Krishna Bharadwaj is best known for playing ‘Tenali Rama’ in the TV show with the same title. The actor, however, has a huge body of work behind him and has been a part of several successful shows on television like ‘Jasuben Jayantilaal Joshi Ki Joint Family’, ‘Sukh By Chance’, ‘R. K. Laxman Ki Duniya’ and ‘Bahu Hamari Rajni Kant’, among others. Krishna also played the lead role in the hugely successful Gujarati film ‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’, the sequel of which will be shot this year. In this interview, the actor talks about his long and eventful journey in the entertainment industry, how being a writer helped him grow as an actor, playing Tenali Rama for three and a half years, formative years in Ranchi, love for theatre, wish to play diverse characters, directing a film and more.
You had stated in an interview that when you did not have any work for a long time before Tenali Rama, you started doing a lot of theatre and got into writing. Was this the first time you started writing?
My father has been a prolific writer and director. He was also an actor and very active in the theatre space in Jharkhand. In 2008-09, I got my first major show ‘Jasuben Jayantilaal Joshi Ki Joint Family’. There came a point when I started getting bored of just being an actor on the sets. Actors do not shoot all the time. Sometimes, you have to wait for a long time before another scene, which you are not a part of, is getting shot. I did not want to sit idle. I wanted to utilize my time on the sets well. Apart from being an actor, I became an assistant director on that show. I wanted to learn and explore other areas of creativity. When that show went off air after a year and a half, the same team developed another show called ‘Sukh By Chance’. Apart from being the main lead of the show, I was one of the writers, creative director, casting director and the assistant director. That is when I realized that if a writer is writing a character, he can portray that character way better than another actor because he has created that character himself. Before ‘Tenali Rama’ happened, I started writing the Gujarati film ‘Chal Mann Jeetva Jaiye’. I was involved with the project right from its inception. The character I played in the film was written by myself.
Did you notice a growth in you as an actor once you started writing?
Yes, I did. When you write, you understand the nuances of the characters in the script much better. Back in the days, we had somebody like a Kishore Kumar who was a singer, music composer, actor, writer, director and producer, all rolled into one. I believe an artist is somebody who does a variety of things and not someone who just sticks to one thing.
Writing a TV show like ‘Sukh By Chance’ must have been very different from writing a film like ‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’.
I was a part of the development team of ‘Sukh By Chance’. We worked on developing the concept and then on the broader story. I was not involved with the dialogues. In fact, till date I have not worked on developing the screenplay or the dialogues as I do not want to write under pressure. If I get a good amount of time to develop a screenplay, I might do it.
‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’ did phenomenally well not just in Gujarat but also in some of the other states it released. Is there a plan to make a sequel to that film?
Yes, the shoot for the sequel will start in March. The film could have happened a little earlier but I was completely immersed in my work on ‘Tenali Rama’ and did not have hair on my head (laughs).
Are you a part of the writing team this time around too?
This time, I could not be a part of the writing process as I was busy with my shoots. I have given a few inputs and religiously attended all the narrations which happened once every fortnight.
After having a very successful run for three and a half years, ‘Tenali Rama’ went off-air in November last year. Do you miss shooting for the show?
I worked on the show for three and a half years and shot for around 850 episodes. The first two months, after the show went off-air, I enjoyed a lot as I felt I was on a well-deserved break. After that, I started missing the energy you feel when you are on a set. I am not missing Tenali Rama but I miss going or a shoot and facing the camera. As an actor, I want to play diverse characters. I lived a character for three and a half years. Now, I want to do something else.
You have been acting on the stage since you were four, right?
Yes, I have always been very active in theatre. I had acted in some radio shows by Aakash Vaani. I had also done a video album which did not turn out to be very good (laughs).
The first pay cheque you received was of Rs. 250. You were just four years old then. The Vanilla Coke ad was one of your first professional assignments in Mumbai. Around the same time, you participated in an episode of the reality show ‘Bluffmaster’ and won a cash prize of 3 lac rupees. After that, you had a fairly steady career but then, suddenly things took a turn. You were out of work for four years. Why did that happen?
Even I do not know why that happened. I used to get shortlisted for most of the auditions I would give but I would never get that final call. I am a very spiritual reason and I believe everything happens for a reason. I learnt a lot during those four years as a human being and all of that helped me while doing ‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’ and ‘Tenali Rama’. I gathered a better understanding about life, emotions and human beings. Perhaps, this was the universe’s way of making me a better artiste.
When one gets to know about your journey, one realizes even established actors have to go through a fair bit of struggle.
Yes, that struggle is there for everybody. Once your show or film is over, you have to start afresh like a newcomer. Even somebody like Mr. Amitabh Bachchan faced that when his company ABCL did not do well and he faced a financial crisis. But, he bounced back and look at where he is today.
Not getting work for a long time could prove detrimental to your health. Most actors go through this at some point in their lives. How do you think one should deal with it?
The only way to deal with it is to keep your mind occupied. When I did not have work, I kept myself busy by doing theatre. You do not get paid much while doing theatre in India but you learn a lot. I wrote ‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’ when I did not have work as an actor. If you work on sharpening your skills 24×7 and remain positive, you will definitely find work again.
You grew up in Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand. How did the city help you evolve as a human being?
I belong to a Marwadi family and spent my formative years in Ranchi. My father has a PhD in Hindi and that is the language we converse in. My dad was a theatre actor and director. I think acting was in my blood but that the same time, my dad and I are very different from each other as actors. We have different ideas on acting. I do not like his way of working and he does not like mine. He would barely complement me on my work back then. That fuelled the desire in me to prove myself in front of him. Now, he likes my work. He taught me everything as a child. I had a solid base in performing arts because of him. I also did my Bharatnatyam course in Ranchi. I come from a humble background. Back then, I was the only choreographer in Ranchi who would be hired for weddings and sangeet ceremonies in Ranchi. Because of this, I started earning at the age of 14 and after a while, opened my dance school.
The dance school was quite a success. At one point, you had more than 200 students. Would you like to showcase your dancing skills on the screen?
I would love to. Dance has always been an integral part of my life. I hope I can play a dancer in a show or a film soon.
You came to Mumbai in the year 2004. Back then, not too many people came from smaller towns and cities to try their luck in the entertainment industry. You joined the Roshan Taneja School of Acting after arriving in the city. How were the initial days in Mumbai like?
It was very difficult for me. I had come from a small city. I lacked confidence and could barely speak in English. In the acting school, most of my classmates were from film families or from a very well-to-do background. I distinctively remember Luv Sinha and Mahaakshay Chakraborty being my batchmates. A friend had paid my fees for the acting course as I did not have any money on me at that time. My first job, in fact, was at the Roshan Taneja School of Acting. Roshan Taneja sir was kind enough to offer me a job there after the completion of the six-month long-acting course. I started teaching there and I taught 3-4 subjects for a year and a half. Back then, actors used to go to every studio and submit hard copies of their photographs and portfolio. Now, things have become much easier. There are many casting agencies and people are actively looking for new faces.
Which was your first project as an actor in Mumbai?
My first project was a serial called ADA (Acting and Dance Academy) which used to be aired on Sahara One. It was about an acting school and the lives of the twelve students in it.
You have stated in an interview that you were in a lot of debt just before ‘Tenali Rama’ happened. Do you think the show was a turning point in my career?
Yes, I feel the year 2017 became a turning point in my life. ‘Tenali Rama’ happened in July and ‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’ in December. After that, things took a turn for the better.
Would you like to direct someday?
Yes, I hope someday I get to write a script for a film and direct it myself. I am not thinking of doing that in the immediate future. I might make a film in the next 5-7 years.
Is there a plan to act in a Hindi film too?
Whoever comes to Mumbai to become an actor, wants to be a part of Bollywood. I would love to do a Hindi film when the right project comes my way.
We have mostly seen you playing these happy, positive characters. In an interview, you have mentioned ‘Pyaasa’ as one of your favourite Hindi films. Would you like to play an intense character someday?
I do have the image of a very cheerful and happy person owing to the characters I have played on-screen. In real life, I am very reserved and barely socialise. I would love to play an intense character in the near future. I want to play characters that are very different from what I have done till now. I would love to play a character like Ranbir Kapoor did in ‘Rockstar’. Theway you look plays an important role in building your image. I have grown my hair back and working out to lose weight and get back in shape. When you change your physical image, your image as an actor also changes. I will get some new pictures clicked and try to portray myself in a new or different avatar. Let’s see how people react to that.