Tahir Raj Bhasin, most recently seen as Sunil Gavaskar in Kabir Khan’s 83, will be romancing four women in the same weekend. That’s a big leap from playing a villain locked in the cross hairs of gun-toting heroines in Mardaani (2014) and Force 2 (2016).
In Voot’s January 13 release Ranjish Hi Sahi, Bhasin plays a filmmaker who has an extra-marital affair with a movie star. The next day, Netflix releases the series Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, in which Bhasin’s character is sandwiched between his girlfriend and a politician’s daughter.
“I don’t see my early roles as villainous, but anti-heroes,” Bhasin told Scroll.in. “The journey from anti-heroes to heroes has been a conscious design, which had me rejecting many scripts. The current chapter of my career where I am having lead roles which are romantic has been extremely fulfilling.”
The romantic quotient continues in Loop Lapeta, out on Netflix on February 4. The remake of Run Lola Run stars Bhasin and Taapsee Pannu. The original German movie is a time-loop thriller about a woman who gets three chances to complete a heist and save her debt-ridden boyfriend.
“Because it’s adapted to an Indian context, certain elements like the romance have been amplified,” Bhasin said. “There is tremendous energy between my character Satya and Taapsee’s character Savi. Loop Lapeta will stylistically change the definition of a modern-day romance.”
Ranjish Hi Sahi allowed Bhasin to have long discussions with its creator Mahesh Bhatt. The series fictionalises Bhatt’s relationship with the actress Parveen Babi.
“Having been part of several classic films about romantic entanglements with grey protagonists, Bhatt saab talked to me about those films and the experiences he had,” Bhasin said. “Understanding his journey was important for my character, who is a director hungry to be successful but is frustrated because he doesn’t have the perfect script. Despite having experienced conflict and dealt with romantic passion, he did not force-feed the role to me but stealthily steered me without letting the direction be seen.”
Both Ranjish Hi Sahi and Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein feature a woman obsessed with a man – a coincidence, Bhasin said.
“In Ranjish Hi Sahi, I play a creative rebel who is boisterous and outspoken, wants to do things outside of power structures, and will do anything to fulfill his vision, but society keeps stopping him,” Bhasin explained. “In Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, I am a boy next door with simple dreams, who wants to be with the girl he loves. A politician’s daughter decides she is going to marry him. How power interferes with his life and he changes reluctantly is the crux of the story.”
Bhasin has received warm notices for his portrayal of Gavaskar in 83, about India’s historic World Cup victory. Despite Gavaskar’s poor form throughout the tournament, Bhasin portrays the cricketing great with dignity and style.
“Long before 83, Gavaskar had become a sporting legend and style icon,” Bhasain observed. “I had to communicate that with just my look, walk, eye contact. I had to express his persona without lines.”
Bhasin’s conversations with Gavaskar were instructive. “He had a very matter-of-fact answer for not playing without a helmet – and that was how he was at his most agile and athletic, with his centre of balance right,” Bhasin said. “He never consciously thought about safety or style. He also pointed out that his much-talked-about walk was intentional, as there had to be a certain projection of authority when you walk out to the field to open for India.”
The 34-year-old actor hails from a family of Indian Air Force pilots. He caught the acting bug in school. His interests took him to University of Melbourne, where he learned media science, whose subjects included history and philosophy of film.
“Education can never go to waste,” Bhasin said. “In acting, where people from different fields come, you can apply just about anything. The courses I did gave me a theoretical understanding of script and acting, which helps me have dialogue with my directors about my roles, improvising, how to tweak a scene with regard to my character’s perspective. It makes the creative involvement more fulfilling.”
In 2010, Bhasin moved to Mumbai to kickstart an acting career. He got his big break as the baddie in back-to-back productions.
In Mardaani, starring Rani Mukerji as a supercop, Bhasin played a child trafficker. In Force 2, he was a hacker. His subsequent roles were in Nandita Das’s biopic Manto (2018), where he depicted the actor Shyam, and Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore (2019), in which he starred as a chain-smoking athlete.
“I have certainly evolved in the past few years because evolution is what happens when you have creative goals of being better at your job and you are not reaching them,” Bhasin said. “Especially the last couple of years have led to moments of epiphany for all of us. You have to learn to be committed to your craft. Having gone from doing small roles for two hours a day to doing double shifts of 12 hours each, I could not be happier.”