So, you watched TVF's Aspirants, fell in love with the show, the characters and related to the realities and nuances of their lives.
Abhilash may have been the slightly less likeable aspirant who goes on to become an IAS officer, but Naveen Kasturia, who plays that Aspirant and officer, is as likeable as your friendly neighbour.
In a candid conversation with ScoopWhoop, Naveen Kasturia opens up about returning to TVF after 6 years (you probably know him from TVF Pitchers), channelling a civil service student, and his camaraderie with Sandeep Bhaiya, both on and off the screen.
"I think Arunabh liked me for the part (of Abhilash in Aspirants), but Apurva (the director) initially wasn't very sure. So I tested and then I got the part,", Kasturia reveals.
I think we were both concerned about the past guy being likable. Because he's ranting about things all the time. He's also a little self-centred. So we were trying to make him likable at least in the past and we wanted the past and present character to look and be a little different from each other. That was the intention.
Kasturia's portrayal as the patient listener and a stern officer that is Abhilash seems effortless and the actor agrees that it wasn't very hard to get into the skin of the character. "I'm sure there's a lot of me in Abhilash," he ruminates.
"I also struggle to keep in touch which Abhilash had. But, I need to put more efforts in retaining my friendships and relationships... which is not a very good trait. I'm also ambitious. So there's definitely a lot of me in him."
But the essence of Abhilash - as a character - is more pronounced in the scenes that Kasturia shared with Sunny Hinduja, who plays the loveable Sandeep Bhaiya.
"I think the camaraderie that Sunny and I had offscreen is what can be seen onscreen," Kasturia explains.
Sunny and I had known each other for a long time but we were never really friends. When he came on board and lived in the same hotel while shooting for Aspirants, because of Covid, we ended up spending a lot of time together and that's how we became close.
In the hotel, the two actors would often spend time talking to each other. Kasturia acknowledges that acting with Sunny were some of the best parts of Aspirants.
"I also feel like some of my best scenes are the ones where I am paired with Sunny, and our onscreen conversations, although I'm just listening," he adds.
He also reveals that, aside from his parents, Sunny has been the one person Kasturia talks to every day.
Our relationship off screen is not like what it is on Aspirants. Sunny is a little older than me, but we're more of friends. He still guides me because he's still smarter than me; so when I get nervous about most things, he guides me. But it's also vice versa. There are times when he's feeling low and I have to guide him. So it's more like a friendship, but one that is inspired from the relationship we shared onscreen.
But, while Kasturia brilliantly fit into the shoes of Abhilash and shares a bond with Sandeep both on and off the screen, it's Guri he relates to, outside of the two main characters.
"Because of the kind of person he is. He's a little easygoing, seems simple and is someone who doesn't think too much," he reasons, even though he admits to being someone who overthinks a lot of things. "Somehow, his (Guri's) attitude towards life is something that I would relate to a little more."
He himself, has never had any personal experience with the civil servce exams but, as an engineering student, he recalls the hype and realities of entrance exams during his own college days.
"I've studied engineering from Delhi and so I was into entrance examinations, I gave my CAT and I wanted to get into IIMs and all. But, the UPSC was never a part of my world," he says.
He did have batch mates from his engineering college who went on to become IAS officers.
I remember Ira Singhal from my batch, she was in electronics engineering and I was in automation; we interacted once or twice. She went on to become an IAS officer, she was ranked No. 1.
Kasturia went on to become a consultant and banker after his engineering, before he became an assistant director, followed by an actor.
"I worked for two years post my engineering. But I always wanted to be a part of films. I thought I'll make films some day. That didn't happen and then I became an actor," he tells us.
And while he was never pressured into doing engineering and then becoming an actor, he does acknowledge the difficulties that come from changing careers, especially as a middle class Indian.
I think when you're from a middle class family, engineering is like the extension of school. You finish school and then do engineering. There was no pressure from my parents for engineering; but coming to Bombay from Delhi was very difficult, convincing them to let me leave my job and get into films, that was very difficult.
He also puts into perspective that while today, the influence of the web has grown on to become a lucrative career option, it wasn't so when he was starting out.
"12 years ago, leaving a good job, where you're a proper data analyst, posted in London, and then decide to leave everything to become a part of this (industry) where you don't even know where you're going to end up, wasn't easy," he admits.
When I started off as an assistant director, it was a very unstable job. And my parents were always aware of it. Coming to Bombay basically meant coming to the industry and leaving your job and living alone, surviving. That was something they were concerned about.
Kasturia never knew that he would actually get to reach this position but the desire was always there, he says. What also fueled his work is the growth of online content. Even though he worked with TVF in Aspirants after 6 years, he's been actively creating web content.
"6 years ago when Pitchers came out, our uncles, aunties, parents were not really watching Netflix, they were not really addicted online. At that point, people never thought they were going to watch full-fledged shows online," he says.
The increasing demand has led to an increase in content, opportunities and work. And with the success of Aspirants, the next step for any viewer to look forward to is naturally, a sequel. What more do we learn about Abhilash's journey to becoming an IAS officer, is there more to the lives of the Aspirants that is yet to be told?
"It was always meant to have another season," reveals Kasturia.
We've not really showed how Abhilash became who he, and that is going to be a very engaging journey. I think people would want to see how he cleared his interview, the entire process of becoming an IAS officer. So that hasn't been shown, so ideally it should have another season. But, depends on the makers. You can never predict such things.