Exclusive: Every time a role is awarded to an actor based on their surname, we further weaken our meritocracy - 'Thappad' actor Ankur Rathee


Ankur Rathee is gradually making his space in the film and web industry with socially relevant projects. An Indian-American actor and dancer, Ankur is best known for his roles in the Amazon Prime series Four More Shots Please (2019), Zoya Akhtar's Made in Heaven (2019), Thappad (2020) and Undekhi (2020). 

Talking about his film Thappad receiving a certain amount of disapproval despite being a critically acclaimed film, Ankur is sure about one thing - "If you find my work 'unnecessary', you should hit pause and stop watching it." In an exclusive chat with PeepingMoon. Ankur candidly talks about the showbiz's 'unfair and unkind' practices, selecting socially relevant roles and wedding plans with fiance Anuja Joshi. 

Excerpts from the interview: 

You are mostly seen in socially relevant roles. Has the decision been purposeful?

 I can’t claim that this pattern was purposeful, but I’m a firm believer that we attract what we put out in the world. The social inequalities that my work focuses on are issues that I’ve always been passionate about. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to artistically contribute to this fight for equality.

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Is it difficult to leave an impact with your acting when you're a supporting actor? 

When choosing a role I always ask myself, “Will my take on this character uniquely impact the story telling than if some other actor played the role?” If I feel any artist can play this role and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, then I don’t do it. So it’s not about how big the role is, but rather what the character’s scope is in the larger context of the film. For example, in Thappad I had multiple scenes with few lines, but I knew that my individual plotline with Swati, played by Naila Grewal, portrayed a unique perspective on the film’s themes of questioning sexism and gender normative behavior. I knew I could have an impact because the character was written to have an impact. As actors we can play a lot with what we’re given, but we cannot fight the script.

When Thappad released, people called it an 'unnecessary film'. How did you deal with such comments?

 I would ask that critic to look closely at the women in their life and tell me whether society genuinely treats men and women equally. I would implore the critic to have deeper conversations with those women to understand their perspectives and ask THEM whether their stories are unnecessary or not. Thappad aside, I think anyone who finds my work “unnecessary” should hit pause and stop watching it. I don’t expect my films to resonate with everyone.

Your show Undekhi received a good response. Is Season 2 on the cards?

Thank You. I can’t speak to when and if Season 2 will start shooting, but I hope audiences continue to see more and more of themselves in the characters on screen. I think cinema can be a great vehicle for social change if we can make what the characters are going through relatable to viewers. Very few people might find themselves in this world of crime and murder like Daman, but many know what it’s like to be caught in between their family and their wife, for example. Others will know the moral dilemma of trying to protect their family even when they’re in the wrong. I hope this next season leaves audiences with even more conflicted opinions about the morality of these characters.

You recently said playing Daman in Undekhi helped you see a lot of the advantages of the unfair system but have you been through any unfair behaviour in the showbiz?

I feel like this question is secretly asking my stance on nepotism (laughs). Showbiz can be both unfair and unkind, and must be combatted with perseverance and fortitude. Every time a role is awarded to an actor not based on their talent, but instead on their surname, their fan following, a sexual transaction, or some other factor unrelated to their ability to do justice to that role, we further weaken our meritocracy. A broken meritocracy negatively impacts any actor whose primary asset is their craftsmanship. 

One can expect new age roles from you. What next?

 I recently finished shooting films for Bejoy Nambiar and Kavi Raz. Next year I’m making my debut in Marathi cinema with the film Nirmal En Route. I’m also very excited to have joined the third season of a popular Amazon Prime franchise. Currently, I’m shooting with Nagesh Kukunoor on something. 

You recently announced your engagement to longtime girlfriend Anuja Joshi. Wedding on cards?

Right now, Anuja (Joshi) and I are just enjoying being engaged. I’ve never had a fiancé before and the coming together of these two families has been so much fun. We both have a new set of parents and siblings now! Unfortunately, it seems futile to plan a wedding date when the world is undergoing so much uncertainty.