Satyajeet Dubey, who plays a doctor with impostor syndrome in Mumbai Diaries 26/11, on the challenges of playing the character
A few days after he auditioned for Mumbai Diaries 26/11, Satyajeet Dubey was asked to meet creator-director Nikkhil Advani. “He asked me, ‘Itne saal kahaan tha tu?’” laughs the actor, who plays a resident doctor in the Amazon Prime Video series. He hopes to emulate his cine idol Irrfan Khan some day, but knows he has a long way to go. For now, he is focusing on cultivating his skill, one project at a time. In a chat with mid-day, Dubey talks about the complexities of his role, and being overwhelmed by co-star Konkana Sensharma’s talent.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Where were you on the night of 26/11?
That was my second year in Mumbai. I used to live in Andheri East in a matchbox house with three guys. That night, police vans came to our area, instructing everyone to stay in their homes. For long, we didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack or a gang war. It dawned much later that the city was under attack. I didn’t step out of my house for almost three days. A gentleman in his late 30s, who lived next to my flat, used to travel to VT. On the third day [since the attack], his dead body arrived. To see it [the fall out of the attack] up-close was heart-breaking.
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Satyajeet Dubey plays Dr Ahaan Mirza
Did you feel like you were reliving the terror while shooting the series?
Dr Sheikh, who was at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel when it was under attack, was brought on board to train us. Since I was not in the midst of it all, [it didn’t feel personal]. But as actors, you tend to make everything feel real. So, mentally and physically, I started going through [those emotions] between action and cut.
In your chats with Dr Sheikh, did you ask him what his stand as a doctor would be about treating a terrorist?
Doctors always take the Hippocratic Oath. The show too depicts that we’ve taken the oath where we don’t judge the character; we see him only as a patient. That’s exactly what Dr Sheikh told us. An interesting aspect related to this is shown in the series, where [certain characters] are in a moral dilemma.
Did you have to work extensively on picking up medical jargon?
I had to start from scratch. There was no scope to improvise on set because you cannot fiddle around with the terminology. I used to record my dialogues, and play them repeatedly on my earphones like a meditation track. For a scene, I had to treat an elderly lady, [examining] her from point A to point Z. At the last minute, Mr Advani asked me to start from the injuries, and not with her head. The entire flowchart went for a toss. In the series, my character Ahaan Mirza suffers from Imposter syndrome; he feels that he is a fluke. When Nikkhil sir changed the order, I was [lost]; it took me a few seconds to gather my wits.
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What about the series challenged you as an actor?
My character doesn’t say much. So, I had to convey a lot through my eyes and silences. By the end of the shoot, I would be drained and emotionally spent. When I started figuring out the kind of actor I wanted to become, I was fixated with the works of Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahni and Irrfan Khan. I have seen Maqbool  repeatedly, and would often wonder how he communicated so much restlessness through his eyes.
Can you easily shake off an intense character?
I am learning to switch off. While shooting for Prassthanam , Sanju sir [Dutt] once told me, ‘Beta, itna mat ghusa kar [character mein]. Kharch ho jaayega.’
Did anyone’s performance in the series overwhelm you?
Sandesh Kulkarni, who plays a cop, is a phenomenal actor as is Mrunmayee Deshpande. I was trying my best not to behave like a fanboy around Konkona Sensharma. I would observe her, and realised that you cannot figure out how she does it. We used to talk about Irrfan sir a lot. She told me that some people are born with [raw talent]. On the other hand, Balaji Gauri [Sister Cherian] said that Irrfan wasn’t as great when he started out, but he kept working on his skills. So, some people are born with it, others cultivate it.
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