Purab Kohli has come a long way, from playing Mazhar in the teen drama Hip Hip Hurray in the ’90s to being a part of The Matrix Resurrections ensemble. It’s hard to believe he’s been in the acting business for almost 24 years.
In conversation with ScoopWhoop, Purab Kohli reflected on his first fan encounter, the impact of his film My Brother…Nikhil, and his own career so far.
Kohli reflected on his early days as an actor, saying that he considers himself really fortunate to be a part of a show like Hip Hip Hurray.
I don’t think any of us expected it to grow to this size when we were doing it. People still refer to me as Mazhar. There were no social media platforms when Hip Hip Hurray released. There was no accurate way to figure out how many people are watching. I had no idea how impactful the show was.
Although there were no proper means to know the volume of people viewing a show back in the day when the series aired, Purab Kohli got a sense of the show’s reach after an endearing fan encounter.
In 1999, I was travelling through MP for Channel V and ended up in Jabalpur, shooting in the marble rocks, trying to recreate Ashoka‘s song sequence. This girl swoops down one of the nearby hills yelling, “Mazhar”. Initially, I had no idea who she was calling. Then I realised Mazhar was the name of my character. That was my very first fan moment. It was the first hint of just how big Hip Hip Hurray was. The show influenced a whole generation and continues even now. It wasn’t just a show, but a lesson in life.
Back in the 1990s, the television show that was ahead of their time and dealt with fears and hopes, as well as relationships of teenagers, had a huge impact on its viewers. Kohli, too, agrees that the series brought up topics that aren’t generally discussed, and that it is still relevant.
For a teenager, a show like that showed what they were going through because they didn’t know how to express it to their families and friends. Many of my friends have told me that their parents would not allow them to watch the show. They used to hide and watch it. It spoke about a lot of things that were unspoken at home. It was a path-breaking show. Even now, kids of that age group can take a lot from it if they watch it.
Since then, Purab Kohli has slipped into the skin of a lot of notable characters along the way, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that he’s still picky about what he does. After his big Hollywood appearance, Kohli chose London Files, an investigative thriller, as his next project, and he cited two reasons to do so: Arjun Rampal as a co-star and the show’s unique approach to the premise.
It’s actually lovely to be back on set with Arjun [Rampal]. The fact that we got along so well on Rock On 1 and 2 is also a plus. And the chance to work with him again was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this show. It was nice to watch Arjun in a role that he doesn’t usually play.
Rampal will play Om Singh, a troubled detective who is summoned to investigate a crime, in the six-episode thriller. Om uncovers secrets and lies in London’s underbelly while on the hunt for media baron Amar Roy’s (Purab Kohli) missing daughter.
When asked what drew him to the series, the actor claims that while the edge-of-your-seat thriller isn’t unusual among the flood of similar series in the genre, the cast’s performance and the fact that it has layers and layers set it apart.
What makes London Files interesting is that it isn’t just about that [a missing person]. Something has gone horribly wrong in the life of this one character who has some sort of history. The way he deals with it while working on a case is unlike what we see in [the shows] in India. The cast and performances, of course, are the main ingredients that keep the show interesting.
The Voot Select series would be the first project to be released starring Kohli after The Matrix. It was iconic for Indian fans to see two Indian actors on the screen up there with the likes of Keanu Reeves, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Neil Patrick Harris in the film. It was beyond the grasp of the actor, too, who has worked in the industry for almost two decades.
I saw The Matrix in the theatre when the first film came out, and I never imagined I’d be in one of the sequels. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an actor or not, but I was already doing it. I never pictured myself as a serious actor. I would have laughed if someone had told me you were going to have years of an acting career and that you’d be in The Matrix. It’s almost unfathomable, a dream come true.
His journey in western cinema began long before the sci-fi action flick, when he teamed with Lana Wachowski on the 2014 series Sense 8. The show follows eight strangers from all over the world who are linked by a violent vision and their shared capacity to interact with one another’s minds. In those days, it was a one-of-a-kind cinematic project.
However, the actor’s work history has always shown that he is on the lookout for challenging roles. In fact, right at the start of his career, in 2005, he chose to work on My Brother…Nikhil, a film that was one of the first to explore the complexities of a queer love story.
It is one of the path-breaking films of its time. It’s an important film for me because it was during this film that I decided to pursue an acting career. I used to act since I was getting, making a bit of money, and traveling with Channel V. With the film, I had my first very good professional experience, where the film itself had a huge impact on the audience, including myself. So when I first saw the film, I thought to myself, “Wow!” This is the power of cinema.
Not only was it a watershed moment in Indian cinema, but it was also a defining moment in the actor’s career.
This is why I want to commit the rest of my life to it. Hip Hip Hurray first aired in 1998, and My Brother…Nikhil released in 2005; 7 years later, I decided that this is what I wanted to do. That’s precisely what the film did for me.
Meanwhile, the notable film became a conversation starter for LGBTQ+ representation, and Kohli summarised the film’s impact on viewers with a heartwarming anecdote while discussing it.
The film told a sensitive story about characters that had never been written or spoken about before. Forget about that; they may have been arrested as a consequence of the unlawful acts. Of course, the world has changed since then, and I believe my movie contributed to that reality. One of my relatives, who I would consider homophobic or not open to the idea of homosexuality, saw the film. Upon seeing the movie, he called me and said, “Beta, kya picture banayi hai, aankhon mein aansu aa gaye“. He was so moved by the film that he looked beyond all of his traditional beliefs. Before and around the film, you’d see effeminate characters representing the LGBTQ+ community being mocked. I believe we are beyond that now. Characters are treated with more sensitivity, which is appropriate.
The influx of OTT platforms may be credited with the rise of filmmakers and actors exploring more challenging themes and subjects that are rarely addressed. The audience has welcomed the content with open arms, just as the actors have seamlessly transitioned to digital platforms.
However, Purab Kohli hasn’t recently joined the bandwagon. In fact, he did his first OTT project almost six years ago and believes the rise of digital platforms has resulted in significantly more work for the industry.
I’ve never seen such a flood of work in my 24 years in the industry. I turn down more work than I take. OTT platforms are providing a lot of livelihood for people. They also encourage some creativity. Many platforms are recognising that providing entertainment on a person’s phone is the way of the future. But films have their own charm because they are shown on a big screen. Going to the movies, especially in a country like India, is like a family outing. That is unlikely to change.
Not only have we been impressed by these platforms’ latest offerings, but so has the actor. Kohli listed a few works by his contemporaries that resonated with him while talking about shows or films that impressed him.
The Family Man, Made in Heaven, and Aranyak, which I liked a lot, as well as Asur, are two shows that have stuck with me. “Yaar, Asur 2 me kuch hai toh mujhe de do,” I said to the director. Raveena Tandon in Aranyak is one actor who has really shocked me with her performance. You haven’t seen her in quite some time. She did a few more projects in the meantime, but I haven’t seen them, so I just remember her from Tip Tip Barsa Paani and similar roles. Suddenly, you see her in a show like this, and she puts on quite a show. It’s contrary to how she’s perceived. Her performance just blew me away.
The actor, who has always been on the hunt for something unusual, sees a lot of possibilities with the inflow of more complex shows and films. And for him, Amar Roy, his role in the London files enables him to go somewhere he hasn’t been before.
As an actor, you always want to be on the lookout for something new, at least for me. I hate doing the same thing. You ought to go to areas you haven’t explored, psychologies you haven’t explored, and Amar, the character in London Files, does just that. It’s a small part, but it has a lot of layers. Anyone who has seen the show has told me how well the character has turned out. When a character has several shades, it’s difficult for an actor to show a graph of the character. And while you only have a few scenes, the way you bridge them is what makes it fun. It feels quite satisfying now when they tell me the character has done amazingly well.
Purab Kolhi has nailed every part he’s portrayed so far, and Amar Roy possibly won’t be any different, even if it’s a brief one. London Files will be streaming from 21st April, only on Voot Select.