What’s in a last name? Plenty, if you live in a country where dynasty politics rules and stardom is hereditary in Bollywood. So one would assume that the grandson of veteran Congressman Arjun Singh, Arunoday has it all worked out for him. Not so, says the actor, who got noticed in the Sudhir Mishra-produced turkey, Sikandar, for his portrayal of a terrorist. Aisha followed, where he lent the much-welcome testosterone quotient to the chick flick. Mirch bombed, and now he plays a thug in Yeh Saali Zindagi. The graph and survival rate is not too bad for a newcomer.
The fiendishly tall actor (he’s 6 ft 4) is articulate and candid about his family, work and relationships. “There’s a perception that we get coddled and are surrounded by opportunity. At 21, my father walked away and has been on his own. He raised me the same way,” he says. “There’s no real school in the village outside Bhopal, so I went to a boarding school at six. I got a scholarship to a university in Boston. I was a bit of a nerd, still am. I studied English Literature and minored in Philosophy. My brain is a high maintenance engine and my mother is central to keeping me sane.”
Arunoday went to New York to pursue acting in theatre because a professor told him, ‘You have a modicum of talent. You must nurture it boy, or you will just fritter it away.’ The actor says, “When a man speaks to you like that, you do it.”
He lived in Harlem (where he picked up a love for hiphop, and not the 50 Cents variety) and New York isn’t exactly an affordable place for a struggling actor. “I got cast as an Cuban, the Italian mafia guy. Good times, but lean,” admits Arunoday. “I freelanced, edited other students’ papers. I was a bouncer, earning $400 a night. I’m a decent looking dude, you put me in a suit in the VIP section and I don’t look like a bouncer, but I could throw out a guy if I needed to. I made more money than the guys at the door.”
He landed in Mumbai in between assignments, got a PG place and made a list of directors he admires (Sudhir Mishra, Vishal Bhardwaj). He made his rounds and fortunately for him, the actor Sudhir who was selected to play the terrorist for Sikandar, backed out. Arunoday says, “I only found out later when I was doing Yeh Saali Zindagi that he knew my family.” Mumbai also settled him, given his nomadic streak.
The ‘hyper ambitious’ actor has chosen non-mainstream cinema to make his way. He points out that people like Aamir Khan and Karan Johar are finding the balance between the commercial and the artistic. “I’m taking the circuitous route, but you have to be true to yourself. There’s a very specific skill set needed for commercial cinema. I was never trained for that and I can’t stop asking questions. I feel I have the potential and talent to do artistic work. Our aspirations are evolving. Indians are on the move, we’ve been to London, you don’t need to show us London. It’s not so simple to sell us these dreams.”
His biggest fear is that his choices won’t translate into more work. He says, “Maybe I’m too intellectually arrogant, sometimes I’m very quick to judge. I look at something and think I know the answer. In our industry, there’s no culture of working your way through. It’s an unforgiving place. If I don’t make waves big enough to sustain myself, it would mean my approach is wrong. That would be heartbreaking.”
While he is committed to pursuing acting, he is pursuing women rather than committing to them. He says, “Women I love, women love me. I’m seeing many people. Film people are too highly strung or motivated to ever make good lovers or companions for a stretch. Nobody has time for anybody but themselves. I like calm, chilled people. With my personality, I don’t need another Type A personality. I have entanglements. With women who don’t like to be tied down. I’m just too focused.”