For most, 2020 has been a year of patient learning. With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping everyone's agendas under the carpet indefinitely, productivity has been out of the question for a lot of us this year. However, for Rohan Gurbaxani, 2020 has been a year of steady advancement. After graduating from NYU and finding himself at the forefront of opportunities, his journey to bagging his first role wasn't easy. The Bridge Chronicle talks to him on his journey so far, and here's what he had to say:
Were you always passionate about cinema? Tell us a little about your journey till today.
A: I grew up in Bangalore and while growing up, I used to do a lot of performing -- in terms of dance. I never had any inclination towards acting or cinema. The only time I did was when I had the usual Friday nights with my family for a very commercial movie. But I used to dance at Shiamak's, do a lot of competitions in school and it was only until when I moved from Koramangala to Whitefield, where my mom just randomly enrolled me in a theatre programme at the Jagruti Theatre.
I wouldn't say that was the turning point, I don't have the cliche epiphany moment where I had a discovery about my passion. I think it was more of a cultivated passion which started coming up in my early teens. I was very fixed on going to NYU and the Arts School which is called Tish School of the Arts. My first major step into acting was when I stepped into Tish School of the Arts at NYU. Because it is one of the top drama schools in the world, I was taken aback, because I felt like I was very inexperienced, I didn't have any validation that I even have potential. Looking back at it, it helped not having experience because it made me truly understand why I wanted to do it. It really helped in cultivating this passion I had.
A lot of learning happened during my college years and from my third year onwards, I didn't want to wait before I start auditioning for actual movies. I started to get impatient because everyone kept talking about how you need to be in the right place at the right time. I would attend classes during the day and in the evening, I used to go attend the auditions for TV shows and movies.
I enjoyed being in an environment where I could do both. I didn't believe in taking a break -- and while some people may do that, it is perfectly fine -- but in my mind, I wanted to get in the dirt real quick. I started assisting feature films in 2019, where I did all the dirty work. Really, the lowest of low jobs! But I kept the end goal in mind, which was understanding what these experienced actors were doing, and why they're doing it. So, even though I would be taking out the trash and setting up food for lunch I would still try to keep in mind what I'm there for and go on set and observe what the actors are doing.
I was fortunate enough to get my debut movie role in November 2019, the movie is called Knuckledust, it is coming out winter of 2020. That was a great experience because that was the very first time I was in front of the camera. And then after that, in January, I shot Chick Fight, which is a comedy coming out on November 13. That was a phenomenal experience because that was alongside Alec Baldwin, who also went to NYU. I learnt a lot from him. Bella Thorne is on that movie as well. I shot another movie in the same month of January, titled 'Confessions', which is a mystery thriller movie where I play a lawyer... That's pretty much the gist!
How would you say that the performing arts were different in NYU? What was your transition like?
A: Because I didn't have a lot of experience I went in with a blank slate. That was the beauty of it. It's like both sides of a coin. Because I had very minimal knowledge of character building, or script analysis or having an eye for being able to what is good story-telling versus what's not so good. Because I went in with a completely blank slate, I began learning so much at once. But also at the cost of still questioning whether I like this or not. Not that I didn't, but because it is such an intangible art form, you know it is very subjective. In school, it is all about getting good grades, good marks and knowing the subjects you're good at. You have the tangible success that you can see, by being good at a subject, and because I had to work on my accent. There were only three to four Indians in my class so it was a big gap in terms of not only learning what I supposedly wanted to do but also just the people and the culture. It was a lot of discomforts -- but it was a good discomfort. That I needed. Otherwise, it wouldn't allow me to appreciate what I had.
What would you say inspired you during your early days?
A: I think the change in story-telling is something that has inspired me towards cinema. I think because of the changing story-telling in Hollywood, now with the terrible things that are going on in the US, just being able to speak about stories that not the commercial, white American stories. That, along with the fact that apart from being inspired by change, I think I'm also driven by the fact that there are not too many A-list Indian actors. Because there's a change in the market happening, I'm representing my people. In a way, I haven't even come close to where I want to be. I think with that as the backdrop, the inspiration is unparalleled compared to being inspired by say -- an actor, or a person. It is more of like an energy that I'm inspired by. Which I feel really resonates with me.
Several films that you've been a part of are thrillers, what draws you to the genre?
A: I think it's because I'm starting off, I'm trying to do everything and anything that comes to me. You just have to take whatever you get. I think that does relate to every profession, even if it is in the business or corporate world, I think with acting and very narrow success rate and limited opportunity you have -- especially as an actor who's just starting off, I think it is a level of, "Okay I got this role, let me do this role, because at some point in the future I can choose the story I want to tell". I'd like to put it in a way that is: I choose what I get. Regardless of thriller or not, I don't think of it as a genre -- I think of it as to why this character is in this story? You don't think of a situation in a story as an emotional situation because it just is.
What, as an actor, do you usually look for in a script?
A: If I were to read a script, and I'm looking at the role I'm being considered for, I would see what that character is revealing. What does that say about me? In my opinion, every character you play reveals something about yourself. It is not about -- this character is homeless so I have to figure out how to play a homeless person. That homeless person could perhaps reveal something about you! Deep down if you really look at it, it will reveal something about you, and if that's the key -- that's what I am drawn towards. And that goes to me even for the movies. The movies I'm really drawn towards is something that you can't really put your finger on -- it reveals a secret about yourself that you may or may not be able to identify. But you know at the back of your mind that you feel something. It makes you really question or just it just lingers in your mind... It is energy.
Where will we be seeing you next? Could you tell us a little bit about what's next in the pipeline for you?
A: Currently, right now, I do have some projects in the works -- I don't have anything I can say about them. But I do have a movie or two that are on the cards. Other than that, I have shot like a few movie roles that still haven't come out yet, so those are going to be out in the world now. I haven't even seen a single one yet! I think the fact that I haven't had a single movie out yet on the internet... the next segment is more of materialisation of the work I've done and potential things that could happen.