Arjun Mathur was alerted to his International Emmy nomination by actor Sayani Gupta. She had called him up and asked if he had heard the news. "These days, the word 'news' only creates panic. So it took me a while to realise what had happened. But I’m enjoying the feeling now," he jokes.
Arjun is the only Indian actor to be nominated in the Best Actor category this year for Made in Heaven (2019).
Along with him, the Netflix series Delhi Crime and the Amazon show Four More Shots Please have been nominated in the Best Drama and Best Comedy categories, respectively. Last year, Netflix's Sacred Games and Amazon's The Remix had received Emmy nods, besides Radhika Apte for Best Actress for Lust Stories.
Collectively, these honours indicate a global recognition of the OTT boom in India. For Arjun, though, the victory is more personal. "I’ve been acting for 13 years now. I have had my moments of insecurity, doubt, and envy. In the course of following your heart, you end up questioning yourself. So when something like this comes along, there’s no better affirmation that what you have been doing is right," he says.
Arjun had moved to Mumbai in 2002 after graduating from Lee Strasberg. One of his earliest appearances was in the short film Positive, directed by Farhan Akhtar. Farhan would later be his co-star in Luck By Chance (2009), where they both played struggling actors in Mumbai.
Still, it would be a decade before he reunited with the Akhtars again. That happened in 2019, when he was cast as an ambitious wedding planner in Made in Heaven.
The show, which also starred Sobhita Dhulipala, was co-created by Zoya Akhtar and produced by Farhan’s Excel Entertainment. “Both Zoya and Farhan have always supported me,” Arjun shares. “Earlier, because of market and boxoffice limitations, they couldn’t cast me in a more substantial role. But the moment they got that chance with Made in Heaven, they reached out.” In the show, Arjun portrayed Karan Mehra, a gay entrepreneur organising glitzy weddings for Delhi’s rich and elite.
The performance, along with several others, is credited for a new mainstreaming of queer characters in India. “I deny it when people call Karan a complex part,” Arjun says. “Of course, since I’m straight and heterosexual, I felt a little out of my element in the intimate scenes. But beyond that, it was one of the simplest roles I’ve done.” He calls for more gay characters to be normalised on screen. “So far, we’ve largely seen straight actors playing gay parts in India.
I’d love to see more gay actors come out and represent themselves on screen.” Through the lockdown, Arjun appeared in the DIY shows, Home Stories and Gone Game. He was also meant to start Made in Heaven season 2, which was put on hold. “There are two more films and another show on the cards,” he reveals. “Whoever resumes production first, I’ll be ready.”