Sharad Kelkar plays the evil tormentor of Aditi Rao Hydari in Omung Kumar’s September 22 release Bhoomi – yet another villainous turn for an actor with the looks and the stature to be a leading man. Kelkar has been in numerous television serials since his 2000 debut Aakrosh, including Saat Phere – Saloni Ka Safar, Uttaran and Agent Raghav. His credits in Hindi and Marathi films include Uttarayan (2005), Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela (2013) and Lai Bhaari (2014), and he has also emerged as an accomplished dubbing artist, lending his deep voice to the lead character in the Hindi versions of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali films, among others. Not bad at all for a small-town boy with a stammering problem, as he tells

You were a gym instructor in Gwalior. And now you are doing big-ticket films. Did you expect anything of this to happen to you?
Nothing was planned or even dreamed of. I had graduated in Physical Education, I was 23 and I wanted to work as soon as possible. My mother has brought us up single-handedly [his father died when he was young]. She had been working for so long and I wanted to make life easier for her. I started a gym in a club in 2000. I started making around Rs 2,500 per month. I was visiting a cousin in Mumbai. I was to return in two days when I got an offer out of nowhere to walk on the ramp. They were offering me Rs 5,000. I immediately cancelled my ticket.

After that, I finished my MBA and started working in a telecom company. One day, I asked my mother if I could go to Bombay and try my luck. She has never said no to me. She only asked me, “What will you do?” I had no idea. I thought if I don’t get modelling assignments, I would do something in the fitness industry. I convinced four of my friends to come with me to Bombay.

And then?
Well, the first day was a big shocker. The house we thought we had booked was suddenly not available. That day was rough. Finally we found a house where eight people were staying in a two-BHK home. Then we five joined in. Three months later, I got an ad film. But then for two years nothing happened. I didn’t get any acting roles because of my stammering problem.

Bhoomi (2017).

You had a stammering problem?
Yes. I had a major issue with stammering when I was growing up. I got a break in a TV serial. The first five days, I had to say only one or two dialogues. But on the sixth day, I was handed a full page. I rehearsed like crazy, but in front of the camera, I fumbled and stammered heavily. After about 30-odd retakes, I was replaced.

I was so disheartened. Opportunities were coming my way, but I couldn’t grab them.

At that time I got a show on DD1. I somehow managed because I didn’t have too many dialogues. I didn’t rest at all. I would just keep saying those dialogues again and again. It’s on this show that I met my future wife [Kirti]. She helped me a lot.

How did you overcome your stammering?
I kept asking myself, why do I stammer? I have no confidence issues. I was in a Mr India contest, I have trained at multinational companies, then why am I still stammering? I would look at Mr Amitabh Bachchan and follow the way he speaks. I realised that he has great command over his breathing and that’s why he speaks the way he does and pauses at the right moments.

My breathing pattern was all wrong. I kept practising. Even today I stammer, but only when I am really angry. I have improved 75%. I still have to work on it.

Baahubali 2 (2017).

Were your formative years difficult because of your stammering?
I want to tell everyone: when kids stammer, don’t tease them. Let them express themselves however long it takes. If you keep mocking them, they suppress their emotions and that turns into anger.

I had a lot of anger in me. When I would try to speak, people would tease or say, tu chup reh. I used to get really upset and I started beating up people. I would bite them. I had to give vent to my frustration.

Once I got control over my breathing, things started improving and I did my first Marathi film. Uttarayan bought me my own home. I just wanted to make sure that my mom stayed with me.

You have grown up with two independent women, your mother and your sister. How has that shaped your personality?
Whenever they talk of women empowerment, I think of our home back in Gwalior. My mother encouraged my sister to do whatever she wanted. She would get vehicles first and then they would be handed over to me. My first scooter was a Luna and that too after being used by my sister. My sister would clean the jeep with my dad and there was absolutely no gender stereotyping.

You have a great voice, and you look better than many heroes. Does that work against you as you are often seen in negative roles?
I think it is important that an actor does different roles. Now even Salman Khan is doing a villain’s role.

For the first five years of my career, I had only been romancing on television. I was not growing as an actor. In 2004, when I was struggling for work and money, I was offered a a cop’s role in CID. Everyone said, now your life is set. Now you don’t have to worry about money for years. I quit that show in three months. I could not go on saying, yes sir, yeh laash kahaan se aayi, forever.

You didn’t feel financially insecure?
Thankfully, my needs are not too many. When I came here, I had nothing. As they say, “Meri zaooratein kam hai, isiliye mere zameer me dam hai” (My needs are limited, hence my conscience is strong).

Lai Bhaari (2014).

Aren’t you worried about being typecast as a villain?
I like it as of now. Do you realise that people remember bad guys more than the good guys? I am not worried about having a bad boy image. I know I am a good guy off screen. I am just concerned about being happy about what I am doing, and I am happy.

In Bhoomi, I am playing a black character. But it was so much fun. You will remember my dialogues. That and working with Sanjay Dutt was amazing. Bhoomi is one of the prettiest feathers in my cap.

Do you get a better pick of roles in Marathi films?
I do have a better positioning after Lai Bhaari. I have been refusing a lot of films there. I did only one in three years. The sad part is that the success ratio in Marathi films is very low. I want to raise the bar. Things will improve in the next two years.

I think it is up to us actors to take responsibility. In Bollywood, they do profit sharing and return the money if the film is a flop, Marathi actors should do that too. In Marathi, things have to be planned and executed better.