Ankur Rathee on his craft, work and goals

Interviews OTT

Actor-dancer Ankur Rathee is best known for his roles in the Amazon Prime series Four More Shots Please (2019), Zoya Akhtar’s Made in Heaven (2019), the Hindi films Thappad (2020) , The Tashkent Files (2019) opposite Naseeruddin Shah, Bejoy Nambiar’s Taish, and Undekhi and as a finalist on Dance India Dance (2009). In his latest show he is seen playing the role of Arvind Mehta in Hotstar + Disney’s City Of Dreams S2 directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, which also stars Shriyam Bhagnani, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Priya Bapat & Atul Kulkarni. He was last seen in Zee 5’s Orginal ‘Taish’ directed by Bejoy Nambiar and Sony LIV’s original webseries ‘Undekhi’ as an NRI guy Daman. He graduated from Princeton University where he trained under artists like Tony Award winner John Rando, Tony Award nominee Leigh Silverman, and Academy Award nominee Christina Lazaridi. He also briefly studied filmmaking at USC School of Cinematic Arts. After moving to New York City, he continued his training with Alice Spivak in the Stanislavsky Technique and began doing off-Broadway theater. His notable performances include “Jade Emperor” in the martial arts opera “Journey Beyond the West”, an Iraqi soldier in “Between the Tigris and the Euphrates”, and an ancient Cordoba poet in “My Heart is in the East” at the historic LaMaMa Theater. He talks about his career and craft in this interview with Riddhiman Ghosh for ottwatcher.com.

How has the pandemic changed the entertainment industry? In y our experience, how different was shooting/production during the pandemic, compared to before?

With the whole world stuck indoors many people turned to OTT content to satiate their cinematic appetite. Naturally, many films seeking theatrical release also opted to sell to an OTT platform. Before the pandemic, it was rare to see a blockbuster film release this way. While the world returns to normalcy, this model of distribution might be here to stay for some films. 

The more obvious change is that so many artists and skilled labour in our industry were out of a job and forced to return to their respective towns. Shooting during most of the pandemic wasn’t possible and many individuals had to pivot their career to survive. 

Tell us about your latest project City of Dreams. What was it about this show that drew you to it?

The fact that I would be working with Nagesh Kukunoor was a very big factor in my decision. Actors grow with evolved directors. 

You have previously spoken about how you enjoyed working with Shriyam Bhagnani on City of Dreams. Tell us more about your working relationship.

We quickly developed a mutual trust. Some of our scenes were tricky especially given how drastically different our characters were, and it’s in those moments that we relied on each other to create the necessary balance. We truly had to be a team, pivoting, amplifying, or pulling back to make the scene work for our co actor, just as much as for us.  

You’ve already worked on multiple projects that have streamed on various OTT Platforms. Do you prefer working on small-screen productions for OTT platforms, as compared to the traditional large-screen movie formats of yesteryears? What is the biggest difference between the two?

A series is closer to a 10-hour film than it is to a television show in my experience. You have a lot more time in this format to develop plot, but especially character. I can’t say it’s a substitute for a theatrical film experience though. There’s something quite magical about going to the movies and being transported for two hours. I hope to continue to work in both mediums. 

Do you plan on working with Hotstar or Prime Video again soon? Do you have any projects ongoing right now?

I have joined the third season of a Prime Video franchise recently and just completed my first Netflix show. Currently, I’m shooting for Undekhi Season 2 and a film yet to be announced. 

Apart from acting, you’re also a prolific dancer. Tell us a little bit about your journey with dance, and its influence in your life.

Music and movement were my first introduction to the stage and will always be a lifelong passion. In fact, musical theatre became my stepping stone to acting as a discipline. There’s truly a unique ecstasy when you’re acting, dancing, and singing at the same time. 

Do you enjoy musicals? Which are your favourite works in the musical genre?

Yes, very much. I’m quite fond of Chicago and Into the Woods. 

Did you look up to any personality in the entertainment world as inspiration? Who was your biggest role model as you grew up?

It honestly kept changing. As I developed as an artist myself, so did my role models. Actors before that I was enamoured by eventually became mundane to me and others that I overlooked I saw in a new light, masters of their craft. Some, of course, remain. I grew up with Tom Hanks for example, a man whose work is always exemplary in my opinion. 

Have you ever tried your hand at scriptwriting? Have you ever dreamt or thought of an interesting idea, and tried to make a story out of it?

Yes, in fact I took a course on screenwriting at Princeton University and at USC School of Cinematic Arts, where I wrote and directed my first short film on 16mm. There are many ideas for films that I have in development, but the challenge right now is making consistent time away from my acting commitments to work on them. 

What comes next for you? Do you have any immediate short-term goals or targets you’re hoping to achieve soon?

Drama seems to be the genre my career has gravitated to so far, but there’s a very goofy side of my personality that I hope to utilise in a comedic role in the near future.