The 6’3” actor, who became an audience favourite as Sangram Singh in the OTT production Aarya and Aarya 2 with Sushmita Sen, is all set to appear in action-packed thriller Bloody Daddy, directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, opposite Shahid Kapur, filmed in Abu Dhabi. “I play a whacky character,” says Ankur Bhatia, on the phone from Mumbai. “Unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s quite experimental and I really enjoyed it, and put in a lot of hard work into it. I’m waiting for the release!”
The Bhopal-born actor says that the action sequences for web series Crackdown, directed by Apoorva Lakhia, had him well prepared for his current film (he plays a Pakistani army officer, with hand-to-hand combat scenes with Saqib Saleem, who plays an Indian army officer), that had Ali Abbas tweeting: ‘Are you ready for this mad ride of guns & gangs’. “Action is always fun,” says Ankur. “You give us guys guns; there are punches and kicks — it’s tough and exhausting, and an adrenaline rush when you’re shooting action.” And you don’t need martial arts training to shoot the hand-to-hand combat scenes. “It’s like song choreography,” says Ankur. “There’s no particular technique — just somersaults, kicks, with props like a table that’s to be broken.”
In Aarya and Aarya 2, it was the experience of working with three different directors — Ram Madhvani, Vinod Rawat, and Sandeep Modi — that Ankur benefited most from, and of course, the gracious Sushmita Sen, who became family, a mentor and sister. “I shot my last scene, in which I get shot, on the very first day of shooting,” he says. “I really had to build up my emotions for the season, from that first shot onwards.”
And over the course of a decade — he arrived in Mumbai after leaving his finance job on Wall Street, New York (he worked as an actuary) in 2013 — he’s built up an impressive arsenal of films, a passion that was triggered when he first auditioned for Mira Nair’s Grant St Shaving Co, where he plays a NYC cabbie — a role originally intended for Abhay Deol — that he executed so flawlessly (“I played a typical Punjabi guy, and spoke my lines in Hindi, adding words like Sir ji,” he says), that audiences loved him for it. The film made the rounds of 45 film festivals around the world, including the Cannes and Venice. In his first major Hindi film, Zanjeer (2013), directed by Apoorva Lakhia, he plays a henchman to Prakash Raj — “I took that role because I wanted to learn, see a big film set, watch Priyanka Chopra and Ram Charan perform,” says Ankur.
As Ankur picked up nuances watching established actors perform (he has no formal training in acting), he recalls how a journalist from a TV channel asked him if Haseena Parkar (in which he plays underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s sister’s husband) was his debut film. “I said no, I’ve done Sarbjit,” he says. “She insisted that she’s seen the film and I wasn’t in it. So I narrated a dialogue from the film. She was so amazed that she had not recognised me. I had played a small part (Randeep Hooda played the lead), and grew my hair and beard, visited the gurudwara to tie the pagh (turban), so I could feel like a Sikh, and gained 12kg by eating gulab jamuns every night.”
He did 45 auditions for his role in Haseena Parkar, even though he had worked with Apoorva Lakhia before, the part was not guaranteed to him — and his perseverance paid off — reviews touted him as the best thing in the film.
Ankur’s repertoire so far — from comedy (in Bhavai, he plays Laxman of Lachhu, a Ramleela actor) to the manic Sangram in Aarya to a vicious Pakistani officer in Crackdown – has made people sit up and take notice.
“People have begun to look at my progress, that I can play any role,” he says. But there is one genre he would love to embrace. “I’m very good with my comic timing,” he says.
“But I’ve been taken as a macho guy, or a bad boy, or a husband. What I would love to do is a film like Hera Pheri where I play a character like Akshay Kumar’s. It may just happen. Mr Ram Madhvani used to tell me, if he ever makes a comedy, I’m in.”
Staying fit: Jaisa desh, waisa bhesh. In the US, I start bulking up and eat more protein, greens, and fruit, and then in India, I indulge in fast food. I hit the gym every day five times a week. I bike, hike or walk.
Foodie alert: I’m not a big foodie. I like my dal-chawal! I also love sushi. But to get into character, I’ve eaten rasgulla, cheesecake, ice cream. I once melted a full tub of ice cream and drank it; I’ve eaten 12 eggs in one go.
Fashion faves: My personal style is casual and comfortable. If you’re not comfy with what you’re wearing, your confidence level is zero. You are always trying to adjust things. I love sneakers, so I collect limited editions and collabs, like the Nike Air Yeezy, Nike x Stüssy, Off- Whites, Air Jordan high-tops. That’s where my savings go! I match my clothes to my sneakers. I like wearing hoodies. I am more of a T-shirt with a shirt on top, relaxed cargos, tapered jeans, and sneakers. Of course, I look different when I dress up and wear a tux!
Can’t leave home with my accessories: My wallet is always in my pocket. I always carry my sunglasses (current shades are by Off-White and Dior), and a ring my late mother gave me. I have a huge collection of sunglasses — they make the simplest black or white tee and torn jeans look good!
A relaxing hobby: When I get time away from shooting, I paint, as I find it very meditative. I create abstracts and portraits with my acrylics. My canvas changes according to my mood. My goal is to paint a portrait of everyone who has affected my acting career (I’m yet to get started). One day, I will sell my paintings for charity.
On my playlist: I’m currently into lo-fi — the mellow stuff.
A luxurious indulgence: My BMW and Balenciaga hoodies.
A memorable trip: Once en route to New York from London for a family vacation, my plane had an emergency landing (there was a small fire in the AC vent), at Shannon Airport, in Ireland. I ended up staying there for three days and discovering places like Limerick, the castles, the culture and the people. Did you know Shannon is the world’s first custom-free airport?