Films: science, the screen and a song


Neelay Mehendale has a fragile sense of humor. While his performance as the protagonist of cobalt blueNetflix’s coming of age film, has created buzz, the actor reveals he is also a scientist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Pune, whose doctoral research focused on the role of lipids in biological processes related to immunity and brain function.

“I tried to understand the beneficial roles of cholesterol and ceramides during the immune process and how certain rogue lipids can be eliminated in order to protect brain cells from their harmful effects,” he says, jokingly continuing, “C is quite simple, isn’t it?”

Three times a star

There is nothing simple about Mehendale’s accomplishments. Some people spend their youth trying to locate the great passion of their life. But Neelay Mehendale, M.Sc., PhD, is fortunate to be propelled by multiple passions. The youngster is also a talented Hindustani classical singer whose performances on YouTube feature him singing different ragas.

His multidisciplinary career now also includes a finely calibrated performance in cobalt blue. In his acting debut, Mehendale played a student, Tanay, struggling with his sexuality; her relationship with the family’s enigmatic paying guest, a professional painter played by Prateik Babbar, leads to sexual awakening and eventual heartbreak, but also unleashes her creative energies. The actor effectively portrays both the character’s naivety and his maniacal desperation upon discovering his lover’s flippant cruelty. Which begs the question: how did a scientist-musician venture into acting?

Behind the scenes at Cobalt Blue

“I had never thought of acting. Science and music both require a lot of dedication, so there is always a lot for me,” Mehendale reveals. “However, when I was approached by the cobalt blue team to audition for the role of Tanay, I decided that opportunities like these rarely arise. I did my homework, auditioned and got the part. I do not back down from any challenge. »

Had he been a conventional film wannabe, perhaps playing a gay man might have given him pause, even at a time when successful actors like Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao played LGBTQI+ characters on screen. But Mehendale thinks the fear that playing a gay man could affect an actor’s career is no longer valid. He says firmly, “Telling a story authentically is what is important for an actor. No matter who the character is, the actor’s ability to make it believable makes it memorable for audiences.

Crack the code

The film also didn’t believe in half measures. cobalt blue has an unapologetically daring love scene between Mehendale and Babbar. When asked if he apprehends semi-nudity scenes and if there were clearly established boundaries, the actor replied: “Certainly, there have been discussions. It’s a professional practice of to have these conversations. Being fairly new to acting, I needed some guidance. There were practice sessions for certain scenes and that certainly made things easier.

Luckily for Mehendale, her co-actor Babbar was very supportive. “He’s like an older brother watching over me,” says the young actor. “I have become very good friends with all the cast and crew members.”

Dubbing of Neelay for the film (right)

Mehendale insists there is no significant other in his life when he is driven by the reactions to the love scene. But he analyzes the things of the heart with insight and explains his cobalt blue the character’s fascination with the nameless painter with: “There’s a sense of mysticism with the painter, and everyone loves a puzzle.”

Hmm… so is a riddle what he’s looking for in a partner? Laughing, he dodges: “About my partner? I am more and more certain that it is also a puzzle! I’ll let you know when I know.

How to Develop Passion

The idea that great suffering can lead to great art and that varied art forms are constants throughout Mehendale’s early life – Tanay is a poet-writer who has an imaginary friend in a turtle named Neruda, Babbar plays a painter and Tanay’s university professor loves literature. The rookie actor thinks there’s a commonality between those with a creative mindset that helped him understand this medium. He says, “The similarity between all the arts and science is inspiration and creativity. So being a scientist and a musician definitely helped me as an actor.

In particular, Mehendale is pleased with the film’s message. He says sincerely, “It is important to educate contemporary audiences about the different shades of queer life and this film does so with great sensitivity. While homosexuality was a criminal act in the 1990s – the time period in which the film is set – Mehendale points out that “in 2022, people are having healthy discussions about the subject. This shows that progress has been made. I would consider this a step in the right direction.

Fueled by the response to his first film, Mehendale is now ready to take on more acting assignments, confident to juggle the three passions of his life without dropping the ball. Mehendale explains: “My music and my science have always supported each other, I apply the principles of music to science and vice versa; thus one enriches the other. Now, that extends to acting as well. Music and science are my two strong pillars of support. I hope this new third pillar of acting will help me be even stronger.

From HT Brunch, May 28, 2022

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