Knowing Naveen

If you don’t have an appetite for OTT family drama or horrendous nagin-sagas, chances are you’ve already moved on from cable television to YouTube channels for a fresh new genre of entertainment – the web series.

So here we have Naveen Kasturia – unarguably the most recognisable home-grown web series star after his lead performance in the superhit TVF Pitchers – talking about his career choices and what it’s like to have gained the kind of popularity enviable by many mainstream actors.

Also, he is amazingly chilled out for someone this well known!

(Who is hotter? Coffee or Naveen?)

How and why did you shift your career trajectory from engineering to the entertainment industry?

“I was always interested in films, but I never had any plans of entering the film industry. Even after engineering I worked at a corporate house. I think studying engineering is the most conventional path to follow when one is from a middle class family – you end up taking science despite an interest in other things. By the time you realise what you want to do in life you are already done with your graduation.

I was actually into theatre, and I did plays but I got bored. I was just trying my luck when I moved to Mumbai. I wanted to be an assistant director to understand the process of movie-making so I could perhaps utilise this knowledge at a later point to make my own production.”

How did you get initiated into the film industry?

“My first break in Raksha Mistry and Hasnain S Hyderabadwala directed Jashnn (2014)- they had made Killer and Train with Emraan Hashmi before that. I was working in JPMorgan Chase in Mumbai when I got the number to this production house while randomly going to different offices. Unlike other production houses who weren’t entertaining me, Vishesh Films did. I ended up at the right place at the right time probably, so that’s how I started.“

I’ve heard you really wanted to work with Dibakar Banerjee. How did you get a break with him?

“During the shoot of Jashnn I met an actor who was in Khosla ka Ghosla – Dibakar’s only film to have released back then. He gave me Dibakar’s producer’s number, who I later met, but they were not looking for an assistant director at that time. I stayed in touch with them nonetheless, and I was a little persuasive – I visited their office again and again. He was not working on any film at that time; he was working on advertisements. In six months he started to work on LSD and I got lucky. I appeared for the interviews a few times before I was selected as a trainee. They wanted someone with more experience for an assistant director.”

(Still Naveen)

You have worked with Oscar winner Danis Tanovic in Tigers (2014) as well. How different are the styles of the two film makers when it comes to making a movie?

“Dibakar was very methodical. Although everybody improvises, majority of his work would be predetermined. Danis on the other hand would improvise a lot, there would be a translator with him all the time (Danis is Bosnian, and the movie was largely in hindi) who would try to bridge the language divide. He went on set comparably unprepared – or at least that’s what I felt. He might have had things sorted out in his head but as an assistant directed I had no idea of any of it. They would discuss the shots on set, and a lot of things would be changed. I really wanted to work with him – his No Man’s Land took home the Oscar the year we were all rooting for Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan.”

(A still from Emraan Hashmi starrer, “Tigers”) 

Whose style is closer to yours?

“I don’t think I really have a style! I think I’m a little scared of going unprepared on set, a lot can go wrong there… when I do get to make movies (which I hope I will) I will also prepare beforehand, I relate more with how Dibakar did things. Danis might have been too experienced and knew how to handle situations better. I remember one time when I was pitching my own script and I shot a promo, I did a ten day recce (visiting a site to see its suitability for filming) for it; even for a 2 second shot I did a rehearsal with my actors on location.”

“when I do get to make movies I will also prepare beforehand, I relate more with how Dibakar did things”

Sulemani Keeda earned a lot of critical acclaim but it wasn’t a commercial success. What could have been done differently to make it one?

“I’m quite proud of this movie. Although it was actually quite commercial in the sense that it was about love, passion, and dreams – a lot of people could have related with the film – it didn’t have any known names at that time. It might have been a bigger commercial success were it promoted it a different, better way… we didn’t have the required capital to go full blown into advertising, in fact there wasn’t a single hoarding in the entire country, and it was released on only 40 screens. We were very happy that whoever reviewed it – be it Anupama Chopra or Rajeev Masand – had good things to say about it.”

(Poster for “Sulemani Keeda” released in 2014)

How did you come across Arunabh (the man behind TVF Pitchers)?

“It happened during the lull period between my two projects – Jashnn, and Love Sex aur Dhokha. I had read Arunabh’s interview in a newspaper; he was planning to make a movie. Also, his academic background was similar to mine, which heightened my interest in the project. I got in touch with his office to assist him on his film, but that movie never happened. We did stay in touch, however, and when he decided to make the sketch called Rowdies, he thought of casting me as Ranvijay. I was slated to work in Sulemani Keeda at that time, so he knew about my interest in acting.”

TVF Pitchers has made you the SRK of web series. How does that feel?

“Haha, I don’t think it’s fair to say that… I’ve been in just one web series till now. But I’m glad I’m getting recognition because of the show. It’s a new medium and there aren’t a lot of people here, also it is followed by a section of people who are more active on the internet.

I haven’t worked in any web series since TVF Pitchers, really… my next project of the sort will be season 2 of the show.”

(A still from TVF Pitchers)

You must be getting approached by fans every time you step out…

“I happens occasionally when I travel, a girl might just scream out my name in a flight, confusing others around her who have no clue about who I am. It happens in Bombay as well, especially when I go to colleges where I know the show is very popular. I live in Andheri West and this place is teeming with well known faces anyway, so no one really comes up to me here. It’s generally when I step out of this area that people single me out.”

Does it get annoying?

“No, it is definitely not annoying. Initially it used to be awkward, but I’m getting used to it now, and I get through the situation by saying a “thank you” to those who ask for a photograph with me. I also try to look more presentable now, even in casual clothes.”

Which is the most awkward encounter that you can remember?

“There was this one time when I was constantly sneezing in a washroom at an airport and a man recognised me, and he wouldn’t stop staring. It was so uncomfortable to be stared at in a loo!”

Were you flooded with movie offers after the success of Pitches?

“Some scripts did come my way, but not too many. Once again that’s an outcome of being popular in a certain section only. I have worked in two movies, one is called Apke Kamre mein koi rehta hai which also has Suneet Vyas and Swara Bhaskar, and the other is called Kuch Umeedein Aisi which stars Naseeruddin Shah and Sonali Kulkarni. All of these are works of new production houses, and new directors. I’ll start shooting for another movie in a month in Ahmedabad as well.”

(the cast of “Apke kamre mein koi rehta hai”)

So, movies or web series?

“I’m cool with doing just web shows, as long as I’m happy with the stories. At times scripts for movies are offered but I don’t like the role. While I am looking to work in movies more as of now, I basically am happy as long as I’m busy.”

Do you plan to revive your first venture, Right Click Entertainment?

“I would love to! At times when I talk to my mother I tell her that when I have my own production house she will play the EP in my movie (laughs). Right Click Entertainment was something that I started with my college friends; we had produced only one big budget play, which was a huge deal for us. Our main focus was to make plays; if I produce movies in future, I don’t think I’ll name the company Right Click entertainment.”

-by Zaiceka Ahmed

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