Ishaan Khatter is at an unusual career cusp. He’s made an impressive impact with internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds. The film, which has been the toast of festivals, recently released in India and left audiences speechless. While it was shot in the underbelly of Mumbai, it explored themes of suffering and survival, which are universal. On the other hand, his much-touted remake of the blockbuster Sairat, Dhadak, is awaited with bated breath. Produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, it couldn’t get larger for young Ishaan. “Yes, it’s incredible. These opportunities are tremendous and rare,” he smiles. “That they found in me a suitable performer is gratifying and humbling. I want to continue working in films that are meaningful.”
Ishaan plays Amir, a street hustler and drug dealer in Beyond The Clouds. Malavika Mohanan, as Tara, is his sister. The sibling bond is put to test when Tara lands in jail for a crime committed by Amir. The film, say critics, is a grown-up version of Majidi’s previously directed Children of Heaven (1997). “Someone with Majid Majidi sir’s vision, perspective and expertise chose me meant a lot. I thought if he has chosen me and he thinks me worthy of doing this part, then I must also set aside all my inhibitions and surrender to his vision. I didn’t choose the film, it chose me,” says Ishaan who was applauded for his stark portrayal of a drug dealer.
He was 14 when he was drawn into the world of Majidi’s films. “I first watched Children of Heaven (1997). After that I saw The Colour Of Paradise (1999). Then I saw Song of Sparrows (2008).” he recalls. “By the time I was 19, I had become an admirer of his films. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d do my first film with him,” he beams. Interestingly, he watched Baduk (1992) after completing Beyond The Clouds. “Because that film is also about a brother and sister,” he says.
Reliving the moment when he was selected for Beyond The Clouds, he says, “I was at home, when I got a call from Honey Trehan sir (casting director). He said go to the roof of your building and scream, ‘I’m the lead actor of Majid Majidi’s film’!” he smiles. “I told my mother (actor Neelima Azim) first and then my brother (Shahid Kapoor). Later, I spoke to Karan sir (Johar). I had not signed Dhadak then but the conversation was on.” About working with Majidi he says, “He had an interpreter with him on the set. But often he’d communicate without him. We’d spent a lot of time together before we started the film. I was there for the look test of every character. Slowly, I came to understand his vision. We built an equation where he gradually opened up. I too grew closer to him. Now, he’s like a father figure to me.”
A horde of compliments have come his way after Beyond The Clouds released. He shares an interesting one. “My mother watched Beyond The Clouds with me at a film festival in London. After the film ended, she turned around and asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I was taken aback with her reaction just as she was with my performance,” he grins. “She’s watched the film five times up till now. She says, ‘If you were just good in the film, I’d have watched it twice. But I love the film. Hence, I’ve watched it so many times.” Ishaan confides further that he’s extremely close to his mother. But he says he kept his interaction with her to the minimum during the three-and-a-half-month shoot. “I was playing an orphan in Beyond The Clouds. I needed to feel that loneliness and isolation,” he explains.
Ishaan is Neelima’s son from her second husband, actor Rajesh Khatter. While Shahid Kapoor is her older son from her first marriage to actor Pankaj Kapur. The three share a close-knit bond. Ishaan values brother Shahid’s reaction as much. “He didn’t say much though he said that I was extraordinary for my first film. He had this expression of relief and happiness on his face, which was the biggest compliment for me.” What about bhabhi Mira Rajput? “Usually, she doesn’t enjoy serious movies. But she was moved by this film and discussed it at length,” he says.
Interestingly, Ishaan’s fine dancing skills are often compared to that of his elder brother. “I’m proud of such a positive comparison. It’s in our blood because of our mom (Neelima Azim is a kathak expert). Both acting and dance is something that’s inherited. I’ve been passionate about dance as far as I can remember,” he says. Incidentally, Ishaan began his film career as a child actor in Shahid’s 2005 film Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi! He even assisted during the making of Udta Punjab. Consequently, he insists he’s learnt much merely by watching Shahid perform on the set. “Being younger, I’ve been influenced by him. I find jhalkis (glimpses) of him in me,” he says adding, “He’s a charismatic actor. In Jab We Met, he was so subtle, that I felt drawn towards him.”
Contrary to perception, Ishaan says Dhadak is as challenging as Beyond The Clouds. “I watched Sairat at a screening for Dharma Productions. Shashank Khaitan had organised it. After the film, he told me that he wanted to make this film. This was way before Beyond The Clouds happened. My instinctive reaction was ‘let’s do it!’” he says of the original Marathi film that garnered over 100 crores. Starring Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar and directed by Nagraj Manjule, it was a biting statement on honour killing and caste prejudice. Naturally, Ishaan along with debutante Janhvi Kapoor have a tall order to match. The initial buzz is that the newcomers share a vibrant chemistry. “Janhvi is a sincere and passionate actor,” he smiles. “She carries a lovely energy on the sets. She brings a smile on people’s faces.” If his first film is anything to go by, so does he.