To say that Amit Sadh was dealt a poor hand in life would be an understatement. The 41-year-old actor lost his father at the age of 16, ran away from home, worked as a domestic help, a security guard, an apparel salesman and eventually lived on the footpath in Delhi.
It’s this astounding career graph that makes Amit’s journey fascinating. The actor now has films like Kai Po Che, Sultan, Gold, Yaara and Shakuntala, and web series like Breathe: Into the Shadows (Amazon Prime) and Avrodh: The Siege Within (Sony Liv) to his credit.
Speaking to Amit brings out his humility, depth of perception, energy, intelligence and honesty — qualities often hard to find in our celebrities.
When asked about the spate of recent releases and the many plaudits that have come his way as a result, he tells The Better India, “I am happy that a lot of people are enjoying the work I have done. During the lockdown, I received a lot of messages from people saying that watching these shows and films have helped them in some way. Honestly, there can’t be a bigger source of joy than knowing that in some way I have been a small catalyst in helping people smile and spend time with their families.”
“My childhood wasn’t the best, but that’s life. There is a life that we are given, and there is a life we make. I am just blessed and happy about the life that followed. It took serious will to transform myself and ensure a better course for my life. Of course there were a million miracles and thousands of people who helped me along the way as well. If sharing my heartbreaks and failures inspires people, gives people hope, strength and let’s them know that they can get out of the mess they’re in, then there’s nothing quite like it,” he says.
You can watch him talking about his struggles below.
From Anger, Intolerance to Discovering Acting
Amit was barely 20 when he first came to Mumbai to fulfill his aspirations of becoming a popular star. He admits to not knowing anything about the craft of acting. What he did have was the fire within.
Amit found his first break in television. His first major role was in Neena Gupta production’s Kyun Hota Hai Pyarrr (2002/03), following which he appeared in a series of television soaps including Kohinoor (2006). There were also stints as a contestant on reality shows like Bigg Boss, Nach Baliye and Fear Factor.
“There was a lot of anger in me, and I blamed my parents and society for all my troubles. But by the age of 26, I finally realised that I needed to stop blaming the world, leave behind notions of whether what happened to me was right or wrong, and make something of myself. After doing television for a couple of years, a stark realization dawned on me that I was an empty vessel full of noise. I was not happy with the work on television, the environment, the way they worked and behaved, and decided to leave it all behind. I wasn’t doing any real acting there. Yes, I fell into the trap of meeting people in the film business, and was rejected on many occasions. When I seriously started working on myself, then the real journey began,” he says.
Another major motivating factor behind leaving television was the ‘ban’ he suffered at the hands of the television industry. He was blacklisted for being outspoken. By his own admission, Amit was like a ‘bull’, ready to fight against any perceived injustice.
In an interview with Bollywood Hungama, Amit said, “I did not leave television to go to the movies. On television, they banned me. They called each other and said, ‘Isko kaam mat do (Don’t give him work).’ Toh phir maine kaha, ‘Achcha? Nahi de rahe ho? Toh phir main picturon mein jaaunga (Then I said, ‘Oh? You won’t give me work here? Then I will do films)’.”
His focus then shifted to bettering his craft. One thing led to another and he ended up studying acting at the reputed Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York.
“There, I met different people, made friends from different walks of life with their own stories of struggle and learnt a lot from them. There I encountered books, started reading them for the first time in my life, particularly on subjects like neuro linguistic programming, and this played a part in changing my outlook towards life,” he recalls.
When I ask him to elaborate further on the change that came within, he talks about the will that eventually pushed its way through all the negativity.
“There was a very strong will that came inside me to stop cribbing, complaining and stop being angry, intolerant and impatient. Carrying those emotions also made me very unhappy. In New York, I discovered joy in the process of filmmaking and the process of creating characters. Cinema has a very healing and therapeutic effect. My journey is still ongoing, and I’m not perfect. I look to be a better version of myself everyday. That’s who I chase. I also desire to be better as a person, learn to emote better, express better, articulate better, learn to be a better actor and that’s a good struggle, which should remain for life,” he says.
Upon his return, he landed an important role in the film, Kai Po Che! (2013), where he played the character of Omkar Shashtri. Playing this role garnered him a lot of appreciation and paved the way forward. More than anything else, however, he came back as a calmer and more tolerant person who was more confident in his own craft. Ironically, the day he truly decided to become an actor, he left acting in television.
“Kai Po Che is a film which is closest to my heart. It was the turning point for me, Sushant (Singh Rajput), Raj (Rajkummar Rao) and director Abhishek Kapoor. Of course, Abhishek was coming after directing Rock On, but all of us had this angst, hunger and burning desire to prove ourselves. Angst is not negative if you use it correctly. It was a truly special film. Even today, the film gets so much love. The only sad part is that we don’t have Kai (Sushant) any more even though he’s there with us in spirit. It’s a mixed bag of emotions for me looking back. We were very pure in the process of making the film. When you are pure, you love each other, listen to each other, act for each other, respect each other, and I think this is the kind of environment artists should create,” says Amit.
During the making of Kai Po Che, he recalls being treated very well by the studio, producer and director. “There was so much positivity. When it was all over, I began chasing that feeling. I thought to myself when will I get to play another character like this or when will I get to work with such people, and that’s also the reason why for a while I didn’t get projects for a while. Having said that, I couldn’t have asked for a better start than Kai Po Che,” he adds.
Craft & Making it in Mumbai
When people come to Mumbai to fulfill their dreams as an actor, Amit believes it’s very important to understand what they’re coming for. “Are you coming here to make money? Are you coming here to become a star? Are you coming here for material prosperity? Are you coming here to become an artist? I am not anyone to judge, but you must be very specific about your goals. For me, it was very simple. I wanted to be an actor,” he says.
After leaving television, he set his goals. He wanted to grow as a human being, bring peace in his life and become an artist. All he wanted was to become a good and effective actor.
“I was lucky to start with Kai Po Che, where the team was so professional. Prior to that, I learnt the process of acting, the language, how to behave as an actor, method acting and how to prepare for a role from Lee Strasberg. After Kai Po Che, there were many who said a lot of things to me. They would tell me how I was left behind compared to Sushant and Raj. They would say there is no ‘perception’ of you. However, I took that as a positive. As an actor and artist, it’s a blessing not to have a ‘perception’ of you. This means the audience is ready to watch you perform in different roles,” he says.
It is precisely this quality that makes Amit such a well-rounded actor. And going by the names he calls out as icons like Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Aamir Khan and Manoj Bajpayee, amongst others, it’s no surprise that we have seen him play a variety of roles ranging from a special forces officer (Avrodh), police officer (Breathe), journalist (Super 30) and middle class husband (Shakuntala Devi) with conviction.
However, there is one actor from whom Amit takes his cue from — Russel Crowe. The man has played a Roman gladiator (The Gladiator), an eccentric mathematician (A Beautiful Mind) and a corrupt CIA agent (Body of Lies), and it was an interview that Crowe gave while he was promoting the film Cinderella Man (2005), which influences Amit’s approach to acting.
“In that interview, Crowe said that when he first gets a character to play, he observes and goes after its physicality. Once you get the physicality right, your insides start reacting in a different way. When I get a role, the first thing I do is think about the physicality of the part. How much weight will this character have? That will determine his demeanour, how he will walk, whether his shoulders should tilt, and once you get this right, you breathe differently, and then you become either a Kabir Sawant in Breathe or a Major Videep Singh in Avrodh. The first thing I do when I get a part is how will this character walk, weigh and talk,” he says.
“I am an actor who is dependent on his co-actors, set environment and my directors. Having said that I have been very lucky to have worked with many people who aren’t this way. I am dependent on other actors, and if I do well, the credit goes to everybody around me,” he says. Little wonder that he credits everyone in his team on social media when a movie or a web series releases. For him, making a film or web series is a collective effort, and thus makes no bones about the fact that everyone involved deserves credit.
“Amit has a lot of energy both on screen and off screen. We were doing a scene during the shooting of Yaara, where my character is attacking him and he apologises. His performance was so powerful that for a split second I got a little distracted. I ended up thinking here is an actor who puts in a lot of energy into his scenes. For that split second, I broke out of acting and went into admiring his performance while we were shooting. We didn’t have to cut and do a retake or anything. See, there has to be a give and take with your co-actors. Amit never misses any of his lines or marks. He is a thorough professional. There were no mistakes and he did his job very efficiently and as a result he definitely upped my game,” notes fellow actor Kenny Basumatary, who acted alongside Amit in Yaara.
We then talk about how to maintain focus as an actor with all the media scrutiny, pitfalls of celebrity life and distractions that come along the way.
“I keep my life very simple and free from distractions. When I started out, there were the usual distractions, pitfalls, loss of discipline and along the way I picked up some bad habits. But I got out of it soon and realised if I wanted to progress, my roots, qualities and principles which brought me here would take me forward. Soon, I found my groove, found my strength and now none of it bothers me. Now, I want to be a source of strength for others. There are a lot of people who get affected by the lifestyle, media scrutiny and superficiality of celebrity life. I am a gladiator who has learnt how to fight for my freedom, and I want to let people know that they can be their own gladiators,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)