The story of Piyush Khati—you now know him as Dheeraj Kumar Valmiki from Netflix’s Class—is that of an ’80s Bollywood film. A boy from a small town struggles and makes it big in showbiz. Hailing from Ranikhet, Uttarakhand, Khati led a slow life waking up to the view of the Himalayas but soon left the chirping birds behind for a life in New Delhi.
National School of Drama didn’t work out as hoped, but mass communication and odd jobs kept Khati afloat. And then came the sweet part… The hard work paid off. “I moved to Mumbai and navigated my way as a commercial artist. From being a background actor to appearing in ads, my first successful audition landed me the web series Criminal Justice. Two years later, I appeared in Extraction with Chris Hemsworth, and after that, I was shortlisted for Class,” he fills us in.
Getting instant fame can be tricky to handle, but Khati understands the pitfalls of letting it affect his confidence. “It’s very necessary for somebody to guide you and help you navigate at this point, as it can be a bit overwhelming,” he admits. “It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment, you’re looking at a still lake, but the next, you’re standing near an ocean full of waves. So, I’m still processing it, but I’m happy that I’m evolving.”
Khati’s parents, interestingly, haven’t watched Class yet. “For them, I’m the same kid,” he shrugs. “My parents have always supported me, but they are not really interested in films. When I told them about all the success, they did not really have a reaction to it. It’s only when I went back to the school, where my father is a PT teacher, and a crowd of students gathered around me for selfies, it made my dad proud. And that was the best moment for me.”
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Khati enjoys the attention, and we wonder how he deals with all the love from his fans. “I prefer calling them supporters or good acquaintances that are helping us out,” he points out. “At the end of the day, when you receive a text saying you’ve done a great job and they look forward to your work, it gives you validation. I know, people say that you shouldn’t care about validation, but I’m an entertainer. I’m there to serve people. I appreciate the time someone takes to write that message to me, and that effort gives me validation that I’m going on the right path. So that attention is beautiful and puts a smile on my face.
“But right now, I have come back to my hometown for some time because I don’t want to lose myself.”
We discuss what he’d like to experiment with next, and Khati picks sci-fi films. “I’d also like to play a character that has multiple personalities or alter egos. Before Class, I worked on a project for Disney+ Hotstar; I’m awaiting its release. And while I’m at it, I’m trying to make wiser choices and grab some good roles,” he ends our conversation. Interactions with industry newbies can get formal at times, but our chat with Khati was effortless, as though talking to a long lost friend. That’s just how the actor is–unpretentious, humble and honest. He has the ability to make you feel at ease, and that translates onto the screen.
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