At the beginning of the year 2015, I did some interviews with Bollywood and Tellywood artists for the Facebook page of a print magazine. I came across Actor Aruna Sangal, during that time and got acquainted with her actor son Alekh Sangal, as well. I did their interviews and almost forgot about them after the publication of the interviews. Some days ago, I got a mail from Alekh Sangal, out of the blue. But, the mail was intended for another Gayatri, not me. Alekh cleared the confusion and I thought this was perhaps the right time to do another interview with the Mumbai-born actor and this time for A Journalist Reveals. Alekh Sangal told us several things about himself, his work and future plans including his marriage. Excerpts:
How is it being late Director Ambrish Sangal Sir and Aruna Sangal Ma’am’s son?
Oh, it was wonderful. Apart from being very encouraging and non-interfering parents, they were both connected to the arts, one as a director and the other as an actor. So, I was born with an artistic bend, brought up amidst chats which involved films/actors and watching lots and lots of movies.
Were you connected to the filmdom during your childhood? How were your initial years?
Sangal Saab (as I used to fondly call him), directed 7 feature films in the 80s. So, he was right in the thick of the action. Frequent visits to film sets and parties at home, attended by actors and other film personalities; were a regular part of growing up. But, I was way too young and too little to have any meaningful interactions with any of those stars, my dad was working with. But yes, I did meet yesteryear superstars like Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Mithunda, Kumar Gaurav, Raj Babbar as a kid. And I also featured in Dad’s Dard (1981) as a newborn Rajesh Khanna, in a little scene with Hema Maliniji. My Mom and my uncle, Mr. Virendra Singh, were also part of a theatre group. Thus, I used to also love going for their rehearsals and shows. That was my childhood connect with acting and the movies.
When you got into acting, how much was your parents’ influence on it?
Apart from the exposure to the entertainment industry, through conversations and movie-watching experiences, they were never insistent on me becoming an actor. It was just something which I felt was my calling from a very early age. Though my biggest influence growing up was my maternal uncle, Mr. Virendra Singh, who was a fabulous actor and used to have a striking resemblance to a young Mr. Bachchan.
How did they react to your decision?
They might have felt an element of doubt, considering the vagaries of our industry, but were always very supportive of what I wanted to pursue and were always there when I needed any advice or an opinion about anything related to acting. My Mom is still someone I go to for regular advice and she always has a great sense for things.
Did you begin as a television actor or a Bollywood actor?
I actually started off as a theatre actor, which I was told was the quintessential actor’s medium and a great place to work on my craft. My first play in 2003 became my first movie, which released in 2004 so that happened almost immediately. TV happened only in 2011 when I did my first TV show, so it was Theatre, Film and TV, in that order.
Tell us about your Bollywood journey till now.
My first film was Silence Please – The Dressing Room (2004), directed by Sanjay Srinivas. It was a film adaptation of my first play. While the cricket-based play was a huge success, the film, unfortunately, wasn’t.
Then came Summer 2007 (2008), directed by Suhail Tatari, with Sikandar Kher, Gul Panag, Arjan Bajwa and Uvika Chaudhary. It was an important film, tackling the issue of farmer suicides, but had a poor release and an almost 3-hour length hurt the film badly.
My first genuine success on the film front came with a very small independent film about obsession called Kshay (2012), with Rasika Dugal as my co-actor. It was written and directed by Karan Gour, it was played at 12 international film festivals, won 4 best film awards and had a 2 week theatrical run in India through PVR’s director’s rare initiative.
Then came Rush (2013), with Emraan Hashmi and Neha Dhupia, which suffered from the director of the film, Shamin Desai, going through multiple illnesses and eventually passing away. It had a delayed release and wasn’t able to live up to what it was supposed to be.
Next was Sabki Bajegi Band (2015), directed by RJ Anirudh Chawla, with actors like Sumeet Vyas, Swara Bhaskar and Amol Parashar in a very interesting ensemble cast. The film was based on conversations about relationships and sex and ended up being very misunderstood, getting some terrible reviews. But, a determined Anirudh made the movie last in theatres for almost 10 weeks.
The Gujarati film, Gujjubhai The Great (2015), directed by Ishaan Randeria, is one of the highest grossing Gujarati films of all time and I had a great time being a part of.
There was also Behen Hogi Teri (2017), directed by Ajay Pannalal, with one of the best actors of our time, Rajkummar Rao along with Shruti Hassan, which released last year.
I have essayed a few cameos and there have been a couple of unfinished films along the way as well. So that has been my Bollywood movie journey.
I have also been a part of about 7 TV shows… Pyar Ka Dard Hai, Gustakh Dil, Yam Hain Hum and Suhaani Si Ek Ladki being the prominent ones. There have also been the web shows I Don’t Watch TV (Arrè) and Shaitaan Haveli (Amazon Prime).
You have been producing some movies. Tell us about them.
I was a creative producer on a documentary called Balls, which was sort of a prelude to Sabki Bajegi Band, directed by RJ Anirudh Chawla. This documentary was played at a couple of film festivals in Florence and Rome but wasn’t able to find a release here in India, owing to its explosive content.
Everyone involved with Kshay was like a part producer on it, so that was another very interesting project to be associated with, in addition to acting as well.
In 2016, Actor Nakuul Mehta, writer-director Ajay Singh and I, created and produced a web series called I Don’t Watch TV, under our company, Timbuktu Films, about the lives of TV actors and everything they go through. It was for a platform called ARRÈ, helmed by Ronnie Screwvala.
Our company Timbuktu will also be associated with Director Karan Gour’s next film which will start shooting soon.
There are a lot more producing plans in the offing with Timbuktu, which are in various stages of development.
What are your future projects?
There are a couple of new web shows, which will be going into production soon. I will be involved with them as a producer and if need be, as an actor as well. Formal announcements will happen shortly.
I’m writing an animation show and hosting a science-based show for a leading TV production house, which is entering the field of children’s entertainment.
I have just finished work on a very interesting short film called Clench, directed by Shaan Vyas and produced by Sikhya Entertainment. It should be out by September, this year.
I have also shot for a very interesting episode for a Comedy Central show, involving international comedian, Russell Howard, which should air by the end of the year.
I am also getting married at the end of the year and that is definitely looking like a very enterprising project.
What do you see 10 years?
The entertainment industry is rapidly changing with the advent of web platforms, which have exploded into the scene. So there is a lot going to happen in the next 10 years. It would be great to be creating and producing a lot more content for various mediums. Acting will always be an integral part of my journey. To keep growing as an actor and having a range of projects to choose from would be a good place to be at. I will definitely be exploring the writing part in the coming years and hopefully take a jab at directing as well. All in all, continuing to live my dream and constantly pushing my own boundaries of creativity is where I would like to be in 10 years, for many more years to come after that as well.