Meet Asheish Nijhawan - The Kashmiri actor who plays Taliban second in command Aftab Khalid in the Netflix series 'Bard of Blood'

By Murtaza Ali Khan
Actor Asheish Nijhawan, Aftab Khalid
Actor Asheish Nijhawan
For Asheish Nijhawan it was the love of theatre that kept him motivated despite the hardships his family had to face during the mass exodus from the Kashmir Valley during the 1990s. After his family moved to Jammu he got actively involved with a local theatre group. On completing his graduation he applied for NSD but failed to crack it the first time around. But his hard work paid off as he finally got selected. After passing out in 2009, he subsequently got associated with the NSD repertory. He then did acting research fellowship under the noted actor Adil Hussain. "I learned so much about the acting craft from Adil Sir. He used to conduct workshops at NSD also and so to follow it up with a fellowship under him was really a great opportunity. It really helped me develop my process," tells Nijhawan. Soon after completing the fellowship he got a scholarship to study in London at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA). 

But his hunger for learning the craft was insatiable and so traveled to Japan in order to learn Butoh Theatre under a Japanese master. He finally came to Mumbai in 2016. But getting an acting job is never easy for a young actor in a city like Mumbai. So his struggle started. In order to support himself financially he took up a teaching job at Anupam Kher's Actor Prepares. Since an acting job was still tough to get by he settled for the next best thing. He started working as AD under Akshat Verma for Kalakaandi. Subsequently, he auditioned for Bard of Blood and that's how he got the role of the Taliban second in command Aftab Khalid. 

Asheish Nijhawan (centre) as Aftab Khalid in Bard of Blood, Taliban second in command
Asheish Nijhawan (centre) as Aftab Khalid in Bard of Blood
The role of the Talban supreme leader is played by the noted dastango and actor Danish Husain. Now, Nijhawan shares many important scenes with Husain in the series. And the dialogue is mostly in Pashto. While Husain is fluent in Persian he could also speak a little Pashto. For Nijhawan it was an alien territory. Initially their dialogues were mostly supposed to be in Urdu but the director Ribhu Dasgupta together with Nijhawan and Husain decided to use Pashto for the most part as it seemed to add great authenticity to the characters. So Both the actors took Pashto lessons from a language coach named Shabir Arsh in order to master the language and the accent. "As theatre actors both Danish Bhai and I were really keen on sticking with Pashto dialogues. I am thankful to Red Chillies Entertainment for agreeing to get someone to teach us Pashto. Ribhu was instrumental to the whole idea and without his active involvement it wouldn't have been possible," reveals Nijhawan.
Asheish Nijhawan as Aftab Khalid and Danish Husain as Taliban Chief Mullah Khalid in Bard of Blood
Asheish Nijhawan as Aftab Khalid (left) and Danish Husain as Mullah Khalid in Bard of Blood
There is no denying that the use of Pashto dialogues actually helps breathe life in the characters played by Nijhawan and Husain. Of course, the two are also very good actors to begin with. Their acting skills and the newly acquired language skills create a synergy of sorts that's evident every time each of them appear on the screen. Both the performances are as chilling as a performance can get, both in terms of emotional range as well as diction. "I watched many documentaries, videos and films in order to understand the body language and the mannerisms, not just pertaining to the Taliban but the Pashto people at large," recounts Nijhawan who feels that the look and costumes play an important part in helping an actor get the feel of the character. "I feel transformation is a very important part of the acting process. Sobhita, whom I worked closely with on the sets of Kalakaandi, was really surprised to see me in the get-up of Aftab Khalid," recollects Nijhawan.   

Asheish Nijhawan clean shaven look 
Interestingly while Nijhawan was shooting for Bard of Blood, he got a call from Akshat Verma to assist him on his upcoming project. "I told him that I couldn't come as I was acting for Bard of Blood," chuckles Nijhawan who has also served as an AD on Vidhu Vinod Chopra's upcoming project Shikara which is a historical romance film set in Kashmir. Nijhawan is hopeful that with the release of Bard of Blood on Netflix, the people in the industry will finally take note of his acting talents.   

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