Rootless, and open to life...

TNIE catches up with actor Ashish Vidyarthi who is on a trip chasing the monsoon across India
Actor Ashish Vidyarthi .
Actor Ashish Vidyarthi .

KOCHI: We have seen him as a ruthless villain, a corrupt and seasoned politician, a fierce cop and the scary goonda.

In his life, Ashish Vidyarthi has donned many roles and has lived as many characters, many of which have become engraved in the psyches of movie lovers. A true character actor.

Ask him what would be Ashish’s character, pat comes the reply: rootlessness.

His career in cinema spanning three decades is testimony to this. Over the years, he has been a fine mind working with similar artists making films that fetched him accolades, including the National Award for Supporting Actor in his very first Hindi venture (Drohkaal). Yet he never stuck to a mould.

He has been part of over 350 movies in 11 languages, never setting up base in any of the industries despite several of his stints being widely appreciated for appeal and versatility. His character and negative roles bear the same rootlessness, as he flips from one role to another, flaunting a flamboyance rather than feistiness or frigid fright that should otherwise dictate what he is supposed to portray on screen.

Off-screen, too, rootlessness is what roots him. The actor may scout for grounds and hills where life has deep moorings, yet finds himself tied down to none.  A man famously known for good food, crazy travels, and free-spirited presentations, he is as easy anchoring two immensely popular vlogs as he is with his matinee presence. Ashish claims he bears no tags and is looking for more as he still straddles roles both in and out of the frames.

The quirks and the fancies and the whims and the duties and fun and frolic and love and laughter, everything together makes up what he calls life. “I am open to life,” he says, as he reclines in the chair facing the sea at the resort where he and his wife Rupali Barua are staying. Before leaving for Kollam as part of the ‘Raining Smiles’ project that takes him across India trailing the monsoon, TNIE caught up with the actor for a quick rendezvous where he opened up on what he feels is in store for him at this turn of life.

Excerpts.

You have straddled both mainstream cinema and arthouse. Was it a conscious decision so as to not get typecast?

I began working in films in 1994, starting with Drohkaal by Govind Nihalani. Though I bagged the National Award for Best Supporting Actor for my performance, I understood that arthouse films meant not enough money to take care of my parents or pay rent.

I am a passionate actor, have always been pulled by forces within, and wanted to do things that I would believe in. But a key part of my life is also my responsibility. It was my need to do commercial films then and I did them well. Because of that, I have 350-plus films to my credit and people know me better now.

What is your take on the way lines between parallel and mainstream seem to be fading with the advent of the O TT platforms?

We had a parallel platform offered to us by veterans such as Shyam Benegal and Nihalani when we came in as youngsters. Now, OTTs tell those stories that are relatable, with a deeper mass connect. Also, people who work in them are being seen and getting paid. This also reveals that the audience is no longer stratified, is intersecting, ready to lap up simple things. So, the OTT world is valid now, and let’s see how it works.

How do you view your journey through different phases of your career?

I explain this often in my stand-up series ‘Sit Down Ashish’. There are layers to life, one that people see outside and those within. I gave my commercial movie roles my best though I did them for money. I also started doing films in the south in 1999 with AK 47 in Kannada and Dhill in Tamil. Then, there was also the inner urge to do good roles. I am very happy at the transition happening now which allows good films with great scripting and deeper meaning reach audience and amass appreciation. All these have resulted in me emerging as a panIndian actor, much before pan-Indian films happened. The steps you take at a particular juncture are as per the need of that time. Hence there are no right or wrong steps. I am in awe of those who need to do what they do. As for me, I am a direct consequence of whatever I have done over the years. When we speak of us, we have to remember that we are one of the 10,000 who started on the same road. So I value my journey and choose to celebrate it

Your activity extends much beyond cinema. You are a motivational speaker, an avid vlogger, a traveller, and the list goes on. How do all these happen simultaneously?

I am an actor who waits for the next amazing role. And that is good because I am usually restless and love to do things as I wait. I have many interests, and working across languages has brought in different possibilities. One such activity was my stint as a motivational speaker which was started some 12-13 years ago with AVID-MINeR, a consultancy forum that allows me to travel and share with corporates, students, educationists, and people at large. The conversations are customised, and personalised to make an impact. Then, post-Covid, social media came into my life. I make every moment count with my two vlogs — Ashish Vidyarthi Actor and Fifty Plus Zindagi. You need to infuse your spirit into the moment you are in to bring in an element of cheer. Cinema is my passion, but my vlogs are more about me, authored by me. The entire effort is to get through to the audience. It is more of a personal reaching out rather than the product of many market surveys. This is where I see the scope of social media. There are no gatekeepers here. For years, we belittled many things. But here, those small things might inspire someone. It gives space to people who traditionally did not have one.

About your new ‘Raining Smiles’ project?

Since childhood, I have always been fascinated by rain. I have always wanted to watch the rain land in Kanyakumari. I want to travel with it as it covers landscapes. There is an interesting reference in Kalidas’s Meghdoot which I read in Ashadh ka ek din by Mohan Rakesh. Like in Meghdoot, in my project too, the rain clouds are messengers whom I use to take love to the people who are yet to be my friends. Thus, I want to shower my country with smiles. I will also use my standup platform to surprise people in mofussil towns who might be in a cafe, office, or home with my performance. I will make them smile and inspire hope, and when hopeful, they will embark on amazing things. We started off from Kanyakumari and I have performed in two or three places including T e c h n o p a r k i n Thiruvananthapuram. I will also be at work in between. Thankfully, we have a long monsoon. This will be part of my vlog, but if OTT platforms are interested, they could pick it up. I will anyway tell the story for myself.

You use moment, celebration, etc...words that hint at a seeking from within, a sense of rootlessness. How do you see this aspect of yours?

When in doubt, I feel we should move. It allows me to appreciate various facets of life. Yes, I am comfortably rootless... I love to float, and I am open to life. The celebration is not for the one who tops. I constantly ask can the unknown person also celebrate life? We can. This is also how my vlogs came up — I love to travel, meet people, and enjoy food — I wanted to share all that and thus, happened the Ashish Vidyarthi Actor Vlog. Then I got married to Rupali and wanted to say that there are no barriers to celebration and hence came up Fifty Plus Zindagi vlog. To celebrate being rootless is now my need. I have finally arrived...for today. And yet I have long to go before I sleep.

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