Harsh Mayar has become a familiar face in the digital space by playing lead roles in web series like – ‘Gullak‘ and ‘Overtime‘. But he had accustomed himself to face the camera at a young age of fourteen by playing the protagonist in the critically acclaimed film ‘I am Kalam‘. He was awarded ‘The Best Child Actor’ in the 58th National Awards and even garnered two International accolades. He went on to be a part of films such as ‘Hichki‘ and ‘Kanpuriye‘.
Harsh Mayar, through his body of work has proved that he is not just a one film wonder but a rising star to watch out for.
In a candid chat with Team Storiyaan, he talked about his decade long career, his acting experience in different formats of screens, and the time he accidentally travelled in a handicapped coach in a local train.
Questions and answers
You started acting at a very young age. Did you know back then that you wanted to be an actor?
Not really. When I started acting, I did not know much about it. The only reason I used to act was so that I did not have to study. I thought if I did this, my parents wouldn’t ask me to study much since I was doing something. I always used to mimic people, though I wasn’t perfect if I lived with someone, I could imitate them well. So my maternal uncle got me admitted into acting school, and I started enjoying it because we had various activities there. Soon I started doing plays and theatre. I used to audition for singing and dancing on reality shows and movies. Slowly and steadily, I kept working and was then offered my first film. I used to go for shoots, and no one knew that I worked in a movie because I never told anyone about it. So again, I did not know I would be an actor; it just happened.
Talk to us about your first film; I am Kalam. Is there something that you took away from your character and is stuck with you to date?
I never really mix my personal and professional lives; maybe it was always like this for me. But through this film, I feel like Sir A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s name got associated with mine.
My name is associated with him is a huge honor. Now, whenever people talk about films based on his life, my name usually tends to pop up. Even when he passed away, people wanted to talk to me and take my interviews. That is when I felt like this is something that will always stay with me.
You even won a National Award for it. Perhaps not then, but now when you look back, does it feel overwhelming? How did your friends and family react?
I definitely feel joyous. You know that I couldn’t study well, so everything I’ve learned in my life was through acting and the people I worked with. All the knowledge that I possess is a result of that. So yes, I certainly feel overwhelmed. Talking about my friends and family, I have very few friends, like really few. These are people whom I had known since my childhood when I was 6-7 years old, which is for around 18-19 years now. Even after I came to Mumbai, I’ve only had like 1-2 friends. They are my biggest critics. They always watch my performance and give me their most honest reviews of what they think of it. My family doesn’t understand a lot about Cinema, so they are always just happy for me.
Talk to us about working in theatres. What is the difference between acting on stage and in front of the camera?
The only difference between acting on stage and in front of a camera is the level of intensity in your voice. On camera, you don’t have to do much. Even a small action can look very beautiful. Whereas, in theatre, you have to express these same emotions to an audience of 400 people, which is why your expressions need to be very loud. Many actors do not get this, and hence, when they act on screen, you feel like, “Oh my god! What is he doing?”. Very few understand the difference between the two and perform well on both the fronts. This is one of the reasons why a lot of theatre actors do not like to perform in front of a camera and vice versa. I believe the kind of polished feeling of being spontaneous and quick with your reactions you get is only something theatre can provide.
Films can give you more exposure and show you how to underplay a character, whereas theatre shows you, your range of capabilities as an actor.
Are you a director's actor or a method actor?
I am not a method actor. I cannot do method acting, and it just does not work for me. A method actor is a director’s actor because he listens to the director as well. But they have their process of working, which is a whole new level of crazy. They study their characters thoroughly and try to inhabit that personality. And a director’s actor works exactly like he is asked to and presents it to you. It’s just my belief that you should be so skilled in your craft that you can express the same emotions a million times, whenever and wherever.
You worked with Rani Mukherjee in Hichki. Is there any memorable incident from the sets that you will never let go of?
There is this one incident that always makes me laugh whenever I think of it. When I came to Mumbai, I had only just started traveling by train. So every morning I had to go for the shoot by train. One day, I was on the train with my earphones on, and suddenly everyone started getting off and running away, but I could not understand why. I was traveling in the handicapped coach, I did not know this, and then the police came and caught me. They asked me to get off and took me to the station. I told them that it was a genuine mistake, and I had no idea about these rules. They even took my phone away so I couldn’t call anyone and everyone was waiting for me on the set. I begged them to let me go, but they refused and said that I’d have to go to the court. After a lot of pleading, they called a lawyer and sent me to the shoot. I had to reach by five, but I reached 10. When I arrived on set, this story was already spreading on the set like wildfire. Everyone used to look at me and start laughing. Even Rani Ma’am was waiting, she laughed and was like, “Kya yaar, tu actor hoke bhi aise kaam karta hai?” so I told her how I did not know about all these rules. She said, “No, I am sure you did it deliberately.” I was like, “No Ma’am, I may look like it, but I am not that kind of a guy, and we started laughing.” We had many such stories on set because we always had so much fun, but this one will always stand out to me.
"Paighamber" is a play you worked in. You were acclaimed for the role of Annant. Can you tell us more about that play?
I worked with Tom Alter for this play. He is a renowned veteran theatre actor. I, along with him and Amit Behl was the leads in this play. So, life is made out of five elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Ether. Annant is a character born out of these five elements. The play depicts how, during his entire life journey, he meets Paighambar during different stages and emotions and how Paighambar guides and enlightens him. This play is based on the novel called The Prophet, written by Dr.Kahlil Gibran. We did this play across various countries until Tom was alive, but after his death, we stopped the play.
You've recently switched to the Streaming world. Was it a conscious decision?
After Hichki, I was offered a lot of love stories, and I did not want to do romance. I also did one more movie after that, where Shamita Shetty was the lead, and I decided to play an important role in that movie. It hasn’t released yet, but it will be out soon. But I decided to take a break when I was offered a role for ‘Gullak‘ by The Viral Fever (TVF), and I accepted because I found the role interesting. They are also planning for a season 2, but we don’t know when it would happen just yet. Then I also did a film called ‘Kanpuriye‘ with Aparshakti Khurana and Divyendu Sharma on HotStar, and I also recently played a role in ‘Overtime.’
In an article in Hindustan Times, you spoke about the humdrum of getting to work in films, not just actors but also writers and directors. Could you elaborate on that for us?
The reason why I said this is that there are a lot of good Directors and writers that people don’t know about. There are some really great writers out there, and people don’t even know about them. So many Directors who want to make good movies but they are never even given a chance. Even with actors, there would be so many people out there who are better than me or have great skills, but they don’t even get a chance to prove themselves. I believe that everyone should be given at least one chance, just one platform where they can present their skills. This makes me really upset, and I feel bad to know that so many dreams do not get fulfilled just because of the lack of opportunities.
Your show Overtime is about an alien invasion. It consists of light humor. Tell us, how did the show happen?
I liked the show’s idea as I thought this would be a fun project to work on, and ‘JustHumanThings’ was a relatively new channel. I don’t consider myself a famous actor but the people in the industry know me, and when they watched the show, they liked it. This was an experimental project as this channel had just started, and I thought it would be fun to work with new people on a unique concept. When you work with new people, they are open to your suggestions because the ones who are in the industry for quite some time will stop listening to your suggestions to try many things. One thing about being an actor is that you get to experiment, and that’s why I signed up for this show as I felt there weren’t many like this one.
How have you been spending your quarantine?
Nothing significant has happened during the quarantine, because when I’m not filming a show, I spend most of my time at home. Most of my time is spent doing household chores, which involves a lot of cooking. I have also watched a lot of films during this period.
You have worked in several advertisements. Is that something you enjoy doing?
Working in commercials is fun, and one is also well paid for it. I shoot for a day, and I’m paid well for it. It’s a tough job when working in an advertisement as you have to repeatedly repeat the same lines, and after a time, your hands start hurting. So it’s a difficult job, but I enjoy doing it.
Can you give a golden tip to our young readers, who look up to you and your work?
Whether you’re educated or not, you should know the difference between right and wrong. Secondly, I also feel that everyone should give importance to their life and the people that includes parents, siblings, and friends. Each of us is in a race in life and having a desire to do everything. If you want to live life, go with the flow. If you plan a lot of things, there is a possibility that something might go wrong. Enjoy life and remember not to stress yourself too much.
Tell us your fighting mantra for moments when you feel low?
I listen to songs when I feel low, mostly from the rap genre, and occasionally dance. Everyone feels low at some point in life, and it’s completely normal. I wouldn’t call it a ‘fighting’ mantra because I don’t fight it. It’s a natural emotion, and I don’t show any form of resistance towards it. Whatever’s coming in your life, take it and let it be. That’s how it will always be.
Who inspires you as an artist and in life in general?
A close friend of mine inspires me a lot. She has taught me many things about life, among other things. Her heart is filled with gratitude, and she has taken me to the movies. The second person who inspires me a lot is my friend, Vijay Raj, who also happens to be an actor. He doesn’t take his career and jobs very seriously, and if you ask me, no one should. Every emotion you feel is essential, and only when you go through a particular phase, you understand the meaning of life. The magnitude of them doesn’t matter. Let everything come naturally. I never look at acting as an art. I always equate it to life because when you look at it; there are so many things to ponder, contemplate which are very important. But many people do not understand it and find themselves in a mess when they pursue worldly things.
1.Favorite Movie– I like so many movies, but if I have to choose one, it would be ‘Sadma.’ ‘Good News’ was also a nice movie.
2.Favorite TV Show– Many people recommended that I watch the series ‘Money Heist’ and streamed it on an OTT platform. I felt it was a good one.
3.Favorite Actor/ Actress you have worked with- I would like to work with Shahrukh Khan and Kangana Ranaut.
4.One word on what acting means to you- Acting is something that comes naturally, and no one can teach the craft. It is something that I know, but there are many things I’m unaware of.
5.Favorite Movie or show in which you have worked- All of them are good, but I had a lot of fun working on the web series ‘Gullak’ and the movie ‘Hichki.’