In Conversation with Tarun Khanna

He is sensitive; he doesn’t shy away from expressing himself and crying if he is hurt. He is so much in love with his family and is a great friend. He is ingenious, considerate, dynamic. He is an ardent follower of Lord Shiva. He is passionate about acting and storytelling. The most talented actor and as humble as the role he performs on television screen, Tarun Khanna is the celebrity crush of many.

Daily soaps dominate prime time in India and are seen across the world. The Indian television actors have become the household names beyond borders. But very few shows and actors carve a niche for themselves. Tarun Khanna is an actor with a number of big shows, such as Aarambh, Zaara, Devon Ke Dev… Mahadev, and Chandragupta Maurya and a few blockbusters like Pooja Kiven AA and Dishoom to his name.

In this exclusive conversation, he talks about how much he feels that the television shows are losing their appeal as the quality of shows deteriorates. He explains why he thinks the beauty pageants are a sham, what he thinks about nepotism in the film industry, and how Lord Shiva inspires him.

RT: When did you first realise you should be an actor? What attracted you to begin a career as an actor?

TK: I started my journey as a model. Then only I reckoned that I indeed had a talent to express myself in front of the camera. Later, acting opportunities started coming my way. I must accept that God was generous and things were a little easier for me.

I think everyone wishes to be in the limelight. So, in the beginning, my love for being in the spotlight was a primary attraction … and then, there were riches and fame! Though I soon realised that anyone who pursues acting only for affluence and recognition won’t be driving themselves further. You must endeavour the craft to be loved by people and be graced by the God. As Mark Cuban says, “It’s not about money or connections—it’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone.”

RT: It’s been two decades now for you in the industry. How do you feel? How is TV different now than in 2000s?

TK: Well yes, I started in 2003, which means that I have completed almost two decades in television industry. I am able to say that in the past decades the quality of television shows has declined massively. However, I don’t wish to blame any one person or a group, for I am also a part of the industry. If I can’t change the industry/system myself, then I shouldn’t be blaming others.

But we can’t deny the fact that the rate at which the quality of television shows is declining, I expect the worst for the future. I so much wish if we could start making brilliant shows like we made in earlier years. It is ironical that despite having exorbitant amount of money and huge platforms, we are not developing television shows that may become international superhits!

Yep, every once in a while, we do get to watch some wonderful projects like Mahabharata and Karmaphal Daata Shani written and directed by Siddhart Kumar Tewary, or Chandragupta Maurya. Apart from Siddhart Tewary, I don’t see people who might work towards creating stories which can be watched by the rest of the world. Imagine Mahabharata was listed among the 20 best TV series on world television on an American website competing with critically acclaimed hit shows like ‘Westworld’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’! 

No doubt our shows are watched in countries like Indonesia and Russia but that’s because the entertainment level in those countries is even lower than what it is in India. 

But I haven’t lost hope. I would say if one wants to progress in life then they must look up and not look down. We must always aim for getting better and not getting complacent.  I feel that our writers and creative heads need to be more innovative.

RT: You have worked in both TV soaps and films. How different is it to act in a movie and to act in a film?

TK: Ummm … to tell the truth, as an actor, it is actually very similar; no matter whether you are working in a television show or in a film. Acting is a craft to be practiced with passion. It rather depends on the person who is directing you or making you work in the project. 

In films they invest extravagantly, but regrettably they create stories based on ludicrous ideas. Most of the filmmakers, you know, are from the film fraternity only … only people who are born in the film industry. Almost 90% of the people doing films are born in the film industry and that tells how you get to work in the film industry—it’s as simple as that! Only 10% of the people come from outside the industry and it is, in fact, fiendishly difficult to create a mark for yourself, doesn’t matter how talented you are.

RT: What did you like the most about working on mythological and fantasy TV series like Chandragupta Maurya and Devi Adi Parashakti?

TK: As a child, I was an avid reader of books by Amar Chitra Katha and that’s from where I knew all the fascinating stories even before I watched them on television. Thus, it was like a dream coming true to enact my childhood fantasies and childhood comic characters on screen. I played King Vikramaditya from Vikram aur Betaal. I played Datta Chalukya, the noble, great king of the Chalukya dynasty who contributed largely when Mahmud Ghaznavi looted the Somnath temple in Gujarat.

I have played Lord Shiva nine times on television. I have played Chanakya the most iconic philosopher and economist India ever had and I played Ravana too. It’s an honour to play all these characters because they were a part of my growing up era and if given a chance, I would play all these characters time and again.

RT: How much Lord Shiva inspires you?

TK: It is an honour to play Lord Shiva on television screen. At times, people do ask me about getting typecasted and I am always amazed and ask them in return, ‘Typecast of what? Of playing the God?! You kidding me?!’ 

Creative directors are making me play the God repeatedly and people are loving me every time. That is the biggest compliment anyone could ever receive; a human being resembling the God! So, if I shall be asked to play divine characters, I will do mythology over and over again.

I feel blessed to be playing Lord Shiva; it is a huge honour! I love Lord Shiva. I believe myself to be a part of Him, just like the whole universe is a part of Him. I don’t think I am separate from Him. He is always within me.

RT: Which other character from the TV or film world would you like to play if given an opportunity? Why?

TK: There are so many characters, not just one! Dev Anand Saheb’s role from the film Guide fascinates me. Or Dharmendra Ji’s role from Sholay is enchanting. I would love to play most of the roles that Amitabh Bachchan Ji did; he is one of the most amazing actors.

Then, there is a character that attracts me. I may not speak of it or share the name of that character as I wish to make a film on it. I will star in the film as that character and I wish people will admire it as much as they have admired me as Lord Shiva. The film will be an action film with a lot of emotions and drama.

RT: Would you ever prefer to work in international TV? Which character from the international TV would you prefer to play?

TK: Oh surely! I will love to do international television. Perhaps a role like that of Jon Snow played by Kit Harington or like that of Jon Snow’s father Eddard Stark played by Sean Bean in the Game of Thrones. Or, a role like Lucifer played by Tom Ellis; that’s one character I will love to play anytime.

RT: Of all the roles you have played in the past, which is your favourite?

TK: It may be extremely difficult to pick only one; I have given my blood and sweat to all of them. I think playing Vishnugupta Chanakya in Chandragupta Maurya in 2018 was difficult physically. I was made to slog like a slave. Ravana was another role that was enormously challenging. However, playing Lord Shiva was exceptionally stimulating because one doesn’t know how the God speaks. None has seen or heard Him, so I was totally unaware of how I should speak or conduct myself.

These three roles I think were the most exigent and yet the most gratifying, for people loved my performances in all these.

RT: You talked a lot about Sushant Singh Rajput in 2020 and demanded justice for him. What are your opinions about Nepotism in the film industry?

TK: I talked about Sushant Singh because he died in inexplicable circumstances and when that happens, I believe, a thorough investigation must be done by the agencies. Investigation in his case was nowhere close to absolute in my opinion. Before the case was handled to the CBI, most of the evidences were muddled up which weakened the investigation. No one can investigate a case where all the evidences have been badly spoilt. So now I believe his case will never be solved, which is unfortunate.

But yeah, the public made a lot of noise; there was an awareness, which means that nothing of this sort would happen in future. Now the perpetrators of these types of criminal cases would know that public won’t keep quiet if they would ever commit a crime like this. It was in the first time in the history of independent India that a case was given to CBI on public demand!

I was not a friend of Sushant. I was only a fellow actor. No one else. But I feel that because Sushant didn’t come from film fraternity, no one spoke for him. God forbid, if anything would have happened to anyone from the film industry, they should have done everything in their possible reach. There should have been a brouhaha. It is distressing how the people of film industry have created a small group of cronies who doesn’t welcome people from outside.

RT: If you could pass on one message for your fans, what message would that be? (Or) What’s your advice to actors on how to age gracefully?

TK: Aging gracefully to me means aging naturally. I find it amusing when people opt for a lip job or nose job. It might uplift someone’s self-esteem, so it may be fine for them, but to me it is amusive which certainly is my personal problem (laughs). So, nobody should feel offended on myself saying this; each one of us has our own individual preferences.

I only feel that we shouldn’t botch up with what is natural, gifted by the God. Say a lady participating in a beauty contest like Miss India; she gets a nose job or a lip job done or she gets herself treated cosmetically with silicon, then what sort of beauty it is! That’s all artificial. I don’t see any beauty in it. I see beauty which is natural. I see beauty which is in her words; in her thoughts.

Most of the beauty pageant winners talk about uplifting the society or about working for the empowerment of the women, but they all end up working in films. They portray themselves like Mother Teresa at the event, but they all end up joining the film industry. So, I feel we need to redefine the concept of beauty. These beauty pageants are a sham; they are only the stepping platforms to get into films and nothing else! I don’t take them seriously.

Quick Fun Questions:

RT: If not an actor, what you would be?

TK: If not an actor, then I would have been a struggling actor. I had tried my luck at a few businesses and I had failed at everything. So, acting is my only resort (laughs).

RT: Any nick name you have?

TK: My parents, brother, and even my wife calls me Honey at home.

RT: Your greatest inspiration?

TK: To me, my mom and dad have always been the biggest inspiration and they will always be. Surely my wife and my son inspire me so much to do great ever!

RT: Your favourite thing about your son?

TK: That he is one of the gentlest souls on earth. He is only seven and he is an amazing human being with a kind heart. I think I would never force him to do anything that he wouldn’t agree with. I will prefer to set him free and pursue his dreams without any pressure. I will always be there to guide him and show him the path, but I won’t be a firm father to him (smiles). Smriti, my wife, is raising him so well and I am a proud father!

RT: Your favourite food?

TK: Oh, I am an all-time foodie! So, to ask a person who simply love food about their favourites, is a little trickier. I love all sort of junk food (chuckles), like chole bhature and cakes entice me. Being a Punjabi, I definitely love parathas with white makhan, shahee paneer. I love Chinese, Mexican, Italian! You name it and I love it!

RT: Something that you would never do in a million years?

TK: I will never betray my country. That is one thing that I won’t do even in a million or a billion years.

RT: Your most memorable fun moment from behind the scenes?

TK: Honestly, I don’t have much fun when I am working. My passion for my profession is very dear to me. Acting is a no-nonsense business and the roles I play are strenuous, so I am a totally a different person when I am working. When I am not working, I am a fun person. But whilst working, I am silent and immersed in my roles. In fact, everyone on the sets knows this, so nobody disturbs me.

I believe that an actor should depend on his quirkiness. At times, I am so wrapped up in my scenes when delivering dialogues; I am overwhelmed and I start crying. This happens when you are completely absorbed in your performance. I would rather people have fun while watching me rather than me having fun while working. (Smiles.)

RT: Your fashion icon?

TK: I really like the way Brad Pitt carries himself. It’s not about fashion. It’s about how you carry the stuff that you wear and I think he does it marvellously.

RT: Your celebrity crush?

TK: I am too shy to reveal any names, so let it remain a secret!

RT: Things you like doing in your spare time?

TK: Playing chess. Then, I read a lot or watch shows on different OTT platforms. I also listen to debate interviews on television.

RT: One place you would like to visit after your retirement? 

TK: Why retire when you are so passionate about the work you do! People retire when they are in government jobs. Acting is my passion. Telling stories is my passion, and passionate people never retire. Even if I feel a bit uncomfortable to be working with some uncreative people, that’s not an excuse for me to leave the industry.  People aspire to be in this industry and by God’s grace I have already made a mark for myself. If ever I would need to go anywhere, I would go on vacations and travel to enthralling places, but I will never retire. One day, I will rather start producing and directing and writing myself!

Was it worth reading? Let us know.