While many adults around the world return to school to change careers, you don’t often hear about heart surgeons who decide to leave medicine to pursue acting — and then go on to find success in one of the world’s largest film industries. Yet that is exactly what happened in the curious case of New York Film Academy acting for film alumnus, Dr. Mukesh Hariawala, whose recent slew of Bollywood roles and unique backstory has caused a bit of a stir in Sify News, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and Yahoo News.
If you’re a fellow career-changer or are simply looking for acting inspiration stories, Dr. Hariawala recently took the time to catch up with us via an email interview to share about his incredible journey from Harvard-educated surgeon to busy Bollywood actor in Mumbai, India.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?
MH : In 2014, I became eligible for taking a sabbatical from my 25-year cardiac surgical work in India, the U.K. and the U.S. I wanted to do something unrelated to medicine. Since I had a modelling background from undergrad college days and recollect enjoying it, I chose to try my hand at becoming an actor in mainstream cinema. I interviewed at NYFA in the summer of 2014 and, much to my surprise and delight, got accepted. I took up boarding and lodging at a negotiated rate at nearby Hotel Marriott and moved to New York. I continued to return home to Boston over the weekends.
NYFA: What inspired you to change careers, from a renowned heart surgeon to Bollywood actor?
MH: Although I have become a reasonably busy actor in Bollywood, I have not completely disconnected myself from the clinical world of cardiac surgery. I continue to maintain my hospital affiliation and privileges in Mumbai. The single most inspiring thought was the challenge of not to be afraid of failure, and to prove to myself that I was capable of succeeding in another profession too, apart from medicine.
NYFA: What was the greatest challenge for you in shifting careers?
MH: It was the mental acclimatization to accept the new social status of being a student again at age 50+. I was fortunate to be warmly accommodated by my much younger classmate peers and teachers, who never reminded me of my age. They very much encouraged me about the potential I displayed in class.
My wife and kids have been most supportive throughout the process. They used to visit NYFA campus during my student days to keep me motivated.
NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment?
MH: The acting for film class shoot with classmate co-stars of my outdoor scenes in Union Square. It gave me a nostalgic feeling of being a star, particularly since we were filming surrounded by tourist onlookers from all over the world … wow.
NYFA: Coming from your medical background, what surprised you the most about your acting training at New York Film Academy?
MH: Unlike surgery, acting was relatively stress-free and enjoyable. I realized during the course that although we can pretend at times in real life, the camera doesn’t let you lie. The camera will almost always pick up a pretense and unmask you. If the actor is not in the portrayed character, it would spell disaster for the actor and damage the scene. Also, following filming, it takes time coming out of a character back to normal life, and this has been a major surprise working in this new profession.
NYFA: Can you tell us a little about the Bollywood film “102 Not Out,” and how you became attached to the project?
MH: The film “102 Not Out” has superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor as the lead characters. I met the director, Umesh Shukla, while filming for another movie, “Exit,” in Ladakh. He liked my sincerity to the art of acting and promised me a role in a future project. I did get a call from him, one year later. Honestly, I was plain lucky and feel fortunate to share screen space with legends. Since learning acting is an ongoing process, I am getting the benefit of interactions with the best in the profession.
NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all helpful in preparing you for what you are accomplishing now?
MH: An overwhelming 100 percent. Without my NYFA training I could not have mustered the necessary skills to comprehend the complete process of filmmaking. My performances, which again reflect NYFA training, are appreciated by directors and they tend to repeat cast me in their future projects.
NYFA: What advice would you give to fellow career-changing NYFA students who, like you, wish to pursue an entertainment career after being out in the workforce for awhile in other industries?
MH: Age should never be a barrier to crossover from an established career to an completely insecure new industry. Additionally, all previous other industry work experiences become an asset in one’s toolkit to play a fortitude of characters, particularly while filming an emotionally charged recall scene. However, training in a good program is paramount in pursuing an long-term acting career. If not, it would surmount to driving a car without wheels.
NYFA: Can you tell us about other projects you have coming up?
MH: I have few more films currently undergoing post-production and due for release in late 2017 and early 2018. These include “Exit,” “Genius,” “Chicken Curry Law,” and “Aksar 2.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Dr. Mukesh Hariawala for taking the time to share a bit of his story with our community.