‘Becoming Sanjay Gandhi threw up a lot of challenges’, says actor Vishak Nair

Malayalam actor Vishak Nair plays Sanjay Gandhi in the Hindi film, Emergency, directed by actor Kangana Ranaut

Malayalam actor Vishak Nair plays Sanjay Gandhi in the Hindi film, Emergencydirected by actor Kangana Ranaut

Vishak Nair still cannot believe that he is essaying the role of Sanjay Gandhi. But he is in Emergencywritten and directed by Kangana Ranaut, which revolves around the Emergency period, considered one of the darkest phases in independent India’s history.

Kangana plays Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the movie, while Vishak plays Sanjay. “She (Kangana) was confident that I could pull off the character. I don’t know why and how,” says Vishak, over the phone from Bengaluru. Releasing the first look of his character, Kangana had stated: “I looked for a face for more than six months and I decided to launch him as the face.”

Vishak, who made his debut in the Malayalam movie Aanandam (2016) as the affable character ‘Kuppi’, has already worked with Kangana in Tejas, which has not been released yet. His first release in Hindi was Shabaash Mithu (2022), biopic of cricketer Mithali Raj, with Taapsee Pannu in the lead.

“I wanted to try working in other languages. The pandemic and lockdown made it possible. That was the time when audition processes went online. I got opportunities to do a couple of pan-Indian television commercials. It eventually fetched me roles in Tejas and Shabaash Mithu, For the latter, I got a call from casting director Mukesh Chhabra’s agency, which was a stroke of luck for me. Happy that one of the leading casting directors had noticed me, I didn’t want to let go of the opportunity in spite of the length of the role,” says Vishak.

Vishak Nair as Sanjay Gandhi in the first look poster of the movie 'Emergency'

Vishak Nair as Sanjay Gandhi in the first look poster of the movie ‘Emergency’ | Photo Credit: Manikarnika Films

He did not have to audition for the role in Emergency since Kangana has already seen her work in Tejas, “After the ‘look’ test, I was asked to gain weight and so I put on some 10 kilograms. The first schedule is over and the next might happen in December or January,” he says. The film is slated to release next year.

Looking the part

Vishak admits that “becoming Sanjay Gandhi threw up a lot of challenges”. The younger son of Indira and Feroze Gandhi, he had a short but eventful and controversial life. “I have not played a real-life character before and so I had to do my research. But the difficulty was that I could do only secondary research because he has not given any interviews in his lifetime. We all know that he was executing decisions in his own way, especially during the Emergency. There are a lot of ‘stories’ about him and some of them have been weaved into the narrative,” he explains.

Vishak adds, “Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar (2017), also set during the Emergency, is perhaps the only movie in which Sanjay’s character [played by Neil Nithin Mukesh] has been included. As part of getting to know Sanjay, I watched interviews of his wife, Maneka Gandhi. Then there were statements made by his friends and enemies, and the book on him [ The Sanjay Story] written by Vinod Mehta. From the footage of his election campaigns and his speeches, I tried to understand his public persona, his voice texture and how he spoke. But even then I was not sure how he spoke outside of his life as a politician. There was just a clip of him having food with family.”

Other actors in Emergency include Anupam Kher, Mahima Chaudhary, Shreyas Talpade and Milind Soman.

Vishak Nair

Vishak Nair | Photo Credit: Shajeer Basheer

Vishak is all praise for Kangana as a director and actor. “She is someone who lifts the performance of the co-actor. As a director, she has so much clarity about what she wants. Also, she has a brilliant team to back her,” he says, referring to Japanese cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata, art director/production designer Rakesh Yadav and composer GV Prakash Kumar.

Chasing his dream

Looking back at his journey, Vishak admits that although he got a handful of movies after Aanandam, he decided to step back after a point. “Getting typecast is part this industry and I wasn’t happy with that. In 2019, I started a production house with Ganesh [Ganesh Raj, director of Aanandam). We shot commercials and corporate videos. I invested my time to hone my skills as a filmmaker and was willing to wait for good roles. Then the pandemic struck and everything changed. Eventually, Tejas happened and one thing led to the other,” he avers.

Actor Vishak Nair

Actor Vishak Nair
| Photo Credit: Arun Chelad

Becoming a filmmaker was a dream he nurtured since his school days in Dubai, Vishak says. “But I didn’t know how to go about it. However, while pursuing my engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Surathkal [Karnataka], I got exposure to acting. Later, I worked in Chennai, which has an amazing theater culture. That was when auditions were announced for Aanandam,” he explains.

His new projects in Malayalam include LLB, Shaji Kailas’ new movie and a film directed by editor Saiju Sreedharan. He will also be seen in the bilingual film, Exit, directed by Shaheen. “It has been the toughest role so far. It is a dark action thriller and I play a mentally ill person chained to a window for 27 years,” says Vishak, who recently directed a music video titled Color, He also plans to turn director next year.

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