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Chaneil Kular in Accused, 2023
Chaneil Kular in Accused, 2023Courtesy of Netflix

Accused, the new Netflix film exploring the perils of online vigilantism

Sex Education star Chaneil Kular discusses his first leading film role as a young man falsely accused of being a terrorist

Chaneil Kular doesn’t know what it is like to be accused of and later hounded for a heinous crime that he didn’t commit. Unlike a lot of people his age, Kular doesn’t use social media often and yet, fearing the misguided wrath of the internet mob is something that the 24-year-old actor can relate to. This is useful, since he needed to embody that fear to play the role of Harri Bhavsar in the upcoming thriller, Accused.

Harri is enjoying life with his girlfriend Chloe (Lauryn Ajufo) and affluent parents (Nitin Ganatra and Nila Aalia) until people online start accusing him of being responsible for a terror attack in London. The story follows his fight to survive the night as the threats mount up with horrifying intensity.

Directed by Boiling Point’s Phil Barantini, the film also forces us, as social media users, to wrestle with the question of whether we could be swept up in making erroneous judgements on platforms where knee-jerk reactions are rewarded.

This is Kular’s first lead role, but he handles it with ease. He’s believable in portraying Harri’s desperation as he scrambles to escape a mob’s rabid quest for revenge. Kular has proved his versatility too: Harri is world’s away from Kular’s breakout role as Anwar, one of the popular group called the ‘Untouchables’ in Netflix’s hit series Sex Education.

Keen to hear how that went down, Dazed caught up with the young actor on Zoom while he was staying at his grandmother’s house in Birmingham. Here, he shares his thoughts on social media vigilantism, subverting stereotypes and using fear as fuel.

Why did you want to work on Accused?

Chaneil Kular: Everything that happens in the film is inspired by a melting pot of things that have happened in real life. It’s very zeitgeisty, and actually quite terrifying as well because the reality is that it can happen to anyone.

Also, a one-man-led film is a rarity to come across in your career, so to have that staple was something I could never say no to. Once I met with the director Phil [Barantini] and writers Barnaby [Boulton], James [Cummings] and Matt [Lewis] and everyone else, the majority of whom worked on Boiling Point too, I had a feeling that I was going to be in good hands.

I wanted to talk about that fear that you mentioned. The film feels really claustrophobic, in the way the viewer is up close and personal with Harri’s panic. What was it like for you to step into this fear? 

Chaneil Kular: A lot of the fear and adrenaline shown in the film is very much real because [...] I knew I couldn’t afford to fail. I was just like, ‘are people buying this? Am I carrying this?’

The real-life pressures that I was met with when taking this role ended up matching the actual character, which worked out great. I might need to do a rom-com or something afterwards though.

In regards to online vigilantism and the radicalisation of far-right groups, were these things that you thought much about before the film? Has anything you thought about it changed since Accused?

Chaneil Kular: It shows that we need to consider how we use social media. Whether that’s being more careful with how much you post, how much the people around you are posting, or choosing whether to engage with things that aren’t really your concern.

There’s a very kind of real fear nowadays, especially among people who use social media, of being cancelled or being the victim of a pile-on. It was very much something that I was able to relate to as well, because no one wants to be the victim of that.

The main lesson to take away from this is to not blanketly believe or not believe certain allegations that can be made against people, but instead to block out what you see online and allow people closer to the facts to make real judgments. With the way social media is set up to inflame and max out engagement, it’s very easy to be swayed by what you’re consuming.

On a personal level, did you relate to your character, Harri, who’s targeted with Islamophobia as people online are quick to assume that he – as a South Asian man – is the terrorist?

Chaneil Kular: People can always have a preconceived idea of who you are based on how you look or where you’re from. I think [Accused] is that idea of how, maybe even subconsciously, those thoughts can come to light when presented with certain quotes, facts or evidence.

It’s interesting how some people can see you how they want to see you, regardless of how innocent or guilty you may seem otherwise.

What else do you hope people take from Harri as a character?

Chaneil Kular: Harri could be anyone, he’s just an everyday normal guy. Which is great, rather than playing anyone that can share a certain archetype or stereotype. Those roles sometimes feel few and far between.

It’s also nice that the role was written specifically for a South Asian lead, which I don’t think happens all that often, either.

You could say the same about subverting stereotypes and archetypes for Anwar, your Sex Education character, too. Is there anything that connects Anwar and Harri as characters?

Chaneil Kular: They are two South Asian stories or characters that aren't always displayed on screen. But, as characters, they are two very different things.

Even so, they both fit that kind of bracket of not fitting into any kind of archetype or stereotype and I think what’s great about that is there are two wildly different people. I’m just grateful enough to have been able to display a degree of range.

“There’s a very kind of real fear nowadays, especially among people who use social media, of being cancelled or being the victim of a pile-on” – Chaneil Kular

You smashed your first leading role – how did it compare to Sex Education, where you had other characters to bounce off of?

Chaneil Kular: I wasn’t trained at drama school, so I’ve always learned on the job. So [Sex Education] was a perfect playing ground for me to work on my craft. But what I enjoyed about the leading role is that there wasn’t anyone else to bounce off, you had to do it all yourself. There’s no shying away from the spotlight. I really did enjoy that. It helped me lock in and improve my craft that much more.

I absolutely felt very on the edge of my seat – it was a bit of a hard watch towards the end. What was the most memorable or challenging scene to shoot?

Chaneil Kular: The hardest and most terrifying part for me was learning how to step up the emotion as the stakes rose for Harri; trying to keep escalating those levels of fear, which were already quite intense, without continuing to play the same reaction to what was happening online. 

You mentioned there was some level of improvisation involved.

Chaneil Kular: James and Barnaby wrote an amazing script. It was a great base for us to work off of, but [we were told] as long as you know the beat for the scene then you can take it however you want. 

That in itself terrified me, but it also drove me to make sure I was just that much more prepared. 

There’s a moment where I end up smashing a wineglass, just through feeling flustered and overwhelmed. That was completely not meant to happen, but we kept it in. 

Have you had a sense of the reaction so far?

Chaneil Kular: I’m my harshest critic, [but] I actually have watched it and I’m really happy with it for once, which is nice. I just can’t wait for everyone to see it [...] because Netflix is such a huge platform, and the nature of this film has the potential to go viral. People on Twitter might watch it and be like, ‘Oh, shit, look, it’s us’. 

Accused will be released on Netflix on September 22nd.