Best known for working in films like Shaitan (2011) and Boss (2013), Shiv Pandit is gearing up for the release of Netflix’s upcoming Indian original Selection Day, in which he plays God, who helps a teenaged cricket aspirant navigate through life.
In a candid chat, the 34-year-old opened up about getting his quirky character right, working with Netflix and teenaged boys, and his upcoming projects.
What made you want to be a part of Selection Day?
More than me saying yes to the project, it was me going after it. I’d done a film called Loev, which Netflix acquired in 2016. I got tremendous exposure from that film the world over. People in Ecuador, Peru, Estonia—countries where Indian content doesn’t normally do well—reached out to me, appreciating my performance and the film. That was a great feeling because all a young actor wants is for their work to get sampled. Whether it’s liked or not is subjective, but it shouldn’t be hidden away in some corner.
Hence, I knew that I wanted to get associated with Netflix again. A friend who was working on Sacred Games informed me about Selection Day on the last day of auditions. I went to test for some another character, but they wanted me to try this other one for which auditions hadn’t begun yet. So yes, this part happened for me through a rigorous process of auditions and in a way I am glad it did because in my career, all the good parts that I have got have happened only when I have worked for them.
We have seen several modern-day interpretations of God in films like Oh My God and God Tussi Great Ho but yours still looks refreshing. What were your reference points for playing this role?
You can’t use any reference when you have to play God because the idea of god is so subjective. To each of us, God has a very different visual representation, different appeal.
With this particular character, the idea wasn’t to present a different take on God. It’s more of a visual representation of your innermost thoughts. He doesn’t tell Manju (the lead character) do this or do that. He kind of bounces his thoughts off him and through that process, Manju figures it out himself. He is a very no-nonsense kind of a guy who isn’t going to take you by the finger and help you. It was a very good and refreshing character to play.
As preparation, I did do one thing—it was very important for me to be genuine friends with the guy playing Manju so that our relationship didn’t look manufactured on screen. From day 1, I genuinely made an effort to become Samad’s (Mohammad Samad who plays Manju) friend. He would keep calling me Sir but by the end of it, we became such good friends that despite the camera rolling or not, our relationship didn’t change. I hope it translates on screen.
Then the flamboyant styling also helped. When you look your character, you feel it too and that’s where half the job of an actor is done. I also wanted to look physically overpowering, daunting in front of Manju so that it shows that he’s talking to a deity or a God. I gained a lot of weight and followed a whole different physical regime to get the look right on screen.
Your God talks a lot of science to Manju, which is very conflicting because religion and science have always been at loggerheads. Has it been a conscious thought to present God in a way that the younger generation finds him more relatable?
Yes, there was definitely a conscious effort to make him more relatable to the younger audience. But it’s very intelligently done. Since Manju is interested in the sciences is why his God talks about it. He is Manju’s inner voice. Now tomorrow, if Manju is conflicted about some other area, his God may start talking about that because he’s only a representation of Manju’s deepest desires.
Science vs religion has been an ongoing debate for many years. What I liked about this character is that it’s not regressive. He doesn’t negate religion but he pushes people to help themselves to get what they want.
How was it working with the younger lot of actors?
I don’t let any person’s age—younger or older—affect me. However, this set had a very innocent, non-pretentious and energetic vibe. So it was great hanging around Yash (Dholye), Samad, Karanvir (Malhotra) and others because it literally reminded me of when I was in school and college. For me, it was also great because it was a good lesson in adapting to different environments which we actors are thrust into with every project.
All your scenes till now are only with Manju. Do you also have scenes with other characters or is your God exclusive to Manju?
I’ll leave that as a question mark for you to figure out.
What will we see you in next?
I have done a feature film with Tejasvini Kolhapure. I’ll also be doing another web show. Everything is still in post-production so I can’t talk about these right now but by February, I should be able to.
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