Actor Sohum Shah says his Bheema Bharti in the latest web series Maharani is the most “massy” character he’s played till date. “I wanted to do such a role for a long time,” he shared. The political drama stars Huma Qureshi in the title role, while Sohum plays her onscreen husband and the chief minister of Bihar. Maharani is currently streaming on SonyLIV.
“When I came to Mumbai, I wanted to make Punjabi music videos and I believe whoever will see me in that, will say there’s a Shah Rukh Khan inside him. So, when I got the chance to do something massy after such a long time, I grabbed it,” Sohum said in an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com.
Sohum, who’s also acted and produced projects like Ship of Theseus and Tumbbad, got candid about getting into the role of a politician, comparisons with Lalu Prasad and whether he is really picky about the projects he signs.
Can I start by saying, you are the ‘Maharaja’ of this Maharani? Let’s talk about your experience.
Yes, you can definitely call me the Maharaja! (Laughs) I belong to a small town where we’ve grown up watching larger-than-life characters. And the work I’ve done so far, say Ship of Theseus or Tumbbad, has been for niche audience. Every artiste wants his work to reach maximum audience, and that became possible for me in this project. Also, my family and friends always wanted to see me doing such a role. They are enjoying the most.
What are the traits one needs to adopt to play a politician? Is there any method to it, or you just need to believe in the ideology of your character?
Every actor has his process. I saw several videos of Bihari politicians like Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. When I was reading the script, I wasn’t sure how I’ll get into the part. But the slogan from the show “Jel ke taale tootenge, Bheema babu chhootenge” became my route to it. A day before my shoot in Bhopal, I recalled this line at least hundred times in my mind. The moment I did that, I felt the character inside me. My process was to crack that psychology. That’s how I got his mannerism right. I loved playing this character.
A politician is not a doctor or engineer who needs a qualification. He’s just one among the masses who gets elected. So, how did you crack that psychology?
That psychology is very intuitive. You cannot deconstruct or study it. It’s inside you, what you’ve experienced in life. Bheema must’ve seen there’s lack of equality around and people belonging to a certain caste don’t get to express themselves. That gap is common in India. I’ve seen it since I also belong to a humble background. Grabbing such nuances was easier for me.
When you see characters closely in life, they become easier to portray, and you should avoid doing much preparation for them. Then Subhash Kapoor’s being on set helped me to get the language right, the situation right.
Did you expect the audience to draw parallels between Bheema Bharti and Lalu Prasad?
In India, we are so aware about three things – politics, cinema and cricket. I did expect comparisons with Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi because whenever you create a story around politics, people will create comparisons. But there’s nothing like that in the series. It’s a fictional story. I was given the freedom to play Bheema Bharti as I wanted to. I’ve not tried to copy Lalu ji or take inspiration anywhere. Neither has Huma Qureshi done that for Rabri Devi.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot in Maharani?
The scene where I go to my village and Huma scolds me was the most difficult for me. There’s another scene which isn’t in the series, where on our wedding night, I tell Huma “wah ek aur Waheeda Rehman Bihar mein bhi.” We shot a small montage with that, but I was feeling so conscious and Huma was laughing all through. Production wise, the most difficult one was when I’m shot. We had to shoot at a certain time in the evening with several artistes. The coordination of action was challenging and there was a lot of chaos in that scene.
How was it shooting with some great actors in Maharani like Huma Qureshi, Amit Sial and Vineet Kumar?
It was amazing working with all of them. This show has actors with a rich journey. That experience of getting to know each other off camera is the best part. Even Subhash Kapoor (creator) has amazing stories to share from his life. Also, it is exciting for me to discover a city. For example I visited Bhopal for this show’s shoot. I might not have gone there otherwise. I found it so beautiful.
What’s that one best thing you are taking away from Maharani?
We made Tumbbad in 7 years, shot it in 2012, got released in 2018. We starting shooting Maharani in November 2020 and it’s out by May 2021. Tumbbad took seven years, Maharani took seven months to shoot, edit and release. It was surprising for me because whatever I make takes a lot of time.
You take your time to sign projects. Why are you so picky?
I’m not at all picky. I’ll explain. I haven’t been to NSD or done any theatre. So people don’t get the confidence in my acting. Secondly, the kind of characters I’ve done cannot be repeated anywhere, be it Navin from Ship of Theseus or Vinayak from Tumbbad. Producers are unable to understand where to fit me in their story. They also think since I’m a producer too, I might have tantrums. They have doubts if I’ll arrive on time and be disciplined towards my craft. All the work I got has been through personal relationships.
Can you elaborate more on the personal relationships part?
I did a screen test for Byomkesh Bakshi because Dibakar Banerjee loved Ship of Theseus. Though it couldn’t materialise, but casting director Honey Trehan saw that and offered me Talvar. I met Subhash Kapoor at the National Awards, when I received one for Ship of Theseus and he got for Jolly LLB. He always thought of me like an intellectual man. When he got to know I belong to Ganganagar, that’s where we found our desi connection. But, despite that he didn’t call me directly, but through Mukesh Chhabra for Maharani. He wasn’t sure if I’ll be interested in a small part. I think people have all these apprehensions about me.
Do you agree that audience today has become more open to your kind of unique projects?
Audience is definitely bored of formula films. People in my hometown have watched Scam 1992. When we were growing up there, the town had six single screens with 2000 capacity which remained houseful. But the multiplex culture couldn’t reach small towns. So, the audience got cut from cinema. OTT gave them a freedom to explore content at the touch of a button. Because of OTT a new category of audience has emerged. Also, their taste changed too. As travelling to Europe has become easy now, audience is going back to homegrown plots and importance of real stories have increased.
Have male actors become better open to female-led stories today?
This was bound to happen and I’m glad lines are blurring. As an actor all that should matter is the role. For me Bheema Bharti is a great role, even if less screen time. Female led or not doesn’t matter. I’m here to act. And all the new actors come with this thought process. Today, most projects have an ensemble cast and which actor grabs limelight is a surprise.
Finally, what’s the update on Tumbbad 2?
We are working on 3-4 ideas. Whenever we start writing a screenplay, the idea doesn’t impress. When I can take seven years to make the first one, I’m in no hurry to make Tumbbad 2. I’m waiting to crack the right story. The plan to make a sequel or prequel was since we were still working on the first one and not because it worked. It’s characters are so rich, it’s a world in itself. But nothing concrete has been locked.