Shashank Arora is a man who dons many hats, and each one, with panache. Currently filming for actor Nakuul Mehta’s production, the web show Gangster Newton, the writer, music composer and actor is now set to explore direction too. Apart from his upcoming Indian project, Manto, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Purab Kohli and Paresh Rawal, Arora is also awaiting the release of Songs Of Scorpions. The latter features Golshifteh Farahani, Irrfan Khan and Waheeda Rehman and is set to release next month. When we meet him at his Goregaon apartment, he talks to us about juggling multiple roles, and turning down big projects.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
Your upcoming web show, Gangster Newton, has an unusual title. Tell us about it.
It’s about a young Maharashtrian boy who fails to find a job despite being an IIT topper. He has struggled all his life, and despite being studious, doesn’t get a job. He never made friends or fell in love, because he wanted to study and be an achiever. In the end, a garage owner gives him a job. He later realises that there is something sinister going on in the garage and they [the workers] are part of a mafia gang. He kills everyone and rises to the top [to be part of the mafia circle]. He has no physical strength, and only uses his mind to make his move. He uses mathematics to fight and calls himself Newton.
What is the status of the project?
We are yet to shoot the entire series. Since everyone got busy with other projects, this one took a backseat. But, we will wrap it up this year. We don’t have a The Big Bang Theory [American show, based on geeks] here. We don’t have to copy them, but the effect it [the show] has had on the population is brilliant.
Is the show expected to have violence?
There will be a bit of it, but ultimately, it is a story of a boy and his use of maths. Every episode is based on a [real-life] scientist and that is more than I should have said. There is nothing like it in the web space right now.
Are you consciously choosing non-commercial projects?
My decisions have been organic. I have refused conventional roles since Titli (2014) released. I refuse to do films where I can’t bring something to the table or grow as an actor. I want to serve the audience with something good.
There were reports of you turning down some big-ticket projects. Were those decisions easy to take?
I did feel scared and worried that if I gave the wrong impression, I would be ignored in the industry. But it depends on how you say no. If you have a legitimate reason, the person will understand. I never let the producers feel there is something lacking in the project. I ask two questions before I agree to take up a role: ‘Why does this person want to tell this story’ and ‘do they like telling stories’. If a filmmaker is making a film for money alone, they will not be able to tell the story. Money is important, but it is not my primary motive.
But not all projects you take up can be successful, take the example of Rock On 2 (2016).
I liked the script [of Rock On 2]. It was a story of a band that was trying to make people aware of the plight of farmers. But certain films don’t turn out the way you expect them to. [Even today] I don’t see Rock On as something I wouldn’t be part of.
You’ve dabbled in various fields. What part of the business comes naturally to you?
Music and writing comes easier than acting and direction.
Are you composing anything new?
I am composing for a Malayalam film called Moothon, which has been written by Anurag Kashyap. It stars Nivin Pauly and sees me as the villain. It is about a boy who comes to Mumbai in search of his brother. It was shot in Kamathipura, Dharavi and Andaman. We are expecting a year-end release.