Making his debut in No One Killed Jessica as Manish Bharadwaj (the fictionalised Manu Sharma), Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub has been praised as “very good” by critic Taran Adarsh, “portrays his character with conviction” (Times of India) and “so convincing that you are full of hatred each time he appears on screen” (Glamsham). There are a number of parallels that can be drawn between rising star Ayyub and the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan: the two actors are from Delhi, both emerging from out of the capital’s theatre scene, and both performers finding acclaim for their early work essaying a negative role. BollySpice caught up with the rising star of NOKJ, to talk about his role in the critically-lauded and commercially-successful Raj Kumar Gupta production.
How were you cast in the part of Manish Bharadwaj?
It’s a long story. The Lee Strasberg Institute was planning to open a branch in India, so I was selected to be on the acting faculty, and I was supposed to leave the country in January 2010 for a three month training in New York. One day I was sitting at my place and got a call from one of my friends, who was the associate casting director in the film. He told me to give an audition for the role of Manish Bharadwaj in the film. I was a great fan of Raj Kumar Gupta, the director, after watching Aamir. So thought why not give it a try. I gave it my best shot in the audition, in which the casting team really helped me a lot, then I forgot about it. After a month or so I got a call again, and they told me to give it another try with the complete get up. After a few days I was buying some groceries from a shop and I got the call that I was selected for the role.
How did you decide to become an actor?
Though I am from a family that was very much involved in this field, my father and mother both being theatre actors in Delhi, I was never involved in any cultural activities in my school days. When I went to college I joined the drama society, ‘The Players’, where my basic training of theatre started and and that was a turning point in my life. After that I went to NSD (National School of Drama) and did my post graduation from there as an actor, which really helped me to improve on my acting skills.
What was the experience of working with Vidya Balan and Rani Mukherjee?
We were together only in the court room scene but there was not supposed to be any interaction with Vidya’s character, so unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to work with them as such. But obviously when I saw the movie I learned a lot from both of them as I am very new to this medium. It really is a pleasure to be a part of such a great film and co-actors. Although Vidya and I made it a point not to talk too much during the filming, at the screening and premier Vidya came to me three times to congratulate me. Rani also said I did a good job.
Was it difficult essaying a real-life character?
I think we didn’t take that path at all, because the movie was supposed to be a mix of fact and fiction. So, I was supposed to build a character just from the script I was given and not from anything else.
The reactions to the NOKJ seem to be very positive.
Reactions to the film are overwhelming. I am getting a fabulous response from everywhere and that includes overseas also. It is one of those rare movies that is being appreciated both at a critical and commercial level. Many people have told me that they are not able to get tickets, even though there are so many shows happening everywhere. I think this movie deserves this and much more. It is, as everybody is saying, a complete team effort.
No One Killed Jessica is in theaters now and you can check out our review here.