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Vanraj Shah – Before and After Anupamaa

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Vanraj Shah

Sudhanshu Pandey’s oeuvre spans films and television. He is multi-faceted as he sings too. He was part of India’s first boy brand called Band of Boys. The actor returned to television to do a daily serial Anupamaa in 2020. In this chartbusting serial aired for six days on Star Plus, Sudhanshu’s role as Vanraj Shah has won him a lot of adulation. His future plans include turning a producer offering good content and release a song.

Vanraj ShahIt is a love – hate relationship that television audience have for Vanraj Shah – now ex-husband to the lead character Anupama. Good looks, great screen presence, and a magnetic personality that can steer not just Anupama but the entire audience to his side when he wishes to – Sudhanshu Pandey portrays the complex character with practiced ease. As an actor he displays a variety of emotions – that of a toxic male, a loving father, a responsible child to his parents, egoist, traditional and also fun at times – and gets away each time with convincing performances. He talks about how it all began, his co-stars, and his character in this exclusive interview with FRIDAYWALL

Back in time, what made you sign Anupama, a small screen serial because you have largely acted in films?

Over a period of many years I kept doing my work in films and I saw the growth of the television industry with the daily soap building up and how. Only in 2019 end and 2020 beginning I decided to take the plunge. I decided mentally that if I get some good stuff in my hand on television I will go for it. When we speak of television today it is a supremely growing industry. Today it is one of the largest revenue generation industries and one of the most influential ones. The real branding of most of the people today if you see is due to television. So, the television industry has changed the face of the entertainment industry completely and the power and influence of that industry is unprecedented. At that time at one of the Award functions I got to present an award to someone and in the backstage Rajan Shahi and I were generally talking. I told Rajan let’s do something, I am ready now. This was November 2019 and by January 2020 I got a call from him when he was sitting at the channel office probably discussing a show based on what we call Anupamaa today. He said that I can’t think of anybody else in this character. Only if you say yes will I take this forward. He gave me a one line and then I heard the whole thing. As they say the rest is history.

Vanraj ShahSo, was Rajan Shahi an instrumental factor in your signing the serial?

Absolutely it was Rajan who gave me the one line, he convinced me about the functioning of the television industry. In a daily show there is a lot of hard work and it is constant and it is not like you sit in a vanity on the set. It is a different set up all together. So he mentally prepared me also over a month and a half it’s not going to be easy, it is going to be a tough task, you are not used to it. Being a friend he gave me all those briefs. It did not take me long to absorb the whole atmosphere, understand the functioning of it and basically become one with the whole culture. I am now so used to it and loving it now. It has been the best ride of my career till now.

Did you have any doubts about taking up this particular role?

Not at all. Once I knew what it was I didn’t bat an eyelid before I said yes. I knew this was a history in the making. I had a gut feeling that this is going to be good as it was a completely different subject from what you hear or see on television. This came as a very fresh breath of air and it was a beautiful subject. It has been an incredible journey since a year and a half.

Sudhanshu PandeyHow did you prepare for the role because this character has all shades? Could you relate to this particular character Vanraj Shah?

It’s not about really preparing for something. I personally feel an actor has to really understand the character on paper really well. And then internalise it so much because we have every single emotion within ourselves. When you internalise something you start to connect with every emotion you are asked to portray as the character demands. That is what I do with almost all my characters unless there is something specific. Like, if I were to play a blind man then I would definitely prepare for it because I need to see how blind people function, what are their senses, since they are blind how are they enhanced, how they live life and make a living. So that is when preparation would come in. To play a character like Vanraj Shah there is no physical preparation but there is more of the mental and internal preparation one has to do.

How has it been essaying this character for more than a year and a half?

It has been incredible. Normally if you were to play a certain character one would probably tend to get bored of the monotonous style of playing it. But, fortunately, for me Vanraj Shah has had so many shades, so many layers of his character and so many different events that have happened in his life that it has been an absolutely phenomenal growth for me. Here as an actor for me to understand, perform those situations and the circumstances it has been a great learning process and the writers have done such a brilliant job. I feel honoured to be doing something like that.

How is your rapport with Rupali because your chemistry with her is so good?

My rapport is fantastic with Rupali. We are great friends off screen; obviously a lot of joking around and fooling around happens throughout the day. Also people loved the chemistry, love every scene between us. Even till date people say your scenes are so good whenever you perform together. People love it. It’s a different flavour. My scenes with Madalsa have a different flavour. Madalsa has grown phenomenally as an actor from when she came in. She has been doing a fantastic job. It’s a tough character to play. Rupali’s character is absolutely brilliant, it is also author backed. Everything is placed in your hand as in what it to be done. But a character like mine is mostly left to interpretation. You have to interpret it and give it your life and soul into it. Rupali has done a fantastic job. For me it has been extremely difficult because the line is so thin between becoming a grey character and becoming a villain. So it’s bothering on the thin line and sometimes I really need to strike a balance all the times when I am executing the scenes.

As far as your chemistry with Rupali is concerned, do you feel that off screen you share a great friendship and that’s reflected to a certain extent on screen?

Of course it does. Obviously at the end of the day you have to perform your scenes to a 100 per cent whether you are friendly with somebody or not. Definitely if you are very comfortable with your co-star things are always easier and can give you better results on camera than with somebody you don’t know.

Vanraj ShahHow is your rapport with the rest of the cast because there are so many people?

My rapport with my bapuji (Arvind Vaidya) is phenomenal. Mr Arvind Vaidya is a legend from Gujarati theatre. He is a Maharashtrian man but he has done over 3000 Gujarati plays. He has directed, written, performed and done everything. He is a very funny man. He is exactly my father’s age. For me it’s fantastic as I have a father figure on the set who I have fun with cracking jokes. We have a lot of fun on the sets.

With Baa and the kids?

We have a great rapport between us. I spend most of my time with either bapuji or Madalsa or Anagha (who plays Nandini, my son’s love interest). I treat her like my own daughter, so there is a very beautiful rapport with her.

How do you perceive the adulation you have received doing this serial?

I take it as a reward for all the hard work that we put in. It’s very rewarding to receive the kind of adulation people give you, so much love affection and even if they hate my character it is a form of expression and love because they love to hate the character. Lot of times people also say we love to hate you but if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have loved the show so much because you make it so believable. It enhances your will to do better in life, will to give them more entertainment and the will to better yourself.

The serial has consistently rocked the charts. What do you think has contributed to this phenomenal success?

It is the storyline, it is the fabric of the show, it is the plot, it is the characters, it is the drama, it is the social awareness that we create with the story and we give out socially relevant messages for women empowerment and upliftment in life. It’s an amalgamation of all of it and not just entertainment.

AnupamaAny particular scenes you found strenuous to perform. I remember your monologue about your efforts for your family telecast quite some time back…

That’s the biggest monologue I have ever performed. That was quite a thing. I shot it in the day time in a span of nine hours. That was a 17-page monologue. I had lost my voice actually after that. My vocal chords did not come back to normal for almost 3 months after that. Because it was of such high intensity I had to put in everything I had.

It took a lot out of you as an actor?

Yes.

How is it working with Rajan Shahi now?

Fantastic., as always. He is a friend. We have a great relationship. He is very understanding. We both belong to the same era. We started our careers around the same time. I respect his sense of understanding the public pulse. He knows the flavour, he has given some of the biggest hits on television. We have a great rapport amongst ourselves.

What do you think contributes to his success as a producer?

His passion, pure passion. He’s not just a producer who is spending money to make shows, he is somebody who does everything himself – he is at the top of everything whether it is writing or whether it is music, whether it is direction. He is extremely passionate and committed. It is very difficult to see people like that, very difficult to find producers in that mould.

How do you spend free time if you have on the sets?

We just sit and chill mostly. I am sitting with Bapuji, Madalsa Anagha the people I am close to that I can chat. With Bapuji I sit and chat about politics and the situation in the country or we are cracking jokes. With Anagha and Madalsa I am just having good fun.

What keeps you going to the sets day after day to act?

I would say I have the same passion as few other people who know that. I need to be on the set to be working, to be in front of camera executing something and creating magic every single day. That keeps me going.

How is it being an actor in today’s times as there are so many different options for actors?

Acting is something which you cannot really get out of. It’s a trap (laughs). Because once an actor you are always an actor. Being an actor you would obviously like to expand or add more verticals to it. I have produced a few things earlier. I do intend to produce in the future also hopefully some good stuff. I want to definitely be a producer I am born to create content. I have some content written down.

SudhanshuSo somewhere down the line we will see you as producer then…

Of course you will.

You have done OTT series. How is it acting in them?

I have done about 5 OTT series. After I took a plunge into television I have not been able to do anything because your commitment is different. You can’t get time specially if you are playing the protagonist.

You are multi-faceted. You sing, you were part of a band. What are your pastimes?

Well I have been part of India’s first ever boy band called Band of Boys. I used to sing, I still sing. I produced a solo single also myself a few years ago. But I haven’t released another song after that. I plan to do that very soon this year. To pass my time singing is my most favourite hobby. When I am home I spend time with my boys and wife. We watch something on OTT and have some good food and that’s it chill.

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