In Chandan Roy Sanyal’s digital début, Hawa Badle Hassu, the 39-year-old actor plays the titular character, an autowallah from Uttar Pradesh who has one passion: the environment. The series, which releases today, starts like a slice-of-life story about Hassu’s travels through the streets of Mumbai in a foliage-decorated auto rickshaw (one that runs on compressed natural gas rather than diesel). While ferrying passengers around, Hassu talks to them about air pollution and climate change — seemingly nonchalant exchanges that pave the way for a more supernatural twist as the show develops.
The Kaminey actor, who gained much acclaim for his portrayal of Mikhail in the Shahid Kapoor-starrer, shares a few details about getting into character: learning the UP accent from a coach, and figuring out how to ride a rickshaw in a span of two weeks, practising before daybreak in the streets of Versova. Is he worried that the environmental activism in the web series might come across too strongly? He doesn’t mind that. “I thought it would be interesting to do an entertainment-based show about the environment,” he responds. “Kind of like a kids’ show on a cartoon channel, with a message going out to the public.” And Hassu is a man after his own heart, always up for a good chat with anybody. “He thinks he can change the world by driving his auto, talking to a lot of people and giving a message.”
Roy Sanyal, who holds a mathematics degree from Delhi University, came to cinema through the stage (“theatre has always been my love, but right now, I’m married to cinema”). He credits it for his work ethic and acting skills, and for assuaging the existential angst that plagued him as a 19-year-old college student. “I used to question everything, I was angry,” he says, about his pre-acting days. “When I found theatre by accident, it gave me happiness, peace and the answers to all my existential questions.” Delving into Greek and Roman plays, watching local productions — all of this opened up a new world that helped him form his personality.
The motivation to work in Kaminey and to make the leap to cinema (after a cameo in the 2006 film, Rang de Basanti, was edited out) was prompted by the opprtunity to work with director Vishal Bhardwaj. “I never realised the film would become famous, or give me a lot more work,” he says. All he did was approach it like he would a stage role, researching extensively and preparing as much as he could.
View from his nest
Even though he is widely recognised for being a sincere and versatile actor, Roy Sanyal is aware that he is yet to have his ‘big’ break in Bollywood. And he is completely fine with that, even if he likens the uncertainty of his life right now to ‘being on a bicycle in a narrow road’. “My work has never stopped coming, and I may not be a huge movie star, but I am happy with my little nest,” he laughs, adding that there is a special charm about experiencing success a little later in one’s professional career. “By then, you’ve gained a lot of wisdom and maturity on how to deal with it. When you’re young and famous, you don’t exactly get time to hone your artistic skills: you stop reading, you stop travelling.”
To fledgling actors who might be frustrated about making a mark in an industry dominated by legacy families and overnight stars, he says: hang in there. He believes acting is like gathering ingredients for a recipe. “You get to cook it really well when you have all the spices, which takes time. You’re a master of spices,” laughs the actor, who will be seen next in Jabariya Jodi, the Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra-starrer releasing in July.
Hawa Badle Hassu is streaming on SonyLiv.