How Zeeshan Ayyub, an engineering aspirant, graduated to theatre and films

Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub speaks to YS Weekender about how he got into acting, how Shah Rukh Khan inspired him to keep going when the going seemed tough, and his current projects.

Whether it was Arun “Chintu” Kumar Singh of Tanu weds Manu, the loyal Sadiq in Raees, Manu Sharma in No One Killed Jessica, or more recently the traitor brother in Kangana Ranut’s Manikarnika, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub has always enthralled with his performances.

Born in Okhla to theatre artistes, Zeeshan completed his schooling at Kendriya Vidyalaya and completed a bachelor’s degree in science from Kirori Mal College. He went on to train in theatre at National School of Drama.

Lauded for his versatile performances, Zeeshan can take on any role and any character with complete ease. Be it a rich brat who turns murderer or a loyal friend or a vagabond, Zeeshan has essayed his roles with complete ease.

The actor, who is working on few projects currently, including one with Rajkummar Rao, believes his entry into tinsel town happened serendipitously.

In a conversation with YS Weekender, Zeeshan looks back on how his middle-class roots in Delhi led him to India’s tinsel town.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

YS Weekender: How did you get into acting? And how would you describe your journey in the Indian film industry?

Zeeshan Ayyub: I was an engineering aspirant and wanted to study computer engineering. Looking back, I realise, I wanted to do so because everyone wanted to be a computer engineer, but my chemistry score didn’t help me get admission in any good engineering college.

I was planning to take a drop year to prepare well and try again. My brother, who was studying engineering, suggested I take up a course in a regular college so I wouldn’t lose my touch with studies. So, I joined Kirorimal College, in Delhi.

I thought I’d do a bachelor of information technology course, but suddenly the government announced there won’t be a BIT course anymore. So I continued my regular college. By that time, I was already into dramatics, and I did that till I completed college. After that I completed a three-year course at the National School of Drama.

When I came to Mumbai I auditioned for No One Killed Jessica within 10 days and got the film. This is how I got into this industry. 

Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub

YSW: What struggles did you face to get into the industry? 

ZA: It wasn't difficult for me because I had been doing theatre and had a film in hand within 10 days of coming to Mumbai I. So, there was not much of a struggle for me. But then, there are the long waits and pauses that can be annoying. I remember I wanted to quit acting, as I was fed up of whatever was being offered.

But I was committed to Raees, and nothing can be achieved if you run away from your commitments, so I told myself this was the last one and then it would be goodbye.

Back then, I wasn’t friendly with Shah Rukh Khan; I didn’t even share any kind of rapport with him. But when I met him the first time, it was the moment I realised that I wanted to continue acting. Also, I realised I would have to do a lot of work ahead, but he’s the reason I didn’t quit.

I had the option to do something else as I was good in studies, too, or could have come back from Mumbai to pursue theatre. My wife was there to support me as she was doing well in her television roles. But I knew I had to continue and not give up.

YSW: What is the best part about acting? 

ZA: I think best part is that you start empathising with a character and start living another life. It helps you explore and discover many things about yourself.

You get to explore emotions within yourself that you never knew existed. So, I think that is the best part and also the worst part, because you get to know your darker side, which you possibly do not want to face. 

YSW: How do you approach each role? 

ZA: It’s different every time. There is a different approach for different characters each time. It all depends on the form of the character, the script, and much more.

Your frame of mind and your approach for every scene keeps changing. I feel it's quite a mixed process. 

YSW: What are the upcoming projects you are working on? 

ZA: Currently I'm shooting for Turrum Khan in which I play the main antagonist alongside Rajkummar Rao and Nusrat Bharucha. My role in Turram Khan, I would say, is closer to what I played in Tanu Weds Manu. I can’t reveal much about the film, but I can tell you that my character causes major twists and turns in the story.