Those who saw him in the recently released Hindi film ‘Laila Majnu’ loathed him. And, Sumit Kaul is not complaining. His portrayal of the evil Ibban in director Sajid Ali’s contemporary retelling of the folklore has caught everybody’s attention. But, this is not the first time the actor is getting accolades for his acting prowess. Kaul has proved his mettle as an actor across different platforms and has amassed a lot of credibility as an actor in the past several years he has been acting. Here is an excerpt from an interview.
Was Ibban, the character you played in ‘Laila Majnu’, based on some character from the original folklore which the film is based on?
Even I am not familiar with the basic folklore but like most people, I was abreast of the fact that in the folklore, Laila and Majnu were two lovers who were not allowed to be together by their families. Both of them finally found each other in death. Several Hindi films like ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’, ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ have been based on a similar premise. But, I feel our film touches upon a few more things. In this film, we are talking about depression which is such a topical thing. According to the doctors, Kaes or Majnu (Avinash Tiwary) is depressed but he does not feel so. He has literally lost himself in love. The world sees him as a mad person but he has actually found the true meaning of his life. It sounds a little weird and most people will probably understand this when they watch the film a couple of times. In a film, that speaks about romance and love, the couple hug only twice. Majnu has realised that he does not need Laila’s presence to complete him. He sees her everywhere and feels her presence even she is not around him.
As the film is set in Kashmir, one would have expected the film to explore the socio-political climate of the place. A lot of people expressed disappointment at the fact the film does not make any comment on the same. What are your thoughts on this?
I think exploring that part would have unnecessarily deviated the film from its main plot. Kashmir, as a place, has its own drama. It is a politically charged state and a lot of films have explored that aspect in the past. However, Sajid’s (Ali, director) intention was not to bring the political or social disturbances in Kashmir to the fore. He wanted to make a love story and it is commendable that he has done that without getting into all those aspects which would have taken the film in a different direction. If you go to a place like Palestine, you will see kids playing around normally. Though the country is going through a lot of issues, the citizens are trying to make the best of their lives within that space. It is not like there are bomb blasts taking place in Kashmir every day. When you visit the place, you will realise it is very different from the way it is portrayed by the media. ‘Laila Majnu’ is a film that celebrates the love between two people. Had Sajid talked about politics and a lot of other things attached to it, it would have corrupted the basic story.
What kind of brief did Sajid give you for your role?
I remember Sajid told me once that Ibban was his favourite character in the film. The film was being written for a while and he had contemplated playing the role himself at one point of time. Ibban comes from a very humble background but he was very ambitious. His moral fibre is very weak. He can go to any extent to get what he wants to. He is very street-smart but not necessarily intelligent. He has no class or dignity and does not know how to speak to a woman. It was a difficult character to play as I am nothing like him. Some people, who met me after watching the trial show, spoke to me and told me that they were pleasantly surprised to see that I am a well-mannered person (laughs).
Apart from films, you have done a lot of work on television. You have played a variety of roles, including that of the father of a twenty-year old man. Does that mean you are not image conscious and are willing to step out of your comfort zone to play a gamut of characters?
Yes, I consider myself lucky to have been offered a wide variety of roles over a short period of time. I had never done comedy when Vishal (Bhardwaj) sir offered me ‘Haider’. I played this slimy man who was a huge Salman Khan fan and was willing to sell his soul to the police and give up on his friend so that he could further his career as a police spy. I played a Greek prince in ‘Ashoka’, then I played a transvestite character in ‘Siya Ke Ram’. After that, somebody cast me as a suave RAW agent. The audience also saw me playing Aurangzeb’s son in a TV show. I played a terrorist in Anubhav Sinha’s ‘Mulk’. I have often wondered what gives all the directors I have worked with the confidence that I can pull of any role with ease. The last seven characters I have played, in particular, are poles apart from each other.
How did your journey as an actor start?
I started off by doing theatre in Mumbai. I was a part of Nadira Babbar’s theatre group Ekjute for four years. There came a time when I realised that acting is no longer a passion for me and I want to pursue it seriously as a profession. I had got married by then. I did not want to play the waiting game and wait for films to happen. I decided that I will take up any acting job that I get. Television was a big boon for me. It gave me regular work and I got the opportunity to play a variety of roles. There was a lull period in between when I wondered whether I should continue with this profession or not. Somebody suggested that I should do voiceovers. It has been ten years since I have been doing voice-overs. I have done voice-overs for several shows on Discovery and National Geographic, animation series and Hollywood films.
What are you doing next?
I have voiced for one of the characters in the Hindi version of the Hollywood film ‘The Predator’ which releases this week. There is a film coming up which is based on the alter-ego of Spider-Man. I have dubbed for the main antagonist in the film in Hindi. I have a television show running on Star Plus called ‘Nazar’. I am in talks with somebody for a web-series. Hopefully, after watching “Laila Majnu’ people will be more interested in offering me films. For me, the medium is not the priority. I just want to do good work consistently.