Every time Amit Sial would think of giving up and returning home to Kanpur, God would send him a sign. In 2010, after six years of being in Mumbai, it was LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, where he played a somewhat sleazy journalist. “It was like a supreme power wanted me to persist. It was like divine intervention,” he says. In 2015, it was Titli, Kanu Behl’s dysfunctional family drama. “One day, I talked to God and told him if you can’t make me a leading man, or give a good part, at least make me the worst villain in the country,” he said. And so it was in 2017, he got the part of cynical off-spinner Devender Mishra in Amazon Prime Video’s web series, Inside Edge, where he emptied out all his angst. “When I read the script, it was like I was reading about myself,” he says. “It was a cathartic experience. The director and writer just let me do my thing,” he recalls. After that, there was no looking back for Sial who first discovered theatre at Sheiling House School, Kanpur. He played Naarad Muni—“I was always attracted to playing naughty,” he says now. He then spent a few years in Delhi, where he studied at the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and did theatre with Barry John. From lighting to sound to acting, he learnt almost all aspects of theatre with him. Family pressure ensured he went to Melbourne to study international business in 1997, but upon his return, while he was working with an uncle, a chance meeting with a friend, Rahul Pulkeshi, from his theatre days sparked off the old fire. “I realised there was always a void inside me. I would pick up a job, my interest would fade away. When I hit upon acting again, I realised this is what I want to do, even if I die of starvation,” he says. By 2004, he was in Mumbai, trying to be in the movies. It was tough. But Inside Edge finally transformed his life, even if it somewhat typecast him as the shifty guy, whether in a policeman’s khaki or a politician’s khadi. The 47-year-old has had recurring roles in Amazon Prime Video’s Mirzapur, in SonyLIV’s Kathmandu Connection and Maharani and in Netflix’s Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega. The last two have elevated his profile. As a Bihari politician, Naveen Kumar, in Maharani, he is devious while in Jamtara, as Jharkhand strongman Brajesh Bhan, he is flamboyant, aggressive and quite menacing. But the struggle of the actor continues. Sial wants to get better at his craft, to do more varied roles and is working towards it with two new films next year, one of which is a dark comedy with Paresh Rawal.
Not in the Numbers Game
Sometimes a piece of advice can go a long way. Monika Panwar, who is originally from Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand, and taps into the simmering rage of Gudiya in Jamtara, got a phone call after Season 1 that she will always treasure. Actor Aamir Khan was at the other end and he told her something that has stuck with her: Not to sign films in a hurry, choose your scripts wisely, and to look for quality, not quantity. He gave her his own example and told her not to make the mistake he did in his early years. Panwar, a graduate from the National School of Drama, has made it her life’s motto. Panwar came to Mumbai in 2018 and says Mumbai was a reality check. “You’re competing with the most beautiful men and women in the world, there’s so much perfection everywhere. And you are like a robot giving auditions in the small lanes of Aram Nagar. It was very exciting but also unnerving,” she says. Whenever she has time off, she hones her skill, whether it is a kalaripayattu course or acting workshops. The challenge was always to focus on good work. “You get diverted easily,” she says. “You have to be patient, give auditions, observe, and respect your training.” Her lifetime ambition? To work with acting coach Larry Moss. “Everyone here has a hairdresser, a make-up person, a physical trainer, but no one for acting,” she says. “Isn’t that odd?”
Scene and Heard
R Balki’s next movie, Chup: Revenge of the Artist, is about a filmmaker’s war on critics, or so it seems where a serial killer is tattooing stars on the foreheads of murdered film critics. Charming. So, I asked Balki if he had declared war? “Chup is about sensitivity,” he says, “and what happens when it goes awry.” A certain Kamaal R Khan, in particular, will understand that.