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“I have learnt to be true to my grain” – Amman Uppal

In the last many years that Amman Uppal has been active as an actor, he has been a part of several reputed theatre productions. While his on-screen work has been limited, he plans to change that now. Despite playing a handful of characters in films and shows over the years, the actor has left a mark by bringing each of those characters alive on the screen with utmost sincerity and honesty.

When you speak to Amman, you realize he has profound thoughts on most things that make up the world we live in. His intelligence and sharp understanding of the world around him reflect in his acting endeavours. After participating in a long conversation with this astute individual, you realize your have evolved as a person owing to all that you learnt while speaking to him.

In this interview, Amman talks about his recently released Amazon Mini TV series ‘Hustlers’, journey as an actor, learnings from theatre, working across different mediums, why voicing one’s opinion is a good thing, relationship with social media, upcoming projects and more.

It has been a month since ‘Hustlers’ released. What is the kind of response you have been getting on the show and your performance?

The response to ‘Hustlers’ has been very encouraging. Ever since the show released on Amazon Mini TV, I have been getting a lot of messages and DMs on social media. I have been going through the reviews as well. People have spoken well of the various elements in the show and that’s what makes me happy.

“Welcome to the world of start-ups” – this is the line we hear your character say in the trailer of ‘Hustlers’. What is the kind of journey you went through while working on this series?

In the show, I played a Dhoni to a Virat. He is somebody who finds a lot of promise in a new talent and decides to help and guide them find their calling. I also happen to be in the same setup and environment as the character and that greatly helped me portray it. I had a very fun journey on this show. I enjoyed working with Vishal (Vashishtha), Samir (Kochhar), Anjali (Barot) and the entire crew tremendously. Harsh (Dedhia), who has directed the show, is extremely talented. Enjoying your working days can be your biggest takeaway from being a part of any project and that’s what happened with this one.

We often talk about how India has not produced many companies that have registered a presence globally. For the longest time, parents would dissuade their children from exploring entrepreneurship and would implore them to take up jobs. One has witnessed a shift in that mindset in the recent times.  

Exactly! That’s why I say that ‘Hustlers’ is a very topical series. There is a particular reason why India was churning out a lesser number of entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur has to take risks. There is no assurance of a fixed monthly income. You might not earn a single penny for months and could hit jackpot after ten years. Our risk appetite, as nation, had come down. From being a very rich nation, we became a very poor country because of colonisation. The only area where we used to take some risk was farming. The stock boom happened in 2005 and that’s when the country started seeing a lot of money coming in. That also brought a behavioural shift in people. Now, parents have become a little more supportive as they are more secure in their head about their own earnings.

In a lot of ways, the journey of an entrepreneur and artist are similar. While an entrepreneur tries to set up a successful business, an artist tries to earn a livelihood through their art. Both kinds deal with a lot of risk and there is no assurance of a fixed monthly income.

That’s right! It is often said that only 5-6% of people in India pay tax. The truth is that everybody pays tax. When a beggar buys a paan masala sachet that costs five rupees, he is paying for the tax levied on that product. Income tax is paid by very few people. Salaried people are expected to pay income tax as they are in a secure position. Risk taking is incentivised in that manner. A business owner or an entrepreneur does not pay income tax as they don’t know what their income in a particular month or period will be. There is no sense of security involved there. During the Covid-19 situation, business owners were suffering from massive losses. However, salaried people continued to get paid.

You recently added an extra ‘M’ in your name. Aman is now spelt as Amman. What has been your relationship with numerology?

On social media, some people make groups of people who share the same name. A couple of years back, a lot of ‘Aman Uppal’ groups were made on different platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I took my dad’s initials and added a ‘V’ in between. However, that didn’t help things either. A while back, I was introducing myself to someone and ended up pronouncing my name as ‘Amman’. The person joked and said, “with a double M?”. That’s when I thought I could add an extra ‘M’ to my name.

Was numerology involved in this?

That’s for me to know and you to find out (laughs). There is science in numerology and astrology as well. We tend to have a very limited understanding of these things. That’s why we do not believe in them. These are complex sciences. It’s not empirical science where you do something and find an evidence of it quickly.

You grew up in Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. You studied in Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. You wanted to pursue further studies in Delhi University but ended up coming to Mumbai to do college.

After finishing school, I applied for a few colleges and got admission in each of them. I had done two-three theatre productions with a Delhi based director called Stephen Marazzi. In Mumbai, I had applied only in two colleges, St. Xavier’s College and Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics. I distinctively remember my meeting with Stephen. He took me to watch ‘Spider Man’ and then, we went to Nirula’s. He told me that if I wanted to pursue acting, I should go to Mumbai and not Delhi. He also told me not to swear by theatre only as that will leave me broke (laughs). I studied commerce in twelfth grade and did very well. However, I had not taken mathematics as one of my subjects and therefore, I couldn’t get Economics Honours in Delhi University. In Mumbai, there was an option to decide your Majors in the third year. That way, I could have pursued economics and pursue acting as well.

How did you get interested in acting?

I had started writing poetry in school. So, there was always a creative keeda in me (laughs). When I was in the ninth grade, I participated in a theatre workshop that was organized in my school. It was a 15-day long workshop organized by Mr. Vijay Mathur, the HOD of Dramatics of Rajasthan University. During this workshop, I discovered my passion for acting. Initially, you can’t tell your parents as it was not considered to be a feasible career option. At that time, I was also very passionate about joining the army. My father is an ex-army officer. I was in school when the Kargil war took place. My parents asked me to do my graduation and then, decide what I want to do in life.

There was a time when you worked as a light designer.  

Yes, I worked as a light designer in theatre. Back in the day, I did a lot of different things in the creative space. I worked for World Space as a radio presented for a bit. I used to host a sports show for them. After that, I also produced content for another radio production house. I started getting some writing jobs around that time.

You worked as a writer on many TV serials.

 I had a keen interest in writing from a very young age. A friend of mine from college needed to get something written. I helped him out and that led me towards doing a few other projects with him. Around the same time, I used to experiment with handicam. I was sharing an apartment with a friend whose elder brother worked with a lot of TV channels. He recommended my name to this production house called Big Synergy. I wrote a sample episode for them. They really liked it. I worked with them for a while on a show called ‘Champ’. I wrote the dialogues for the show. A writer friend of mine then moved to Indonesia where TV shows, similar to Indian soap operas were huge. He started outsourcing some work to me and that helped me sustain myself during that period.

Which was your first acting job for the screen?

I had shot for a film called ‘Bloody D’ which was supposed to be my first release. Unfortunately, that film never released. I had some good memories of shooting for the film. We shot most of the film in Kashmir. Though it never released in theatres, it was aired on a local cable network in the UK. Yash Raj Films’ ‘Mardaani’ turned out to be my first release.

What is the kind of struggle you went through as an actor?

Like most other actors, I went through my fair share of struggle. I was constantly doing theatre, so that kept the actor in me alive. There were a couple of close calls for big breaks. Before ‘Bloody D’ happened, a representative of a major production house had seen my work in the theatre space. They offered me a film and I spent months preparing for it. However, it didn’t take off. When you are very young, the excitement of youth carries you. After a point, the pain of struggle hits you. When you start doing more work, your expectations from you become bigger. When I came to Mumbai, I fell in love with the city. Everybody was busy with their lives and minded their own business. The pace of life in Mumbai left me fascinated.

You worked with prominent theatre companies like Akvarious Productions.

Yes, I had a long association with Akvarious Productions. Aarambh, Arpana and QTP are some of the other theatre production companies I have worked with extensively. I wanted to work with different groups and learn different things from them. My endeavour was to be available to anybody who wanted to cast me. In the last few years, the casting process has changed completely.

Now, casting agencies have come into the picture. Do you think casting directors, too, end up stereotyping actors at times?

Once an actor becomes commercially successful, they start visualising them in different parts. Otherwise, they go by their natural fit. That’s when stereotyping happens. Ranveer Singh, I believe, is one of the most versatile actors of our times. The combination of him being a very good actor and a saleable face leads him towards varied opportunities which many actors might not get.

You have been quite vocal about your social and political views. Do you think having an opinion builds an artist’s character?

Always does. Acting is pouring your empathetic side into your personality. To do that, you need to have a view about life. While you could choose not to be vocal about me, you should have some clarity in your mind about different issues and incidents.

Unlike most actors today, you are not very active on social media.

I have learnt to be true to my grain. Social media doesn’t attract me as much. When a project is on the verge of a release, I become active. I have no aversion to social media but it does not fascinate me. I do appreciate the fact that social media has given different people with different outlooks the opportunity to express themselves. We should celebrate diversity.

You stepped into the digital space with ‘Cheers’. After that, you went on to do shows like ‘Only For Singles’ and ‘Dev DD’. How was your experience of exploring the digital space?

It was good but I haven’t reached the stage where it is happily interesting for me. I want to be on the set at least 200 days a year. I wish to play diverse characters as an actor. Once I was called to test for a web series. I realized the tonality of the character was quite similar to the one I played in ‘Mardaani’. I decided not to do it as I don’t like to repeat myself as an actor.

Out of all the characters you have played so far, which is the one that is closest to your heart?

Every character is close to my heart simply because I put my heart into everything I do. In the year 2007, I played George in a play named ‘Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. It was a very challenging role for me to play at that point of time. There were a lot of complexities in the character.

One of the interesting projects you worked on in the recent years has been ‘In Between’. It was directed by Chandan Roy Sanyal and was neither a film nor a play.

Yes! ‘In Between’ was a beautiful experiment which was partly a result of the Covid-19 situation. Just before the first wave of Covid-19 hit us, we started rehearsing for a classic play by Harold Pinto called ‘The Dumb Waiter’. We could not perform it as all the theatres were shut. During this time, Chandan came up with the concept which revolved around the Covid-19 crisis and the vaccine being designed for it. It was a very unique experiment where we go to play around with different elements.

Another innovative project you worked on was ‘Time Please’, a cineplay which is streaming on Zee5.

Cineplay is a unique setup where they take scripts of theatre productions they like, get the original cast on board and then, they shoot these stories with multiple angles instead of one wide angle. We rehearse for it and the shoot takes place over a period of 3-5 days. Plays are not recorded and therefore, you have to visit a theatre to watch them. Cineplays are designed to expose the audiences to plays while sitting at their home. This concept took off 7-8 years back when Zee showed an interest in it. Zee Theatre has done a good job of popularising it.

A while back, you worked on the play ‘Kumbh Katha’ directed by Trishla Patel.

‘Kumbh Katha’ happens to be a fictitious story directed by Trishla Patel. This play was first staged 11-11 years back. Trishla wanted to revive it with the original cast, which I was not a part of. Somehow, this play came my way and I became a part of it. We brainstormed a lot of things. While it was important to retain the essence of the play, she gave us the freedom to interpret certain things a little differently. Trishla liked some of my inputs and cast me after making certain structural changes to the character I had to portray. The play discusses the concept of Samudra Manthan. It talks about how the responsibility to make the world a better place rests on the shoulders of the youth.

What is that one important thing that theatre taught you?

It taught me two important things, sanity and riyaaz. You are working and using your faculties constantly. You will find different ways to work on a scene when you collaborate with a bunch of people.

What, according to you, are the qualities an actor needs to have?

I think an actor needs to have three important qualities. Firstly, they should have an interesting outlook on life. How you perceive life and deal with it makes a huge difference. If you have a good support system in the form of your family members and friends, it will help you tremendously. An actor should not be fearful. Even if you are going through a very dark phase, you should learn to embrace it.

You have dabbled in writing and acting. Do you plan to direct a film someday?

I have a few stories in my mind. I am a collaborative person. I am scared of writing alone. I need a bouncing board while working on a creative process. There are four ideas which I think have some potential. Sometimes, I make notes on my phone. I need to build the discipline to sit and write. If I have a collaborator I can connect with, I think we should be able to come up with something interesting.

When I was in the third of my college, I directed a play. I have trained as an assistant director on films and plays. I like to get as involved with a project as I can as it enables me to learn several things. I hope to write and direct a film someday. Apart from having the right script, I also want to have adequate resources at my disposal. I have seen people putting together projects with limited resources. While I respect their passion and intent, I wouldn’t want anybody to work for free. 

Those who have followed your work over the years might want to see you more frequently on the screen.

I also want to see myself more frequently on the screen (laughs). Money can find you a way to not to be worried about your existence and that’s why it is important. However, I lead a fairly prudent life and therefore, I am able to make some of the tougher choices and say no to projects or parts that do not excite me. If I get more interesting choices, people would see me doing more work. There have been occasions when certain interesting parts came my way but things didn’t work out for some reason. That’s the nature of the business. Now, I am making a conscious effort to do more screen work.

Various factors have played a role in me doing a limited amount of work till now. There are times when a production house has to choose between two actors for a part. The lesser talented or skilled actor might get the part if he has a stronger commercial standing. What I need is that one role which makes me commercially feasible enough for producers and platforms to consider me for certain parts that are not coming my way at the moment. If they get enamoured by a very successful product I am a part of, the game would change for me.

What are you doing next?

I have done a cameo for a film that is being directed by Pankaj Sawant. Pankaj was an assistant director on my first film. Satyajeet Dubey plays the lead in the film. I am working on something else which shall be announced soon.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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