You might remember Chaneil Kular for his portrayal of Anwar Bakshi in Netflix’s hit comedy series Sex Education, where he played a sassy and prominent member of the cool kids of Moordale Secondary school for the first three seasons.
Now, the rising star takes on the leading role of Harri Bhavsar in Netflix’s current number one trending film Accused.
The intense Philip Barantini-directed thriller shows his character being at the wrong place at the very wrong time, as he is soon facing a serious struggle for survival against online abuse and physical threats stemming from false accusations that tie him to a terrorist act.
After an exclusive shoot with Principle, Kular sat down with us and spoke about all things social media threats, the casting process and the waiting game after, and what scenes he found most challenging to film throughout Accused.
Accused was released on Friday, congratulations! It’s also your first major lead part in a project. It’s already got amazing reviews online as well. How do you feel now that it’s out for the world to see?
I feel weird but also I feel a mixture of relief and excitement as well because I think there were initially some delays with the film and we finished the film a year and a half ago. What I realised with acting is that you kind of have to sit on things and wait for it all to be completed, and then once it’s completed they want a certain release date and time which could be the end of the year. I feel like you’re waiting forever almost, which I kind of did a bit, but I’m really glad that it’s finally out there now for everyone to see. So, I’m excited.
That’s such a long waiting game though. How long was the whole filming process overall, from beginning to wrapping?
I think we started mid-February maybe, last year, and then we were done by the end of March. So the filming was short, but then the wait time just seemed like forever, you know? And I think when you haven’t seen the film as well, it’s even more like nail-biting because you’re like, oh, how’s it going to turn out? Like, is it going to turn out any good?
I can imagine. So have you actually watched the film or are you someone who doesn’t want to watch himself on screen at all?
No, you know, I’m completely up to it. I always watch myself back. I’ll even try and watch the tapes back if I have time. I always feel like I’m being a bit of a pest like that. But I don’t like the idea of not knowing what’s out there until it’s completed. I like to have some kind of idea of how I’m performing as I’m doing the project, if that makes sense, because I’m kind of my own worst critic. Some people would say it’s a bit of a hindrance, but I actually find it good in terms of my process where I can be like, oh, like, I didn’t think I was good in this, so I can kind of up it in other scenes, or if it looks good, it can kind of just keep giving me the motivation to stick to it.
I totally agree with that! So, Accused delves into a narrative about online abuse, false accusations and also Islamophobia. How did you emotionally prepare for the role of Harri, the guy who fights against these challenges while actually being innocent?
It was a weird one, to be fair. Although a lot of the script that was written was amazing, there was a degree of improvisation and workshopping some bits. It is my first film, and the scale of the role and the magnitude of just being a majority one man-led film and also just the idea of all the pressures that came with that, I think helped translate on screen. It really mimics a real life reaction to some degree. I don’t really use social media that much but I just think even if you’re just mindlessly scrolling, I think everyone has some kind of fear of being followed by a mob online or cancelled and hated by the world. And I think seeing that happen in real life for lots of people, it can just create that fear of, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s just the idea of that situation actually happening. Maybe not as severe as being labeled as a terrorist or something.
Yeah absolutely, it can happen to everyone these days really. Some of those scenes must have been quite challenging to film, but was there any scene in particular that you found really hard?
I think the hardest bit was, because I think there’s three stages of how bad the stuff online gets, where he’s originally picked out, then they call his house, and then they actually start breaking into his house. And I think it was just that level of trying to up the stakes each time, like, oh, now it’s got even more worse and even more worse. Except you can’t continue to play the same thing all the time, if that makes sense. You’ve got to find the ways in which you can take it up that much more and react to this new circumstance as opposed to just it being the same reaction every single time. Because I think the whole idea of everyone coming for you is just terrifying enough. I found that quite challenging. I think for me that was always going to be the toughest part to nail.
I bet! And then equally, was there a scene that you found quite fun to shoot?
The dinner scene was actually so much fun to do. The actors playing my parents are so great at improvisation and just being so lighthearted that every time we did like a take, I was always laughing. I think it’s the one kind of scene-ish, or the one proper full-on scene where it’s just a family enjoying themselves. And then the bits here and there where I got to play with the dog, that was nice. These moments are kind of short lived in the film but nevertheless, they were definitely the kind of beacons of light during what is obviously quite a lot of dark material.
When you first were presented the script, like, what were your initial thoughts? Did you immediately feel drawn to the character?
Definitely. I thought the script was amazing, to be honest. And I think there were so many things about it that drew me to it. But I think the main ones were just the fact that the material itself felt very contemporary and very ‘now’ in terms of the topics. It was a racism and xenophobia kind of standpoint, but then also the social media aspect as well, which I thought was great. And also, for the majority it was a one-man film as well. It’s an opportunity that, even if you’re already an esteemed actor, doesn’t always fall into your hands really. I literally just thought it was the perfect role to establish who I am as an actor and show everyone what I’ve got if it was done right.
It was meant to be. So do you remember the moment when you got the call that you got the role?
Yeah, I do actually. It was three years ago. We actually first discussed, and I was offered this film, in September 2020. It was only an idea then. So I signed this thing called a letter of intent to say, yes, I’m down to do this film. I didn’t hear anything about the film until the end of 2021. So part of me just thought maybe this film is just never getting made. And then when I found out, it was, oh my God, this is actually happening now. It was so great because it’s something that I’d known about for a long time and I just knew I had to do that role. But because so much time had passed, it was a weird one where I was like, oh, is this film even getting made anymore? But I think when I finally got the call that it was gonna happen, it was a certain breath of relief and a lot of excitement, because also, funnily enough, at a similar time I found out that I wasn’t gonna be called back for season four of Sex Education so it was almost like a whole new beginning.
It was sad not to see your character in the new Sex Education season but like you say, when one thing ends, another one starts and now, here you are – in a feature film on Netflix! What was it like working alongside Philip Barantini on that project?
It was great. It was really the whole team, to be honest. The cinematographer, the writers, the lighting team, the sound team, there were so many people. Funnily enough, what had happened in 2020 was that they sent me the short for Boiling Point, because Philip’s breakout was obviously Boiling Point. They sent me the short version of that, like the short film before it was even a feature film. Yeah. So when I watched that, I was like, oh, these guys really know what they’re doing. Because I think what’s scary about the industry is that you can only do your part sometimes. You can try and give the performance of your life, but if the producing isn’t right, or if the cinematography isn’t great, or this and that, like, there’s so many elements, or the editing isn’t great – there’s all these elements that you can’t control how the final product of it is gonna be. So seeing Phil and everyone else actually pull off Boiling Point as a feature and it do so well kind of just confirmed to me that I was going to be in safe hands. I think it definitely kind of pushed me to a new level, I guess.
I think if you have a great team around you that’s so helpful for everything. It sounds like a great experience. I also feel like once you portray a character, they kind of become a part of you. So is there anything that Harri, your character, has taught you personally?
I think what’s interesting with Harri is, because of the nature of the film, obviously there are some slight complexities in the sense that he’s of South Asian descent, so people are more likely to lean towards thinking he’s a terrorist. But also I think the fact that he’s just a normal everyday person was something that I was able to kind of bring myself towards. We’re all, for the most part, just normal everyday people really. And things are kind of just happening around us. So I think I was able to relate to the idea that he was just a normal everyday kind of guy who was suddenly faced with this notion of being a suspected terrorist. If that actually happened to me in real life, I think I’d be the same because I like to think I’m a good person.
So after Accused, is there anything else you are currently working on that you are allowed to share?
It’s actually been really busy the past year and a bit to be fair. I did a film with Constantin Film and Prime for a German young adult fantasy film that’s going to come out at the end of the year. I also did a really brief, small kind of part, but it’s quite a memorable part actually, in this new Netflix series that’s coming out called Bodies, which I’m in love with. Then I just did a short film recently where I’m in another kind of leading role, which was great to do. And that will probably come out next year. It’ll be interesting to see what can come off the back of Accused.