Suraj Sharma offers his take on Hollywood and Bollywood and how life has changed since the US Presidential elections
Nayandeep Rakshit (DNA; April 10, 2017)

It’s been quite a while since Delhi boy Suraj Sharma (best known for 2012’s Life Of Pi) moved to New York (in 2013). He’s there, studying filmmaking at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. During that time, he shot for a few films and most recently, made his Bollywood debut in Anushka Sharma’s Phillauri. LOP’s success hasn’t changed him much and that much was apparent when we met for an interview for the recently released film. He has lost none of the enthusiasm for his craft and that comes to the fore as we talk about industry comparisons and his life in New York (pre- and post-Trump) and coming to terms with racism in the US.

Having now worked in both film industries, how similar or different would you say Bollywood is from Hollywood?
If you think about it in a technical sense, I don’t think either is because they are both at the same level now. And when it’s colour or music which is considered, we are maybe a little better. But on the whole, we are all equal at this point. The difference is the taste thing. Also, how much money you have, differs. They obviously have much more at their disposal. We don’t have that much. Our stories are geared in a sense to drive people away from pain, sadness or depression or struggles of their life because most of the moviegoing audience today in India come from a low-income background. That is very important. Their sensibility comes from the fact that they portray a dark side like we don’t. We portray a light side because we need it. I think that’s one big difference. As far as shooting and work is considered, wahaan pe, they are so stringent and structured that they can’t really fix problems as easily as we can. Over here, we assume that things might go wrong so we are constantly jugadoing things to fix it, fix it, fix it. It’s an amazing ability to be able to do it constantly. I don’t know how people here manage that, but it’s great.

We recently had a big debate on nepotism in Bollywood. Does that exist there as well?
Oh ya! It really exists. If you’re an outsider, I think it makes it much harder for you to actually get a chance. Just because people have obligations and it comes from that. Somewhere, I understand how and why that’s in place. Because why wouldn’t you want it to be the case? But sometimes, it’s really frustrating for some of us.

There’s you, Freida and a lot more Indians putting the country on the global map. But Deepika and Priyanka make more news. Does that give you a sense of being left out ever?
(Smiles) No, I don’t feel left out or aloof, to be honest. I only think I’m very lucky because I was not supposed to be in this situation anyway. So whatever I do have, it’s already amazing. Secondly, I don’t like the idea of fame. I truly wouldn’t like to be in that much of a continuous spotlight. Also, me not being as influential gives me more freedom to do what I want and I like that.

Donald Trump becoming President has affected everyone in some way. You’ve been in the US four years now. How are you taking it?
Ahhh man, it leaves you kind of flabbergasted. I live in New York, so what happens in my case is I’m living in a bubble outside of America even though it’s America. New York is not America at all. I have been protected from that and am rather safe from all of it. But then again, I’ve also been in these artsy circles where there are discussions about politics. You start to understand and see where this comes from — it’s not necessarily bad people, but just people who have been neglected for long enough to be doing these things and thinking these decisions are right. I went to a Trump rally. It was odd. It was not like people wanted to believe him. People wanted to be heard is all, no matter what it was.

How do you think that will affect Indians there?
I have been trying to have a positive outlook on this. Only in the gravest of times or most extreme situations, do you realise the effects of what you have done or the beauty of a positive sense of anything. Like for example, two things can happen. Trump can be really good for everybody (makes a face). I don’t believe it. The other thing is he’s bad so people realise their mistake and what’s going on. It’s so bad that it makes them see what is bad.

Have you faced anything untoward?
Yes, racism for sure. Like someone would just say, ‘Go back to your country, Sand Enwood’. That’s become a very normal thing especially when you go outside New York. You deal with it sometimes. Most people are really nice and try to overcompensate for everybody else. All these people who are so guilty that they are really nice. But once in a while, you will find someone. You’ll find them here in India also. There, I think people are so prone to think about race and racism right now that it’s the real problem. If they didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t be a real thing. They are so obsessed about racism that they make it a constant reality that nobody can get away from. Nobody can really be human.

Did this happen before Trump also?
No! I never really faced it then. People became more vocal about it after Trump. Plus, I was going outside New York more during that time.

Do you think this might limit the cultural exchange between countries now?
I think it might pause it. For a second. I really do believe and hope that after seeing what is happening, this works as a wake-up call and the exact opposite can transpire right after. People should compensate for this.

Has all this affected your Hollywood career in terms of offers you get?
No. It makes me want to be smarter about the options I take. You kind of have to start thinking about what the social and political circumstance is and what it could mean in terms of what you do — Does it really help it or not do anything and put you in a bad place? It makes you think more, be safer which is not good. Not necessarily the best thing but it’s also not necessarily the worst thing that can happen at this point as well.