Roshan Seth claims he has “never been in a position to choose roles” being a minority actor, but admits he has recently enjoyed seeing his career receive a “kick up the a***”.
At the age of 73, the acclaimed actor, who lives in Delhi, has been working on several projects including playing a father trying to rekindle his relationship with his estranged son in the recently released Brahmin Bulls.
The low-budget independent film was written with Seth in mind by husband-and-wife team Anu Pradhan and Mahesh Pailoor, and also stars Mary Steenburgen.
Seth plays Ashok, with Sendhil Ramamurthy as his son Sid, a disillusioned Los Angeles-based architect.
Ashok, an engineering professor nearing retirement, makes a last-minute trip to LA for an academic conference and arrives at Sid’s doorstep unannounced.
Speaking from a hotel room in Penang, where Seth is filming the second series of Indian Summers, the actor told Eastern Eye: “Mahesh and his wife wanted to write something I could play a role [in]. They met me in Mumbai – they showed me the script and I said the father’s character is very athletic, he’s a tennis player.
“I said: ‘I’ve had two heart attacks – I don’t think I can play a game of tennis, quite apart from the fact that I don’t know one end of the racket from the other’. So they re-wrote everything to accommodate my problem because they were so keen on having me in it.
“It was a great honour, but also a great responsibility because it was a very low-budget film and I cannot tell you the problems of making a film with very little money,” Seth added.
The charismatic star who played Nehru in Richard Attenborough’s1982 Academy Award winning film Gandhi, told Eastern Eye he had never been in a position to choose roles because he had grown to realise how “limited” his choices were being an Indian actor.
“If something comes my way, I am very grateful and I try to do it to the best of my ability.
“I’m so late in my life, I’m 73 for heaven’s sake, and now I try and compete with myself. I try and raise the bar and see if I can clear something a little higher each time, and that’s my challenge. My career has got a kick-up the a*** at this late stage in my life.”
In the past year, Seth has starred in City of Tiny Lights, a London-based film noir due to be released in 2016, with Riz Ahmed.
He believes young Asian actors today have more doors open to them than he did when he started out in the 1960s.
“Riz Ahmed has already had more opportunities in his career than I had in a lifetime. The irony about this profession is you need the work in order to get people to notice you, so it’s all interlinked.”
Seth arrived in England in 1964 where he studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts after completing a degree in New Delhi.
But he soon became disillusioned by the lack of meaty roles for ethnic minority actors.
“I tried for about 15 years and then I thought: ‘That’s it – that’s the end of the road, I’m not going to spend the rest of my life playing postmen and bus conductors.’ So I packed up and I went back [to India] in defeat.”
There he worked as an editor and journalist until the early 1980s before his big break in Gandhi that boosted his international profile. He was later cast as bad guy Chatter Lal, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Seth is currently shooting the second series of Channel 4 drama Indian Summers set in the final years of British colonial rule in India.
Talking about the popular drama, which stars Julie Walters, Seth told Eastern Eye: “I enjoy scripts that are well-written, well-nuanced. I am playing a character that’s close to me and my life. I’m probably the only actor on the series that has who lived through some of what we are talking about.”
Brahmin Bulls was released on September 11.