
Suraj Sharma: I am still not sure I can act! Koshish karta hoon (I try). If one is put in a situation,one has to act, no? Luckily for me I’ve managed to find the right people to work with. They make it seem as if I am doing a good job.
Q. What took you 5 years to get from Hollywood to Bollywood?
Suraj Sharma: Ha! I was only trying to focus on my school education, trying to complete my studies and doing films during my holidays. Nothing really panned out in Bollywood. Either there were scheduling issues, or I didn’t really like the roles being offered here, so I looked towards the West. Luckily I got some really good offers there after Life Of Pi.
Q. You did three films and series (Homeland).
Suraj Sharma: I did have a problem after Life Of Pi. Iss ke baad karun toh kya karoon main (what should I do after that?). That was pretty scary. I was lucky . Something or the other turned up that kept me going. But of course, being an Indian actor I wanted to do a Bollywood film. Finally, when Phillauri was offered to me, I knew this was it. It was just beautiful.
Q. You do seem to fit in the role of the befuddled NRI?
Suraj Sharma: I haven’t seen the film yet. But I enjoyed shooting the film with Anushka. Ab dekhte hain aage kya hota hai. I am as nervous and excited as I was before the release of Life Of Pi, although I now have a number of films and a television series under my belt. I still feel I am just beginning this journey.
Q. Do you feel Life Of Pi will hang around your career’s neck as an unreachable benchmark?
Suraj Sharma: No, you have to take that leap. You can’t be stuck in one place. I’ve attempted roles in films like Million Dollar Arm and Umrika which have taken me away from Pi. So, here I am taking another leap (chuckles).
Q. Are you positioning yourself as global actor?
Suraj Sharma: I am. I am trying to straddle India and America. Maybe it is too much aspiration to carry around. Lekin kya karen bhagwan ki dua hai.
Q. Being the producer, was Anushka Sharma bossy?
Suraj Sharma: Anushka is a superstar. Before we started working I was apprehensive. How will she like me? What would it be like to work with her? Lekin sets par aisa kuch hua hi nahin. She is super-sporting. Anushka had a super-tough role. She had to be dangling from the ceiling playing the ghost. She was so cool and natural doing such things. And she responds every minuscule expression on my face, tit for tat.
Q. In Phillauri how was it working with a director so far removed from Ang Lee ?
Suraj Sharma: When I got the script I immediately felt it was beautiful. But I wondered how (director) Anshai Lal sir would execute it. When we talked, we really gelled well together. His way of narrating the script convinced me that we’d be creating something special. As we shot, I also discovered that he was extremely collaborative. Whether it is the actors or the technicians, Anshai sir is super-collaborative.
Q. You earlier told me you want to be a director more than an actor. Is that still the priority?
Suraj Sharma: Ab toh mera kya hai ki, main pehle ek actor hoon. But yes , there is a director in me. During Life Of Pi, Ang Lee had told me to hold my horses as I was too young. I first needed to have stories to tell before I told them. One day I hope I will direct.
Q. Do you feel you belong to the brown circle of actors in America with Dev Patel, etc?
Suraj Sharma: I don’t know which circle I belong to. I have a problem with us Indians being considered actors of colour. Look at Sunny Pawar. He is so young and such a universal achiever. He has made all of us proud. His journey is very inspiring.
Q. What plans for the future?
Suraj Sharma: I want to move to LA after I complete my course in NY…just to test the waters. I guess I am now facing real life.