Roshan Seth is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Witty, passionate and full of insight, his career has spanned over 40 years.
His latest film, Brahmin Bulls, tells the story of a strained relationship between a father and son. Just as the two begin to bond, Seth’s character is revealed to have traveled to Los Angeles in order to reconnect with an old flame, leaving his son furious. Journeying through their reconciliation, it’s difficult to not reflect on your own personal relationships, which makes this film relatable. I spoke with Roshan Seth, who plays Ashok about this interesting new project.
“Mahesh Pailoor and his wife who were behind this film and who live in America, didn’t want to make a so-called immigrant film – anything but. It’s a film about a difficult relationship between a father and a son, which is partly biographical. But it’s also a film about desolation and loss and having lost a spark in your life and then having it rekindled. It’s a very sweet and gentle film, which was actually designed to be made with more money than there was. I cannot tell you how much difficulty they’ve had in raising the money for the film, getting the film off the ground, having it shown in America and finding distributors in England. I hope for their sake people like it. That is the biggest compliment you could pay to me and the film makers,” he said.
What attracted you to the role of Ashok?
“The first time I saw the script I was in Mumbai and I saw that both father and son in the original script were tennis players. The father coaches the son to championship level tennis. Sendhil (who plays Seth’s son in Brahmin Bulls) is a tennis player so the script was written around his abilities. I’m not in the best of health and I don’t play tennis. I said, “look, I can’t handle this.” So they went back and re-wrote the whole script in order to have me in it and accommodate me and my quirks. So after having done that, I could hardly say no.
“I wanted to go back to Los Angeles. I was in Los Angeles with a play years ago and I hadn’t been back there. It’s the home of movies. I love working there because Americans there live, breathe, eat, think, sleep and talk movies. It’s wonderful to be in that kind of atmosphere, but I cannot keep up with their pace! They’re so driven.”
To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought this was an inexperienced moviemaker because the film is so stripped back and I think that contributes to the premise of the movie.
“They’ve tried so hard and I say in inexperience in the sense that their film was more ambitious than the money they had. It’s like trying to make two suits out material for one. You’ve got to be careful. So for instance when you put animals into a film like that, your budget goes up because you have to have animal handlers. The father is a professor on the East coast. It’s cold and it’s bleak. They didn’t have the money to go and shoot and show the bleakness of the father’s life. It’s across the other end of America and it costs money.”
I saw glimmers of my dad’s relationship with my brother in this film. Did you see any aspects that resembled your relationship with your dad?
“Well, I had a difficult relationship with my father in the sense that he was much older. He married late and I thought he wasn’t a risk taker. Eventually he did me the greatest kindness in the world, he allowed me to do what I wanted to do. He had put four sons through public school in India, he put us all through university and so on and after all that, I wanted to go to England to train to be an actor. He thought I was mad! I don’t know how he managed it, but somehow, he scraped the money together and I went to London and I’m repaying that kindness he did to me – I’m not going to tell you how though – but I am going to repay it. It is the ability to get out of India that is so valuable. It’s to see horizons and how different people live, think and behave. That to me was of the greatest value and it still is to this day.”
Why do you think the father-son relationship is more delicate and complex than others?
“It’s competitive. That’s the idea with the Brahmin Bulls – they’re locking horns all the time. There’s that line towards the end where you don’t need to lock horns, you can be cunning, sly and gentle and still win. I’ve been trying to do this all my life and I’m still trying to apply that Chinese saying “wu-wei” which means “try not to try.” It’s the secret of the actor – try not to try. We were taught that on the second day of drama school and I thought what the hell did they mean because as a child growing up in India you hear the opposite, “you’re not trying hard enough!” Now you realise the secret is in the opposite of that.”
What can this film teach people?
“I don’t really know love! I’ll tell you something though – so much of life is at a very gross level and there is so much at a subtler level. I hope this film makes people feel like there is a subtler level to existence, having the little things fill your life and make you feel like life is worth living when you feel desolate. Everyone has been desolate at some point. I’ve been so desolate in my life I can’t tell you. I’ve spent more lonely days than I’ve had hot dinners. In fact, a lot of the lonely days I’ve been trying to find hot dinners. You can’t always live at that subtle level but it’s worth trying to do that – try to find the beauty in the form of a woman than actually trying to bed her. Do you know what I mean?”
I think I do. Finally, what was the biggest challenge for you when making this film?
“The biggest challenge was giving a good performance. I’m old enough now where I’m not worrying about career considerations and competition. Now I try and compete with myself. I try and raise the bar and see if I can achieve a good level of performance. It was so satisfying because I was able to achieve a professional level of performance here, having been quite ill. I use to cough a lot at night and I would take pills to try and sleep at night and that made matters worse. Having to get up early in the morning was a struggle and the takeaway food – I mean, if you want to commit suicide, one week of American takeout food will do it. It makes you feel awful. I went down one night with Anu and her sister and we had fish burgers and a lovely bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and it made me feel alive again. I thought ‘it takes so little to feel alive.’ Just relax. Try not to try all the time. There you are, you see – wu-wei. That’s my mantra now in acting. Above all though, it’s the secret of living.”