Ankur Rathee is no new name to the world of entertainment. While he has made many women swoon over his good looks (sorry Anuja!), he has also made sure that filmmakers take notice of his craft. In an exclusive interview with PeepingMoon.com, Ankur spoke about the birth of the artist within him, his journey from acting classes at Princeton University to facing the arc lights on film sets, dealing with rejections and growing a thick skin and exploring more opportunities in Bollywood and Hollywood.
'An actor was born while doing theatre & taking acting classes at Princeton University'
Ankur, who has been in the industry for quite some time now, recalled the time when the actor in him was born. He said, "When I was at Princeton University was when I did my first acting class. I had done musical theater before that and a bunch of school plays. When I was studying there, I got involved in theater and I took acting classes there. That was the first time I got introduced to the craft of acting. Before that, I had done roles but it was just learning lines and delivering them to the best capacity. When I learnt acting and the craftsmanship behind it and the different techniques that you can use, that’s when I felt like the whole world opened up. I could analyze scenes, could do scene studies and make more intelligent decisions. In my final year at Princeton University, when I got involved in theater classes, I played the role of Billy from the musical Chicago. Theater and acting classes got me so excited that the actor in me specifically was born there. The performer in me was born when I was a young boy in college."
'Rejection is a weekly occurrence if not a daily one'
Talking exclusively about his journey from Princeton University to Bollywood, Ankur said it wasn't an easy one. He added, "It shouldn’t be (easy). The profession we have chosen is a difficult one. Not in terms of what we do as artists but what we endure in terms of rejection. It is a world where rejection is at least a weekly occurrence if not a daily one. You have to grow a very thick skin. You have to create your own opportunities and take care of your mental health and have a very strong sense of purpose, drive and relentless ambition. That gets tested all the time."
He further shared, "Moving from New York City to Mumbai was huge and it presented a big challenge for me. At that time, I didn’t know anybody in Mumbai. Trying to navigate this career in India was quite a challenge. That’s just a career challenge, as an artist, you have different challenges. Humari kala kaafi nazuk hai. Acting has a unique approach and is more about becoming aware of yourself. It is a bit of spiritual practice and takes a mental toll on a person."
'Film with Nawazuddin Siddiqui got shelved a day before it went on floors'
Talking about facing rejection, Ankur said, "There's a long list of films." Narrating an incident, he shared, "I was supposed to do a film with Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He was signed to play the lead role. I had around 25 days of work with him. It was a decent role and I was very young, I had just started my career in India. Maybe I was just 2 years old in the fraternity. It was a big deal to get a film back then and OTT wasn't a phenomenon and to get a meaty role opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui was a huge thing. It was encouraging. I remember auditioning for the role, doing look tests, readings with the actors and signing the contract. I even celebrated the fact that I got a chance to do the film. I had to learn cricket for the film so I started training too. Just a day before the shoot, I got a call that the film was canned. It had nothing to do with me but it felt like a huge punch in the stomach. You have expectations and hope of becoming the next big thing. Thanks to the upbringing my parents gave me and the support of my spiritual guru, when the call came, I told myself, “Koi baat nahi. Someone was willing to put money on you in the first place and that’s a victory. It’s okay if the film didn’t get made. All that matters is you booked the role. If you booked the role, that means you can book it again. Even in those losses, you have to find victories. If you just focus on the final outcome, this will be a lonely and sad business. Actors suffer from depression, and low self-esteem and I have been through that in various phases and it can get down on yourself. I felt in that phase, ‘Film toh nahi bani lekin kisine yakeen toh kiya mujhpe. The film didn’t get made for reasons out of my control. Interestingly, within a week or so, I booked the lead role in Samaira (Marathi film) which was released this year on August 26."
'Pandemic didn't affect me professionally, but artistically'
When asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic was hard on him professionally, Ankur told, "Professionally, not so much because everyone had to hit pause. It wasn’t like main peeche reh gaya aur baaki aage nikal gaye. Hum sab peeche reh gaye. Artistically yes, I felt many of us became stagnant. Actors are like instruments. Agar aap instruments ko play nahi karoge toh woh out of tune ho jayenge. My colleagues and I suffered from that but we found creative ways to create content for social media."
'Willing to do something in Hollywood too'
While Indian actors are taking the flight to Hollywood, Ankur also aspires to go global. He said, "I have a manager in Hollywood now and have auditioned frequently. The manager is from the same management that manages Viola Davis. I am in good company. When the right opportunity strikes, I am willing to do something there as well."