This director saw Jackie Chan in Abhimanyu

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Bhagyashree’s son Abhimanyu Dassani made an unconventional Bollywood debut with Vasan Bala’s ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ in 2019. The film received positive reviews and many accolades. Today, as the film marks two years of release, ETimes got in touch with the actor for an exclusive interview where he opened up about his experience, memories, and appreciation he received for the movie. Excerpts…

‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ completes two years this month. How do you look back at it now?
I look back at it with fondness. It has been two years since ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ released and now that theatres are reopening and films are releasing, I see a lot of names that worked with me on the film, doing big movies. ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ was the first film for many people associated with the film and they are all doing well now.

Although it was a very unconventional debut, it was perfect for you. Wouldn’t you agree?
It was an extremely difficult character to play, not only for a debutant but for any actor, for that matter. It was about a rare disease that not many have heard or encountered before. I had to learn martial arts and body language right from the start. The only people my character spoke to were his father and grandfather inside the house. So, when he goes out, he doesn’t know etiquette or social behaviour. There were many layers to this character. It was about how he feels all emotions for the first time and how he still believes in his stories and goes after what he wants. It was a very intricately written character. I learnt a lot from it and I am so glad that I did it for my first film.

Was it the kind of debut you had wished for?
Not at all. I like to approach a movie with curiosity, not with expectations. I like to go with the flow instead of caging everything in a box before I know what it is. I didn’t have any expectations as to what my first film will be like. I am just happy and grateful to get this opportunity. It was after years of auditioning, scouting, and reading that I finally felt connected to a character like this.

How did you come on board for the movie?
Vasan Bala sir told me that he believed in me and that made me believe in myself. Once this conversation happened then I was prepared for come what may.

How was it working with Vasan Bala?
He was one of the reasons why I dove into this project. He was more than a director and mentor; he is a friend. Even if something happens at 4 in the morning, I know that he is there for me and I am very grateful to him. There are so many things that you get to learn from Vasan sir. If I put in even one or two per cent of what he has given me, I would be a completely changed person. I will become a better version of myself.

The film garnered a lot of appreciation and accolades for you. Did you anticipate it?
No, I never anticipated that the film would receive so many accolades. However, when we were shooting for the film, we had a lot of fun. Everyone bonded well on the sets and we were all working towards the betterment of the script and film. It was a very selfless set. We felt that if we are feeling so good about making it, it would definitely turn out to be good. However, we didn’t expect that the audience would love it to such an extent.

What was the best compliment that you received for it?
In Macau, when I was getting an award for ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ from renowned director Mabel Cheung, she told me she sees a young Jackie Chan in me, just before presenting me with the award. Just having my name mentioned in the same sentence as Jackie Chan, made my day.

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What was your mother’s reaction when she first saw the film?
My mother was very happy when she first saw the film. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged me and told me how proud she was of me. Mom also said that she was glad that I believed in myself and did what I wanted to do. I always wanted to make my family proud and I am glad that my efforts paid off.

How was Radhika Madan as a co-star?
We signed the movie in 2016 and it went on floors by the end of 2017. We had a lot of time to prep up for our roles and connect with our characters. We used to train in martial arts together, and interacted a lot before the film even started. She is extremely talented and has so many years of TV behind her. For a newcomer like me, it was great learning from someone who has been there and done that.

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Any anecdotes from the sets that you’d like to share…
It was an amazing experience, overall. I feel like I have been spoiled by the compassion and understanding of the director and the stylist, who worked closely with me. We are all good friends now. It is great for a newcomer to have someone who guides them. I loved working with Mahesh Manjrekar sir; we shared an altogether different bond. I used to go touch his feet on the sets first and then later, crack jokes on him. Even in the film, the chemistry between Surya and his ajoba is amazing; he looked up to his grandfather. Even today, when people talk to me about ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’, I can’t help but smile as all amazing memories come flooding in.

Did the baggage of being a star kid ever bother you during the entire film?
No, I never felt like a star kid on the sets. Before this movie, nobody even knew my name.

Before the release of your second film, the pandemic struck. Do you think things have changed now?
I think your strategy has to keep changing. During this pandemic, some people could take advantage of it, both personally or professionally, and some couldn’t because they were going through a lot of things. I think the biggest thing that I learned during the pandemic was patience. I am grateful for the blessings. It took me 10 years to get my first film out; I can wait for one year for the second one. I am looking forward to theatres reopening. There is a line-up of some big movies coming up and I am looking forward to watching them in the theatres. Even I have ‘Nikamma’, ‘Aankh Micholi’ and ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’ coming up and I am very excited for them all.

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