Made in Heaven: Emmy-nominated Arjun Mathur reveals his acting mantras

International Emmy-nominated actor Arjun Mathur has been making waves with his impressive performances in a variety of roles. From playing the ambitious Dr. Romesh in Ankur Arora Murder Case to the scheming mastermind in Brij Mohan Amar Rahe, Mathur fits into each character seamlessly. To add to that, he has recently partnered with MTV and ORGAN India to increase awareness about organ donation and wishes to induce sign-ups for the cause. In a candid conversation with Sakshi Prabhu, the actor talks about his recent nomination, and also reveals his regrets:

How did it feel to be internationally recognized with your Emmy nomination for Best Performance by an Actor for Made in Heaven

It felt amazing. I have to be honest, I’ve been acting for about 13 years and we all work for recognition to some degree. When it comes to picking and choosing films I’m slightly off the beaten track, and this path that I’m walking comes with a lot of uncertainty, self-doubt, and insecurity. After all these years, international recognition of this sort is a positive reinforcement that tells me that I’m doing something right and I should keep doing what I’m doing.

Arjun Mathur with Sobhita Dhulipala in Made in Heaven.

Your debut was with Irrfan Khan in Migration, what advice did he give you on your first movie? 

I remember at the wrap party for our short film, Migration, he told me, “You have a long career ahead of you. Make sure you keep your head on your shoulders. I still carry that advice with me.

Is there any role that you think has been a game-changer for you? 

If you’re talking about a game-changer in a conventional way, it’s Made in Heaven but I find something new and unique in every project I do. I did a movie called Brij Mohan Amar Rahe which to me was a game-changer in the terms of just the character I got to play. I did a movie called Fireflies which to me was a game-changer in terms of how cathartic it was for me to play that part because it helped me overcome a very difficult time in my own personal life. The reward for each project is not necessarily the same. Every project I’ve done has changed the game a little bit for me. I’ve even done a project which I was a part of and it changed the game in showing me what kind of project I never want to do again, which was, The Accidental Prime Minister.

Arjun Mathur in The Accidental Prime Minister.

What unconventional reward has Made in Heaven given you?

Made in Heaven gave me an unconventional reward that very few other projects gave me. I cannot tell you how many people have written to me and spoken to me and how many stories I have of people who were able to come out to their close ones or families who were able to accept their own queer members after watching the show and watching my character. This kind of reward is what actors can only dream of. Money and fame are in its place but we work so we can positively affect at least one life. But over here it was like it touched everybody. There was such a deep resonation between Karan and the audience. That’s the most valuable thing.

What show or movie do you turn to when you’re in need of comfort? 

Over the last few years, we’ve been consuming so much content which is dark and gruesome. Lots of crime and violence and it’s almost like that’s what we’ve started enjoying more than anything else. Whether it’s true crime documentaries, that I love or shows like Pataal Lok. After a long time, someone pointed me to a show that was so beautiful and it was so nice to see something about a family that was soft and emotional, that makes you tear up with each episode. The show is called This is Us. I love it. It completely took me away from the kind of stuff I’ve been consuming over the last few years. I really enjoyed it and still do.

What prompted you to take up the cause of organ donation? 

A couple of years ago, my friend’s mother was in need of a heart and after a very long, excruciating wait they finally did get a heart and it increased her life span by 5 years. In my own family, my brother was in need of a kidney transplant and he was on the recipient list.  Finally, earlier this year he received a kidney and he is doing better now but I learned through this entire process how important it is to donate your organs and how many lives and families could be saved.

How do you overcome uncertainty and self-doubt? 

It’s a very slow process. You really have to work at it over time with effort. The most important step is to accept yourself first. I feel like anxiety and insecurity are symptoms of looking for validation from the outside forces which are completely out of our control. But as you come to see your own journey without critiquing or comparing it, you’ll realize how far you’ve made it and it helps. I don’t truly know how I overcome insecurity, it’s a process. Each time it comes up, I look at it in a different way. I remind myself that it’s a temporary feeling like everything else in life. One thing I have actively done through my career is that each time that someone said something that made me feel undervalued or not good enough, I always try to not let those situations get me down. I turn those comments into my fuel. Make them push me harder to follow my own path. When someone tells me, you can’t do or be something, I say I’m going to do exactly that now.

Arjun Mathur in Brij Mohan Amar Rahe.

What do you think about OTTs bridging the gap between the silver screen and television for actors like yourself? 

I don’t know about bridging the gap but I will say that I think it’s a great time for actors like myself. We are free of box office numbers and its shackles. It enables us to make choices in terms of storytelling and create something fresh. Actors and creators like me are getting golden opportunities in a golden time. We’ve been in a debate between OTTs and silver screens but I can’t pick a favourite there, I love it all. We’re now in a situation where streaming platforms are all we have and everyone has to compete there now. We’ve had cases of such huge films releasing on streaming platforms alongside small shows that are doing a lot better than those big films. I think it’s pretty exciting because the playing field has been leveled. We’re no more creating content just for the urban niche Indian audience, we’re now competing on a global level. I think only good can come out of it. Everybody is going to have to pull up their socks and create better and better content because it’s the only way to stay relevant now. Stardom is now irrelevant in this new phase.

What show do you wish you were a part of? 

I wish I was a part of shows like Delhi Crime or Mirzapur. Personally, now having almost finished season 2 of Mirzapur, I would say that Munna is my favourite part of the show. But I think Divyenndu Sharma has done such a fabulous job of it that I can’t touch it. It’s too good. Because I’ve recently watched it and the acting is still so fresh in my head, that while all the actors have done a phenomenal job, Divyenndu and Ali Fazal’s acting really takes the show away for you. I would love to have the opportunity to play a character like Munna or against Munna, absolutely.

How would you convince someone to sign up for organ donation? 

There are so many families out there waiting to thank you. In India, only one in every 10 lakh people is signing up to donate their organs whereas one person donating could save up to 8 lives. One tissue donor can save up to 75 lives. The numbers are so unbelievable that I couldn’t understand the reason behind the lack of organ donation. I think a lack of awareness and education is the major cause of this. So when MTV decided to do this by targeting our youth — India’s largest demographic, I was completely on board. It’s more important for them to be aware of organ donation and bust the myths around it. I’ve signed up for organ donation myself.

Assistant Director Arjun Mathur with Aamir Khan on the sets of Rang De Basanti.

Who is someone that inspires you? 

I spent about two feature films observing Mr. Aamir Khan on a film set and I think what I learned from him is invaluable. He’s a bit of an institution. The way he operates on a film set, his work ethic, his discipline, his sense of humor even, or just the way he approaches a project or a scene has taught me so much. He always has suggestions that are things that no one has thought of that elevate the scene and the movie. There’s a lot to pick up from Mr. Aamir Khan.

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