Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ranveer Singh

"It's so evident to me how my life becomes after a poor friday versus a good friday."

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the December 19, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

Who would have thought that the fun-loving, boy-next-door Bittoo Sharma would someday be the magestic Peshwa Bajirao? While this journey from Bittoo to Bajirao might seem effortless, it's had its share of blood, sweat and glitches. On-screen, he's proven his versatility with an array of characters, though, ironically, off-screen what remains constant is just one adjective - energetic. That's almost his middle name and well-deserved so. But behind the flamboyant, boisterous, energetic outside, is a sensitive, shy man who speaks with immense 'thairaav' when you're having an in-depth conversation with him. This was one such time. He settles down on the couch by the window enjoying the beach-view in a casual black tshirt-track pants avatar. From his latest Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, to why he is the way he is, here's Ranveer Singh in a heartwarming chat... 

Photo credit: Errikos Andreou
On one hand while Peshwa Bajirao was this agressive warrior, the next minute he was laughing, and at another instance we saw him crying. Was blending in so many emotions in one character without going over-the-top, a big challenge?
I think it's a trade mark of Mr. Bhansali's films. He makes films that are very emotional at their core, whether you see 'Khamoshi', 'Black', 'Devdas', 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam', or even 'Ram-leela' - all his films have layered and complex emotions. It's beautiful that just in one film, he allows that you can display so much of your range in an emotive sense. He has got it done from me. The trick is that you don't even know how you're going to play the scene till the camera starts rolling. That's his style. He doesn't pre-decide or fix anything. There is an implicit understanding that he's going to allow the actor to bring in, his own interpretation to the scene. And sometimes he likes that it's done unexpectedly. When you can surprise Mr. Bhansali is when he loves it the most. So, I would give all the credit where its due, and only to him. He really empowers his actors, and I always say that he gives you wings to fly. He trusts us to make solid, creative choices and he lets you be. He allows all the acting choices to be born out of the actor's own instinct, and things that are born out of your own instinct are the most convincing ones. 

In a way, it must have been supremely gratifying?
For me as an actor, this is a role of a lifetime because the junctures at which he's chronicled Peshwa Bajirao's life, allows you so much scope as an actor. Like you mentioned, you find him laughing, crying, he has so many different shades, so many roles to play - son, father, lover, husband, and the widest array of emotions that no character has perhaps offered me thus far. That's why when I got the narration, I was like salvating (laughs). What an incredible part to be given to play.

You not only learnt Gujarati for 'Ram-leela', you mastered the colloquial accent. And then you had another pitch-perfect accent as Peshwa Bajirao. Your transformation from film to film is so drastic, that one doesn't see Ranveer in them. How? 
(smiles) These are are the compliments which really resonate me because that's one of my aims! To me the most alluring actors are the ones who have that versatility. Like Daniel Day Lewis, how much do I love him! You see him in one film and you can't say it's the same guy when you see another film of his. So, I've always tried to be like that. Of course, some work goes into it. Mr. Bhansali wasn't sure if I could do it during 'Ram-leela'. He asked me to go to Gujarat, present whatever I could and then he would tell me if it's working. I went for eight days, and then when we were doing the first reading, I just said two sentences and he liked it. Ultimately it's his choice if he wants me to do something, so for Bajirao I asked him if I should do it and he strongly felt I should. He's like, 'that's such a strong card that only you have as an actor.' For me immediately when the narration started and I was hearing the dialogues, I knew he would have a strong baritone. So I locked myself into a room. In the mornings, I would work out to get that toughness because I knew that Bajirao should have that air about him which hits you even before the guy walks into the room. And then the accent coach would come and we worked till one of us was fried (laughs). I came out after 21 days and was ready to be Bajirao! 

Everyone has been saying that it's a big thing for Sanjay Leela Bhansali to trust you with his dream project. But do you think any other actor would have probably given the kind of commitment or dedication that you gave to this film? 
I perhaps had an advantage over anyone else who was under consideration for casting because Mr. Bhansali knew I would go deep into that rabbit hole and do justice to the character in that sense. That's what the film required. So, I think I had that edge over anyone else who would be considered for the role. He trusted me to do that. Ultimately, he doesn't concern himself with what you do for the character. I did all the research for 'Ram-leela' and he realised that I probably have that level of commitment to play Bajirao. 

Incidentally, just as 'Bajirao Mastani' released, you've also completed five years in the industry. Lots of ups, a few downs, and some injuries later, what's been your learning?
The past one year of being Bajirao has been the biggest learning experience because there's been no other part that I've struggled with, this much. The number of times I failed to get the scene right, has taught me a lot. I know I have shortcomings, limitations, parts of myself that I need to work on. But what I've been happy about is the fact that in the last five years I've gotten to play a wide array of characters. To have, 'Lootera' and 'Ram-leela' in the same year, and then have 'Dil Dhadakne Do' and 'Bajirao Mastani' this year is incredible. I've been blessed with good opportunities that came at the right time. I'm happy that I've had the chances to put my versatility on display which I believe is my strongest point. Yes, the negative side is that I could have done without all the injury. It's always a setback for an actor to be forced out of action because of physical injury. But there have been so many highlights... 

Photo credit: Errikos Andreou
Please continue...
I had a dream start with 'Band Baaja Baaraat', which I believe has achieved cult status now. People don't get tired of watching it on television. That's the kind of film one hopes to be a part of, always. I was unhappy with the way 'Ladies vs Ricky Bahl' had gone and I had a point to prove to myself so I did 'Lootera', which was a risky part for me - inhibited, brooding and vulnerable. At that time it didn't do well commercially, but it proved that I had this range and versatility. It still keeps making me proud because so many people I meet tell me they love it. Then 'Ram-leela', was my biggest breakthrough. There's also 'Gunday' which a certain section of the audience loves. There's a segment of the fanbase which just loves me for 'Gunday'. 'Dil Dhadane Do' also had such a good reaction and now 'Bajirao Mastani' is the icing on the five-year cake journey. For this film, I had to summon everything I knew and learn a lot more. It's been an incredible journey. Of course, there's always scope to do better. There are people who are five years younger and have already won an oscar or what not, so there's scope to achieve more, but I'm not dissatisfied. I'm feel happy and blessed that I got good opportunities. 

And while stardom has also come along, how do you continue being this simple Mumbai boy?
My fundamentals and my foundation was very strong ever since I came in. From a very young age, the reason I wanted to be an actor, is not why most young kids want to get into acting. I wanted to be an actor because I love acting, because I love being a performer, I love saying lines, learning choreography and everything. I love the process. But most people are just lured by the frills - the fame and money. For me, I see through it. I see that it's very transient. It's so evident to me how my life becomes after a poor friday versus a good friday. The phone rings more often, more business comes in, more gigs happen, more people want to be in touch with you. I see through it all, so for me my foundation is really strong in the sense that I know what's really important. What's important is that you do good work and that you're enjoying it.  

So there isn't much that you need to be happy?
Touchwood, my father was a prospering businessman. But many a times, even if he and the family went through a lean phase, financially, he never let that come to me. He didn't let me feel that crunch. So, I've always had that comfort taken care of of. I never have been a really materialistic person. Of course, I like great clothes or cars, who doesn't? But I can do without it also. Now a days, the cell phone has made celebrity life very difficult, so it's actually become quite a pain. But now, I've grown into the kind of person who wants to just focus on my work, family and friends which is now a very small circle. It's gotten smaller and smaller every year. I just have a few relationships which I want to nurture and make them substantial. I can choose to have a very fancy life. But I like to keep it simple. I like to eat dal chawal, watch TV and go to sleep. I don't need much. In fact, if I am wearing something very expensive, I feel weird, it doesn't feel right. I like to think of myself as a fakeer who doesn't need too much to be happy. I have this ability to find happiness and joy through things that aren't materialistic. What's important is to be kind to people, be warm and share a good positive energy.

Your emotional, sensitive, calmer side usually gets eclipsed by this stereotype of being overtly energetic and flamboyant...
It's my fault. I hide that side of me purposely because I'm shy of it. If there's one thing I'm shy of, then it's my emotional intelligence, sensitivity, general intelligence and my eloquence. I don't like to alienate people or intimidate people with that side. I would want to make anyone feel comfortable around me. People or my co-actors don't feel that threat to come and speak to me. They know they can speak to me, or come and give me a hug. I love that relatability. I'm the kind of person who is hyper sensitive, emphathatic, a very deep thinker, all of those things but that side of me, isn't my every day side. I am not like that on a daily basis. I like that I have this ability to go through the catharsis and do it all on-screen. I'm not shy to tap into the intense side of me on-screen, but in real life I am. I'm very shy to let people know that I'm sensitive, emotional and easily attached. Infact, to the point that I not only hide it but I make fun of people who are emotional. So may be the high-energy or flamboyance and all those things are consciously or sub-consiously counters to the way I actually am. 

Shah Rukh Khan

"If I'm staring down at so many people from a huge hoarding, claiming to be Badshah Khan, then I should be deserving of that"

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From this week's issue of Super Cinema)

The phenomenon called Shah Rukh Khan is hard to describe. But the fact that he has a heart-melting effect on most women irrespective of their age, gives a glimpse of it. Not to mention, even at 50, he raises the bar for most men when it comes to love and romance. Cut to off-screen! Here he is, sitting casually in front of you at his office, just passionately talking everything about movies and confessing things about himself that make you forget his starry stature. That he is well-read, articulate and has so many experiences to share, makes a conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, almost enriching. Over to the man himself! 

The moment it's a 'Shah Rukh Khan film', people assume that the film will garner a good opening, but what's your state of mind usually like, before a release?
One only gets tired before a release, there's so much to do, that there's no excitement, as supposed to get over in the first week of November but it took a little longer so it was more chaotic. I don't know the exact price of a ticket but when we promise a big film na like say 'Raees' or 'Dilwale', it's important to live up to that. I call them the superhero films of Hindi cinema, and we call a large audience to watch it. Realistically, cinema is a product that people buy without seeing. So, before the film releases, it's important to tell the audience what they might be in for, if they come to watch the film. I can sit down, relax and think that people will come to watch the film. But as a company, we feel that it's our duty to tell people about a film before hand so they don't feel cheated. It's said that I do a lot of marketing to get that extra money on the opening day, but that's not true. I am not really concerned about that because if the film is good then eventually it will do good, for example 'Chak De! India' had a 55 per cent opening but it was good so people came to watch eventually. I know that before 'Dilwale' released, someone must have saved money to watch the film. Personally I feel, it's my duty to inform people that don't spend your money without knowing what you're coming in for! 

Does the variety in terms of a Fan' or 'Raees' after a 'Dilwale' reflect your inclination towards cinema that's largely creatively satisfying at this point?
I am creatively satisfied by every film. As a matter of fact, I was talking to Varun in London a few days back and I was telling him that a lot of times people assume that the popular cinema is not creative. When I came to Mumbai, I was from theatre and I'd done very serious stuff. In fact, after 'Dil Aashna Hai', Hemaji thought I was a serious actor like Naseer Saab. So when she saw me dancing in films like 'Chamatkar' or 'Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman', she was disturbed and she told me, 'I thought you were a serious actor so I didn't make you dance in my film,' (laughs). At the age of 50, it takes a lot to stand with a girl on a mountain, hold her dupatta and romance with a feeling of conviction. Who does that in real life? It takes a lot, especially for an urban educated guy like me. I realised early on, that the fantastical part of acting is the most difficult. Hence, a lot of serious actors don't look so convincing while doing such things. So, I'm not justifying why I do it. But the problem is, when you become a star, before you even know it, like in my case, a lot of compulsions come in. 

Because that's what people expect you to do?
Yes. Adi (Aditya Chopra) and me were going to make an intense, fight film instead of 'DDLJ'. But Adi told me, 'now you're a big star, so let's make a love story first.' So he made 'DDLJ' and it's still running. Then we thought, chalo ek aur love story banaate hai. Hence, I do these big films, and then if I can pepper it up with a bit of realism in terms of films like 'Chak De! India' or 'My Name Is Khan', it gets better. But it's unfortunate that a film sometimes takes 150 days to make, so you cannot do too many films. When I was setting up the company I didn't have much time, but now that I have good people to take care of things, I can give more time to acting and do smaller films which are different as well. I want to do films offbeat films like 'Fan', and still do quintessential blockbusters! 

So, how do you bring a balance between bringing in the quintessential SRK element to a character and yet make it different for your own satisfaction?
That's difficult because if I'm going to play the quintessential SRK, how differently do I even play it? But you try. For instance, in 'Dilwale', the young portion, may remind you of me. Because unfortunately, what Kajol and I have done is so classic, that people haven't forgotten it. So I even told Kajol, let's do our walking-talking scenes differently, so we've not taken it completely to 'KKHH' or 'DDLJ' level. Then there's a second part which is very different, where my character is older and quieter with a tough exterior. So, that is what helps me go out in the morning and act. Then there's a 'Fan' which is completely opposite to what I am. That can only happen if directors come up with that. Maneesh Sharma came to me with a story of 24-year old fan who looks like Shah Rukh Khan. Aanand Rai comes to me with a story of a dwarf, I find that interesting and challenging. I cannot write stories for myself. But everyone doesn't come with that. I meet some offbeat directors who I really like, but they tell me, I want to do a Shah Rukh Khan film. However, I want to do the kind of films they make. When you try to mix the two, it becomes a mess. Supposedly, if I work with Anurag Kashyap or Vishal Bhardwaj, then I want to make the kind of cinema that they make. Everyone feels they will make me do a love story different, but nobody knows love more than me, so, I will do it just the way I've been doing it (smiles). 

But at 50, and having spent 25 years at the movies, there's no dip in your dedication or drive to keep getting better.
Yes, production wise, if not anything else. I thought 'Ra.One' was quite amazing. It was so hard to work on. At my age, there was no reason for me to wear those tight pants, be in sweat and go mad with physicality not knowing what's happening. But I gave it a shot, because I think, very honestly speaking, perhaps I'm not deserving of the commercial or artistic success that I have got in the last 25 years. It's a big cross to bear that you wake up in the morning and you're the biggest star of the country. It sounds very good and happy - King Khan but, somewhere, as a consciensous person I keep feeling that have I done enough work to deserve this? I go to meet the head of states and strangely, I represent India as an ambassador in a certain sense. I don't think I have that body of work or perhaps have that kind of talent. Every morning I feel that if I don't deserve it which is why I should push myself, so that eventually, at least by the end of my career I feel that I deserved it. The worse thing is not to know whether you deserve something or not. My son when he is giving an exam or running a race, he is clear that it shouldn't happen because he is my son, it should happen because he deserves it. when I see nature like this, in my heart also I feel that I should work hard. Maybe if I'm lacking in talent or creativity or in the films I've done, if I can cover it up with drive and hard work, then in my heart I will feel I will deserve it. If I'm staring down at so many people from a huge hoarding, claiming to be Badshah Khan, then I should be deserving of that. Can I tell you a small story?

Please do! 
I had an actor with me, Haider bhai in 'Circus'. He was the ringmaster. One day, he trained the tigers, lions and he said, we'll not tie them. He released them. We were all shocked. He went in, and all the four tigers and lions came out. Then later, we asked him why did he do that and he told us, 'My son should know that I was the ringmaster.' He would anyway know I was the ringmaster, but I should deserve that. As an actor it's important that you deserve it. So, if someone says Shah Rukh Khan is a superstar, I should be able to rightly agree to it if I've worked hard. 

Many actors have turned producers, and also share the film's profit. You turned producer pretty early in your career, but are you always more inclined towards the creative aspects or being an actor first?
I've never taken profit as an actor, I've never taken territory as an actor. In fact, my fees are decided after the film is made, I've never even demanded fees. It's a very simple logic, if I'm produceing the film, I'm taking a risk. I became a producer very early with 'Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani' and we lost money. Then we made 'Asoka', we lost money. Later we made 'Chalte Chalte', and we just about brok-even. From the outside it seems very easy but it's risky and expensive. Also because I'm a stylish producer, so I want things to be big and cool with best equipments and everything. I have never gone and told anyone to give me a fifty per cent share in the profit. Even today, if you ask any producer or director who've signed me, I tell them you decide the price and give it to me, because as an actor I'm not saleable. I'm priceless. As an actor you cannot buy me, that's one thing I've kept for 25 years. I read in the papers that this is the amount I charge for my films and I wish I could take that much. As a producer, I have put in more money into my company than taken it. I'm very well to do, but not because of films. I'm well to do, because of shows, commercials, and talent - I can host, do television, dance on stage. I work so much because I like the good life, but I never use cinema to earn money. Once I've done it - with 'Guddu'. I've bought a house with it. 

As a person, you're so deep and philosophical - is it because living so many lives, characters and meeting so many people has made you richer? Is that also what Hindi cinema has given you?
Not may be consciously but when you have experiences of meeting so many people, you are richer. Coming in touch with such wonderful people of different thoughts is enriching, especially all the ladies, and people like Rahul Rawail, Yash Chopra, Mani Ratnam, and now the younger guys, who are friends. But, I'll be honest, that I've not taken as much as I've given. In every film you do, a part of it gets left behind. People may not see it, and I don't want any extra appauds for that. I'm a very shy person in real life. When I was a kid, if there were guests at home, I would hide under the bed and my mother used to call me anti-social. Even now, if I go out to public place which is not my zone, I get shy. For me to do stuff that I do in films, even if it's saying a simple line, I find it very awkward. To dance like that, to take off my shirt, to run after a girl, it's not my personality. It's a big deal to expose myself to the world, every day, for years now, and I'm doing that12 hours a day, so if I calculate then 12 years of my life have gone on set. I still shake. I know my lines and my technique, I'll never be wrong about that! I'm an educated actor. But very often when I'm doing a song or scene, I hope people don't come to know I'm so bad at this because it's not in my nature. My friends and my co-actors know it. I never come out of my bedroom without fully dressed. Even people who work at my house wouldn't have seen me in shorts. Only one day my kid came and pulled me out. I feel awkward being open, and then all my life, I have just done that - laughed and cried in front of so many people. So, it's strange in a way. 

What is it that you love the most about Hindi cinema?
The good part is that there is existence of so many different creative minds, especially now in the last ten years. You're allowed to do so many things that you want and we haven't stop making more films. Indian cinema is making about 800 films a year, we have a very loyal audience. We're one of the few countries left that has super stardom. You don't find such stardom in so many other countries. The western world is also now looking at our market. So, we are very loyal to our own cinema. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Parineeti Chopra

“I feel great about being in a position where people expect something from me or look forward to my work” 

By Ankita R. Kanabar

She might have had a slightly low profile at the movies this year, but Parineeti Chopra is making heads turn with her new, super avatar. She’s fitter and happier. But some things don’t change, do they? Like her effervescence or contagious energy…even if you’re having a telephonic conversation with her! In a brief chat, she gets talking to us about dealing with criticism, why she’s so secure and the feeling of finally having her own place…

 Has it been a conscious decision to take it slow this year? 
I was setting up my own house, that took about six months and then I really wanted to concentrate on my health. So, I took time off to just pay attention to that. Also, I’m still reading a lot of scripts. So hopefully, I will announce something soon.

Last year, while there was ‘Hasee Toh Phasee’ with its own quirks, ‘Kill Dil’ was more in the glamourous, commercial space. What gets more difficult?
I’m glad that last year I had these diverse roles irrespective of how the films did. However, in any kind of role, you’re acting eventually, so there’s some challenge in every film you do. But that’s what makes it great. It gets boring to do similar things otherwise.

You made your debut with ‘Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’ which had three other actresses, yet you got noticed and ever since, you’ve always exuded a sense of security.
I didn’t even have 1/5th of a role in ‘Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’ but I’m glad people noticed me and I also got the best debut award. But I’m a very secure person in my head in any case, and people who’re close to me appreciate that. That’s just my personality. Things that other people do, don’t affect me. I care about my work, my team and people I work with.

To have kind of security despite a fair share of criticism coming your way…how have you managed to take it all with a pinch of salt?
I’ve always been subjected to criticism – be it my looks or later my choice of films. But yes, I have been positive about it because eventually you have to set goals for yourself and work on them. For instance, I was worried about my health so I took time off to work on it and now I feel good. So, the idea is to concentrate on what you think is good for you. But I feel great about being in a position where people expect something from me or look forward to my work. You have to keep honing your skills. Eventually you cannot take everything so seriously. It’s important to realise that there’s much more to life.

But being an actor, isn’t it difficult to have a life beyond movies sometimes?
It is! When you’re on set all day, actually giving in all your emotions, it can get difficult. Sometimes you might have to cry all day, so you end up being in that zone. It’s difficult to have a personal life when you’re an actor. But it’s important to surround yourself with certain people, friends and family who let you have a life outside of movies.

You’ve also accomplished another goal of having your own house, what’s that feeling like?

Earlier when I was staying in a rented apartment, it was difficult to even hang a painting on the wall, because it wasn’t my house. But finally having your own place and decorating it your way is a great feeling. I’ve set it up myself the way I wanted it to be. It’s a happy, comfortable space.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Arjun Kapoor

“My life has been an adventure in that sense – I’ve seen quite a few highs and lows”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the Diwali/anniversary issue of Super Cinema)

Three years in the movies, the rising popularity, lots of highs and a few disappointments later, Arjun Kapoor still has his head in the right place. He brought back qualities of raw and broody in a Hindi cinema hero with ‘Ishaqzaade’, but is just as fun-loving and vulnerable off-screen. While this year may not have been as great for him at the movies, with ‘Tevar’ not meeting expectations; he’s a happy man who keeps learning every day. Now just as he’s set to make his small-screen debut with ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’, this young Kapoor is a bundle of excitement as we talk about the show and other aspects of being an actor in this freewheeling chat…

Photo credit : Prasad Naik

Last year was great for you in terms of three very different films which did well. This year though, 'Tevar' fell short of expectations. But do you still look at it as a learning?
I didn’t plan anything, last year or this year. Whatever happened, was supposed to happen organically. The best part is, when you don’t plan things, you don’t mind seeing the results. It’s not like I had an expectation, that 2014 was great so 2015 has to be great too. For me the expectations are about trying to get better with each film which I do feel I am getting better. The box-office is not in my hand. But every year I am growing regardless of how the film does. Obviously a film not doing well affects you a little, emotionally, because you’ve put an effort but you learn from it. So, yes, I just look at it as another year of new learning for me.

Talking about new things, how excited are you about your new role - that of a host on 'Khatron Ke Khiladi'?
It’s definitely something which excited me tremendously. For me, it’s a cool, energetic, young show that allows me to be on a platform where I can connect with so many people. Here within a season I might connect with the number of people that I would after five-seven years with my films. And of course the show’s format - whenever I thought if I would do a show, I knew it would be something like ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’. And incidentally, that was the show offered to me!

Not to mention, the show will also give you a chance to be yourself unlike your films where you’re a character.
Which is great, isn’t it? Because at the end of the day, the audience should know the real you, so that they can differentiate between what you are and what your characters are. But, I don’t think it will be a bigger deal than hosting an award show. I got some great feedback when I hosted IIFA also, and I thought that was just a trailer of things to come from me, so I took it up. I think if I can do it live in front of so people for a couple of hours, then I’m sure that everyday I can come in front of the camera, be myself and enjoy that and hopefully people will enjoy it too.

How adventurous are you for real? And for me, being adventurous isn’t just about doing stunts…but also about how you deal with life in general…
My life has been an adventure in that sense – I’ve seen quite a few highs and lows. Everyone’s life has those roller-coaster moments. But it depends on how you look at it. I agree with you, that it’s not always about doing a stunt or something risky. Sometimes it’s also about traveling to a new country, meeting new people, living and trying new things, just having an open mindset. In that sense, I am an adventurous person to a point where I’m intrigued by the world, and I love the idea of going to new places that I’ve never been to. That for me is a very cool aspect of being an actor. The adventure also lies in just visiting a place which you don’t get to do very often. Being adventurous is not always about going to the extremes, it’s about enjoying the journey sometimes.

Do you think you’ve also been adventurous in terms of your film choices?
I’m an actor who got chosen for his first film, I didn’t choose it. So, since then I’ve never tried to follow the pattern. Even my first film might be a conventional film in terms of Romeo and Juliet but it wasn’t a conventional character, it had a lot of shades. Having said that, I don’t rate films as commercial, non-commercial, conventional or whatever. Anything that makes you wake up in the morning and show up on set, is good enough for you to say yes to. For me, a ‘Finding Fanny’ is as exciting as a ‘Gunday’, because both are on different spectrums and you get to live two different roles. My basic thought is that the world of the film should be exciting. Those are the reasons that should excite you, not the commerce because that you cannot predict.

Talking about your characters, somehow most of your roles so far have possessed that innocence or child-like vulnerability, despite having grey shades. Does that come from a part of your own personality?
I hope so, because every character will have some essence of you, eventhough you might not be exactly like that. No actor can turn around and say that there’s nothing of them in the characters they play. Whether, it’s your eyes, vulnerability or anger, certain facets of you subconsciously come in. The innocence that you’re talking about might be there because it’s inherently in my personality. But I guess the material and the performance add to it. The same innocence might not come to the forefront if the character is not well-written. I think eventually, it comes down more to the film you’re doing. For example, in ‘Ishaqzaade’, that boy was innocent, because he himself wasn’t realising that what he’s doing is so wrong. He was like a child, just trying to get attention. When it comes to a ‘2 States’ also, he’s vulnerable because he’s seen so many things in life. There’s innocence in the material itself. So I think somewhere it stems more from the characters.

And you also love underplaying?
Yes, I don’t tend to overplay my performances. I think the way to connect with your audience should be through your eyes!

When you’re in the public eye, so many people will have different perceptions about you. How do you not let that affect who you really are?
Anything written or spoken is all from a third person perspective. Eventually, you just have to truly know yourself. If you know yourself, then what people say about you, won’t affect you after a point. But I understand what you’re saying. You feel emotional momentarily but it can never hold you back or make you feel down for too long. A third person’s opinion cannot really bog you down or change you as a person, whether it’s positive or negative. You also cannot get the love that you get from people go in your head, because you’re loved for a reason so you should be yourself. It’s difficult sometimes, but you need a good foundation for it. You need people around to keep you grounded. May be in my case I’m fortunate that I’ve grown up in the industry, so I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and seen people change with time, so that kind of helps you to not get caught up in the web because it all changes Friday to Friday.

Is that why most actors today come across as probably more real or accessible? Also, do you think that whole idea of stardom has changed with time?
In the past eras, just once in a while you got to see stars or got a glimpse of them. Today, barring going to the bathroom, people know everything that’s happening in an actor’s life We’re accessible, available and that’s what even the audience appreciates. We’re their friends. In today’s day and age, we’re not quintessentially the stars that descend once in a while, we’re just regular people. That evolution has happened, thanks to the social media, television, media. And that’s because of a cultural change also. Now people don’t like younger people who behave like prima donnas and are arrogant. Now it’s a more simplified state that people want to see the real you. They don’t want to see some starry behaviourial tantrums. Also, while social media is a great way to connect to people, it doesn’t reflect your stardom. If you start believing that the number of followers on Twitter equates to stardom, or will translate in every film you do, then that’s silly. It doesn’t translate at the box-office. So, that bubble should not exist.

Lastly, tell me something about your next, R. Balki’s ‘Ki And Ka’.

It’s a sweet, romantic comedy that deals with today’s relationships. It’s about a married couple who has their own ups and downs. The film deals with role reversal, where the house is run by a man and the woman goes out to work. With Balki sir’s interpretation, it should be interesting for the audience. I’ve just completed that. When one journey ends, another begins, so now I’ll start with ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’ and I’m nervous. I feel like it’s my debut again because television is a new format. I will have to put in effort to make sure I remain myself all through and entertain people. 

Sonam Kapoor

“For me, the most gratifying is not the accolades that come with good work; it’s the work itself”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the November 14, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

Last week, when we met Sonam Kapoor, we caught up with her in a jiffy, right before she was off to Delhi. This time around though, our tête-à-tête was a lot more candid and in-depth, in her vanity van at Mehboob studio, after a long day promotional activities. Dressed in an ethnic, red-and-green Gaurang Shah outfit, she was in her graceful ‘Maithili’ avatar from her latest release. Presenting part two of our interview with the actress where she discusses the intricacies of her craft, and defies the popular notion of being a star kid…

In-between movies, why do you go into your shell, slightly away from the media sometimes?
I am not great at PR. I am too forthright and people take it in the wrong way. My PR is instructed that there should be no negative story to be put out about anyone, or there should be no stories about me that aren’t real. I don’t think it’s necessary because fortunately for me I am in the news most times for some reason. I do covers or photoshoots because I enjoy it. Also, I am on social media so people just pick that up as well. But I have to cut off from the media when I’m shooting.

Is that also because you’re always doing workshops before every film?
Yes, my process for each film is quite similar. I do a lot of workshops, I sit with an acting coach, I memorise everything. Anything you want to be good at, is difficult. I sit with the director, do back-stories, my script is filled with post-its and notes, so yes there’s a lot of hard work. But people don’t realise the hard work that goes in. Even during ‘Raanjhanaa’, people thought it must be easy for me. But it’s never really easy.

Do you ever think about the perception that the audience has about you?
I think they start believing I’m my character. This happened after ‘Aisha’. They thought I am that character and it wasn’t true. I am nothing like her. I don’t speak like her, I don’t dress like her, my life isn’t about getting married. People think I’m spending my dad’s money and that’s not true. I have never actually done that. Then I did ‘Khoobsurat’ and people started thinking that I’m Mili. Despite some of my good performances like ‘Saawariya’, ‘Delhi 6’, ‘I Hate Luv Storys’, people didn’t really remember, most of my roles, but with ‘Raanjhaana’, things started changing.  When I play really simple roles without any make-up or without too much happening people think that she can act. So, this is the misconceived notion of it. But strangely, I thought that would happen with ‘Khoobsurat’ where people would think she’s playing herself but they loved it. So, eventually, I realised that I have to find a balance because – there’s a certain persona I have, off-screen, and then there’s a certain way where people like me on-screen. My directors see my as this simple girl. It’s very strange, but the media perception, the industry perception and the public perception, it’s all very different about me.

Sometimes, does it bother that despite putting in so much effort in each film, your fashion sense is more of a talking point than your performances?
What do you do, it’s the nature of the industry? One thing is very clear with everyone is that I’m very straight-forward. So they might have all these ideas about who I am and what I am, but then it is about being yourself. Maybe it’s my own fault, because I love dressing up, going out, having a good time, I’m very friendly with the media. They’re not negative about me at all. And what can they even talk about? I don’t even open up about my personal life, so they talk about my fashion. There’s nothing controversial that is happening in my life. All that has been spoken about me, apart from my films is my fashion. So, both have got equal weightage and sometimes fashion has got a better weightage because some of my films didn’t do well.

Which has been the most fulfilling role so far?
‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ has been the most happy time of my life. But ‘Neerja Bhanot’ has been the most fulfilling and creatively satisfying. Eventhough it was just for 30 days, I had to push myself really hard for it. At this point, I can only hope people think it’s effortless. I think for me, my job is done when I finish a film. I had a couple of kids coming to take pictures with me today and they called me Aisha. Sometimes people call me Mili or Masakkali. So when that happens, I feel so good. I feel I did my job well. When people see me as my character as opposed to Sonam, I feel good.

That must be the most gratifying…
Yes, but, right now, I’ve realised that for me, the most gratifying is not the accolades that come with good work but it’s the work itself. Once I finish one film, I want to go back to doing another. Promotion is the most stressful part of it. I hate it. For me, all this is lovely, but being on set is the happiest time – just working, saying my lines, creating a chemistry with my all my co-actors, having some sort of give and take. I love that. The promotional bit is something I don’t understand. But my dad used to always say that, ‘don’t think about what is happening, or going to happen. Just live in the present.’ So, I follow that. And Salim uncle said something very nice to Salman that he was talking about recently. He said that, ‘For 25 years there was this man who was on stage and he had to say one line -can I have a cup of tea? Everyone used to laugh at this line. One day everyone stopped laughing, so the actor asks his director that why is it that people have stopped laughing. He said, because now you’re waiting for the laughter, you’re not actually asking for a cup of tea.’

You mean the focus can shift sometimes?
Not just sometimes, but always. So I realise that if I would always think about people’s reaction then I wouldn’t have made the choices I made. As soon as I started making those decisions to just do good work, my life started changing, because, I wasn’t waiting for people to appreciate me. Appreciation starts coming on its own. People will write about you or talk about you when there’s something to talk about. So the idea is to let it happen organically.

How have you managed to carve your own path despite the popular notion that you’re a star-kid and everything just fell into your lap?
It’s true that things come easy for us. But I had to audition, even for my first film. The only benefit of being a star-kid is that people respect your father and they will not misbehave with you or take you for granted. Otherwise this is movie-business, it’s all about money. If your name is on the marquee, you have to make sure you get the audience in, otherwise nobody is going to give you the job. Their money is riding on you. They are not going to put money in someone else’s child. All the producers or film-makers I’ve worked with, have never worked with my father.

So does the criticism, or the social media hullabaloo…ever bog you down?
I’m just a happy person. I get stressed out and hyper, but I don’t get low. I’m very positive, I always look at the glass as half full as opposed to half empty. It’s always better that way. Whether my films work, don’t work, whether my relationships work, don’t work; whether my life is working or not – be it any of those things, it’s so important to be positive and know that whatever happens, happens for a good reason. And if you’re a good person, you know what you’re doing is right, you can sleep well at night, nothing can bog you down. I don’t think I’ve done anything like that, because I’ve always tried my best.

Friday, November 13, 2015

“You need to live a normal life to be a good actor”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the Diwali/Anniversary issue of Super Cinema, dated - November 15, 2015)

He breaks conventions by debuting with a film based on sperm donation. The irony is, he loves those conventional ‘naach-gaana-maar-dhaad’ filled Hindi films equally. One look at him, and he might come across as just another regular guy…but the next minute you realise that it’s his natural charm and effortless acting prowess which makes him click. At heart though, he is a simpleton, and that’s what makes Ayushmann Khurrana stand out in the crowd. In this candid chat, the actor-singer talks about all things filmy!

Photo credit: Jay Samuel
How different is your new single ‘Yahin Hoon Main’ from your previous ones?
Well, for starters, this one is not in Punjabi. But it’s been a lot of fun doing it. It shall see me collaborating with Yaami Gautam yet again after ‘Vicky Donor’. So hope people like it.

‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ has been one of the most-appreciated films this year, so far. How does that feel and what do you think worked for it?
It feels great that people are still appreciating it even when they see it on television. It was a one-of-its-kind film in terms of its milieu with the backdrop of the 90s, and was still very progressive. It was an unusual YRF film because it was without any gloss and chiffon sarees. Real cinema is the in-thing and ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ wasn’t just real, it was also entertaining, so I feel that worked!

Do you have this streak of doing things differently, or just being different always? That sort of reflected right from the choice of your debut film.
I was always different, nobody in my batch expected that I would be a hero in the industry, because I was this silent kid in the class with braces and glasses. But I was always interested in theatre and music. I was the co-curricular captain in school. And yes, I also started with an unconventional film. We live in a day and age where there are actors coming out every day, so it’s difficult to build space for yourself. In these three years I’ve managed to give two really different and unconventional hits like ‘Vicky Donor’ and ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ so I feel fortunate. Having said that, I’ve always been a fan of the conventional Hindi cinema. I love those song-and-dance, strictly commercial films and to gratify that need of mine, we had that quintessential 90s song even in ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’.

When you write lyrics or compose music, it might be largely influenced by your own personality. Does that change when you act?
I think every art form you do is an extension of your personality. Even with the director, their films are a reflection of their own personality. I believe even actors put in their own individuality in their characters somehow. Every person gives his own heart and soul, his own touch to every character. For instance, in ‘Dum Laga Ke haisha’, I drew references from my real life. I’ve grown in a relatively small city and I’ve seen people who have problems in English. Or in case of ‘Vicky Donor’, just being a Punjabi really helped.

Despite some not-so-successful films, there’s not been a dip in your popularity, especially among the youth. The advent of social media, further fuels that. How do you see it?
You cannot really ignore the youth, because the majority of population in this country is that of the young. It’s the youngest country and the average age of the population is 28 or 29. So if you tap that segment, half your job is done. I am fortunate that I started with a youth channel and I’ve build it up pretty well for myself. I’ve been active on social media as well and my tweets reflect my personality. I don’t use social media just for my film promotions. Your personality should reflect well on social media, that’s very important. People should see the real you, not the celebrity you. I think I use social media as a platform for people to know me better unlike other people who might be there for just promoting themselves or their films.

Your sense of humour or positive energy is on display most often, even in your tweets, but all of us have our dull moments as well right?
Of course! But I’ve always tried to maintain a decorum – that is to not get over-excited by success or devastated by failure. But I’m human, I do get upset. The time between ‘Hawaaizaada’ and ‘Dum Laga..’, those 27 days were really nerve-wrecking. I remember even speaking to Aditya Chopra if it was a good time to release ‘Dum Laga..’. But I think it worked for me. In fact, it made people forget ‘Hawaaizaada’.  But it was a tough phase and I’m glad it only lasted for 27 days.

Are you also very ambitious?
I’m very ambitious, when I play that character, but otherwise you cannot always be ambitious, because you need to live a normal life to be a good actor. If someone says I’m passionate about acting, and I want to act 24/7, I think that person cannot be an actor, because you have to live that real life to get those real life references. To act naturally, you need to be real. And to be real, you have to behave normally. So there are times when I prefer being with people who are not from the industry, like my friends who are doctors or architects. I spend time with my family, or probably go watch a play, attend musical get-togethers. Sometimes, those things are far more interesting and evolving.

Talking about evolving, and being called multi-talented…how do you really gauge your own growth?
I don’t think you have to be multi-talented to multi-task. It’s the other way round. You have to multi-task to handle the talents you have. So sometimes I feel, it would be simpler if you just had one talent and concentrated just on that. Which is why, as of now, I just want to concentrate on being an actor. Oh, and also a singer (laughs). As far as the growth is concerned, I still feel that I have a long way to go as an actor. I want to do real roles but I also want to do those typical commercial films. I want to learn action, be versatile. It’s an ongoing process. You learn with each film, and I’m still learning! 

Richa Chadda

“Bollywood is still a very imaginary landscape for me”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the Diwali/Anniversary issue of Super Cinema dated, November 7, 2015)

If one had to define Richa Chadda in one word, one could probably call her ‘gutsy’. That stems from her choices and also what you take back about her after a rendezvous. She calls a spade a spade and isn’t scared of being herself. On the parallel side though, she’s also a vulnerable, sensitive girl at heart. With her hair let loose, dressed in a white t-shirt clubbed with denims and just a hint of make-up, Richa comfortably settles down as we have this freewheeling chat.

When you’re doing layered characters like in ‘Main Aur Charles’ or ‘Masaan’ especially, isn’t it difficult to deal with them emotionally?
That’s why I don’t do method acting. I’m very sensitive, so if I do that, then every film I do will leave me crazy. What if someday I have to play a murderer? I’d read that Danial Day-Lewis was working in a butcher shop for six months to prepare for ‘Gangs Of New York’. I would puke at that thought but that’s how real he wanted to get! For me, I work on instincts and spontaneity. But it takes a toll on you. After ‘Masaan’ I had to write a whole blog post, about detaching from the film. I was so irritated with the character because she couldn’t speak up and I’m a very vocal person. At that time, it was difficult for me but when the film was releasing and the process was ending, that’s when I realised that I was so involved with that character – her job, her father, her little house, clothes, backpack. You don’t realise it when you’re shooting, but eventually, you give a part of you to every part you play.

What is it that reflects such unique choices?
It seems unique here, but if you see globally, actors all over the world explore themselves. I’ve been lucky, that I’ve been in this industry and had the opportunity to explore myself like that, with films like ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’, ‘Fukrey’, or ‘Masaan’.

But sometimes is it challenging to take the less popular road?
It has been a struggle, because you have to keep working, you have to make money and you have to be seen, but at some stage, you think should I even do this? It’s not like I’m averse to formulaic song-and-dance films. I’m doing a film called ‘Cabaret’. But I have a problem with being used as a prop in a film. That I don’t think I can do, and if someone gives me that then it’s a waste of my caliber. People will be like, you have 20 days free, do two songs, ten scenes and the film will get over. I cannot do that. But when I do a film like ‘Masaan’, I know that even 15-20 years down the line, I’ll be proud of the work I’m doing. It won’t be dependent on the weekend opening collections that you later forget about.

The good part is that you’ve got critical acclaim for most of your performances. You still don’t think of yourself as a star though…
In fact, my first review for ‘Masaan’ was bad – they openly said, ‘Oh she’s so terrible’. So, to each their own! But I’m trying not to get complacent, more than ever, because it’s so easy to get lazy. I have to keep improving each time because otherwise there’s no fun also. I think I have managed to stay grounded because I don’t take any of this too seriously. I don’t think I’m a star or I’ve accomplished a lot. When I sit in my apartment and see Shah Rukh Khan or Deepika Padukone on TV, I feel they’re big stars. And here I am, involved in my daily ramblings with my driver, hair-dresser and doing so many other things. There’s no time to think, ‘wow I’m so cool’ (laughs).

 So you’ve managed to stay out of the bubble?
I manage to act while leading a normal life. I am from a middle-class, educated, academic family. There’s no way they’re going to call me and say, ‘ab toh tum star ho.’ They’re still going to call me for those little things. There’s no opportunity to live in that bubble. I have experienced people close to me who have been engulfed by the bubble and who start believing they’re big stars. See, tomorrow if I start believing that I’m bholi punjaban and not Richa, and you walk into the room and I treat you like that, it won’t work. It means I’m taking my on-screen persona a little too seriously. Also, it’s risky to do so, because someday it will all end. So, to not limit myself in the bubble, I read a lot of news, read about different cultures, animals, politics and form an opinion. Even though, sometimes when you have an opinion on something, people tell you to put on a lipstick and shut up. That’s partly because I’m an actress. I think lots of people who you meet today will surely be grounded except may be some star kids. For me, a star kid is a completely different phenomenon.

Why do you feel so?
Because star kids are people who’ve grown up knowing that a Friday is something different. I’ve also tweeted about my life changing on a Friday because my life literally changed on a Friday. But does it mean that my life will change every Friday? No. Does it mean that someone else’s film is releasing on a Friday, so my life is changing and I’m crumbling? No. That’s what I mean. I don’t have this whole machinery around me to tell me it’s Friday, and what’s happening with someone else’s film. Also most star kids grow up in a filmy background and have friends from the industry. On the other hand, I mostly have friends outside the industry. Bollywood is still a very imaginary landscape for me in that sense.

And how do you see your growth in this imaginary landscape?
Finally I’ve come to a point where I’m more disciplined than ever before. I’m really working on making my craft better. So now I feel bad for directors who I’ve worked with in the past, because people working with me now are getting so much more. It’s more collaborative now. For instance, now I’m working with Pooja Bhatt, and I’ll see how she’s scripting, so meanwhile I’ll do something else. Or suggest that we could club two locations. So, it’s not like I’ve suddenly become a production assistant, just that I know so much better now. Earlier I was a dear in headlights. Now I’m more involved and it’s also important because film-making is such an expensive art form.

Your next film is ‘Cabaret’. How’s the experience been so far?
It’s great fun and I hope people are not terrified of watching me in a song and dance film. They shouldn’t say why is an art-film heroine doing ‘Cabaret’? But it’s challenging. For instance, during one of the shoots, I was wearing a wig, false lenses, lashes, heels and tight costume. Despite all this, you have to be in that zone and dance when the camera rolls. So, anyone who has ever judged an item girl or an actress for dancing really needs to re-access because it’s a difficult job. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tahir Raj Bhasin

“The era of over-the-top acting and characterisation has gone”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the September 5, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

The first thing that Tahir Raj Bhasin did after entering the atrium at Yash Raj Films was asking for coffee, only to realise that the coffee machine wasn’t working. Donning a light blue shirt teamed with denims and a pair of shades – he was well in sync with the sunny day. He’s probably the new ‘bad boy’ on the block, or just another fresh face, but the possibility is that he could be much more in time to come. Because well, he did make people notice him in a big way. Soon our coffee arrived as we settled, and what followed was a long, unplanned conversation about life after ‘Mardaani’ and lots more. Excerpts:

Photo credit: Paul David Martin
Let’s talk about the ‘before-Mardaani’ and ‘after-Mardaani’ phase.

There’s this classic dialogue, ‘Life changes on a Friday’ which has been so true in my case. I spent four years here struggling to be an actor, before ‘Mardaani’. When the film happened, because of the nature of my part, they had purposely not publicised the character or the fact that I was making a debut. So, when the film released, people were taken aback by the character. There were these good reviews flowing in and it was very overwhelming. It was a great feeling because you’ve worked so hard for that very moment and people thought it was overnight success.

But success never happens overnight, does it?

No, I’m the four-year-in-the-making overnight success! In fact, those were the four years I struggled here, but I started acting at the age of 13, so it’s been going on since then. I started with an acting course and then I followed it up with theatre. But life changed drastically post ‘Mardaani’. The way you’re treated as an aspiring actor in Mumbai vs once you’ve done a film –there’s a big difference. The film earned me a lot of respect, that’s what I cherish the most. There’s a change in how people look at you. The biggest thing to come out of that was being signed on by YRF talent, which wasn’t the case before the film. To realise that they would be looking for me, and I would be getting advice from people who have so much experience was a big thing. The icing on the cake was being nominated and winning an award for the performance, months after the film released.

What have those four years of struggle taught you?

During those years, what I learnt is to overcome the fear of rejection. A lot of people take rejection personally, but there can be so many other factors – the age of the character changed or maybe the part has been removed all together. As an actor you’re never really told why something hasn’t worked out. The biggest learning was to not take it personally and know that better things will happen.

Now has that hunger or drive for work gone up or have you calmed down a little?

I’m an impatient, emotional idiot but at the same time what grounds you is – people at YRF talent and otherwise who say that it’s important to take quality decisions rather than just sign three films in two months because there are offers. I am very driven, I know how hard I had to work, in order to get here and I don’t want it to dip at any point but I realise that to keep that going, it’s also what you’re doing in-between those films which is important. Every time I watch a great actor perform, I always feel that there is something more to learn. There’s something new to try and that’s what keeps me interested. I think as a part of being an explorer or an emotional person is that you’re looking for new experiences, all the time. Acting gives you that.

Coming back to ‘Mardaani’. When some people actually hated you after the film, did you take it as a compliment for your performance? 

Yes completely! There were two reactions we got from women– one was we hate you and one was we’re not sure whether to love you or hate you, which for me was a bigger compliment. As far as the character in the film was concerned, I was fortunate that despite being an antagonist, he was styled a certain way. If you watched a lot of scenes on mute, you would feel he’s this cool, suave, boy-next-door. So, it was meant to have a dual impact.

So, there hasn’t really been a major change, except more attention from women?

(Laughs) I would be lying if I said I am not enjoying it. That is fifty per cent of your audience. I was overwhelmed initially, and it took me a while to get used to it. When you get tweets from people all over, it’s great feeling to know you can have that kind of impact on the opposite sex. I guess, the only change has been that I realised all of a sudden that there’s an interest in what I do. Earlier you could post anything on Facebook or Twitter, now you have to be a little careful about what you express.

How expressive are you otherwise?

I’m as expressive, even off-screen. But do I necessarily put it all out there or do I want to make a phone call to a friend and talk – that depends on the situation.

Photo credit : Paul David Martin
Would it be right to say that as an actor you belong to the category of those who underplay?

I think the era of over-the-top acting and characterisation is gone. I feel pretty fortunate to be a part of Hindi cinema at a time when this kind of acting is appreciated and people don’t think you’re not acting – which is the worse reaction you can get. What I would like to do is study the character and be honest to what the material is, but it should look believable. It’s just called reacting. For instance, if I was shooting a film, and it had a scene where I was having a conversation with a girl sitting in a café, this is exactly how I would not. You just have to react to a circumstance rather than imagine a circumstance in your head.

And because your acting was appreciated right in your debut film, has that given you further confidence to stick by what you believe?

Confidence was never a weak point for me, to begin with. I was always confident in life. The only thing that can keep an aspiring actor going, in a city like this, is self-confidence and conviction. But when you do a film like this, I think it gives you certification. More than how you look at yourself, it changes how people look at you and for an actor, both those things are really important. In my mind, I have always been a particular kind of actor, but now that people understand that, it is the most empowering experience for me. Now I can go to director and suggest, ‘Sir this is how you want to do it, but is it okay if I try it like this?’, and they will be okay with that, because you come with a certain accreditation.

You mentioned that as an actor it matters what people think of you. In that sense, are you happy that today’s audience knows to differentiate between characters and the actor especially if you’re doing grey roles?

It’s a great time to be a part of an era in Bollywood where the audience is evolved, in terms of how much they’re exposed to the internet and international films. They’re very in-tuned today. There’s also so much exposure because of social media. If I put up pictures of me playing basketball or dancing, there’s a direct reach. So, it’s easy to change what that perception is. There’s a need for the audience to know that the real person is different from his characters and is capable of doing a variety of other things.

Interestingly though, in case of senior actors, the scenario still looks the same. For instance, Raj and Rahul are synonymous with Shah Rukh Khan…

No matter what the written material is or how you’re styled, 10-15 per cent of your personality will always leak into the character, and that becomes the style. That’s what it is in case of Shah Rukh Khan is, or Irrfan Khan or even international actors. The audiences go in to see that style as well as that character. Style is something you develop after a bunch of films and I hope that the audience sees that in my work. I hope the audience sees that there’s a personal style which comes into every film but also believability in the character you’re doing because if they’re not seeing the character and only seeing the person then you’re not doing the job well.

What is that one lesson you stand by?

My acting coaches have a huge influence in the way I think. Barry John was the first acting teacher I went to, when I was 13, in Delhi. I went to another acting coach, whose name is Dr. Das, and then there was Naseeruddin Shah. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to never judge your character and that really helps. As people, all of us have our moral judgments. We think X is wrong or Y is wrong, but when you get a script and you are that character, you cannot judge it as per your morals. Tomorrow if I’m playing a smitten lover boy who stands outside the window and with a guitar, as a person I would think that is the behavior of an idiot but as a character if I have to do it, I have to be convinced about it. Acting for me is a very philosophical art, and until you get into that zone, it’s difficult to perform.

So are you also philosophical as a person? 

Yes, but it’s different. For instance, I would enjoy a book by Murakami, a lot of his books are based on philosophy. I believe in optimism, energy and things like what you give is what you get.

A profession like this could also limit you in certain world. Do you think it’s important to widen your horizon sometimes just so you can be good at your job?

I completely get what you’re saying. Yes, the idea is to not get boxed into this world. This industry can do that to you. So, once in a while, I like to travel, even if it’s somewhere and I like to travel on my own because it opens you up to new experiences. I have friends within the fraternity, but it’s also good to have friends who have nothing to do with films because that keeps you open to what’s going on outside. It also keeps you grounded – it’s nice to have people who will call a spade a spade and tell you if you’re doing something wrong. 

Lastly, tell me about ‘Force 2’. How did that happen?

I think, the decision of a second film is really important, probably as important as the first one. We were reading a lot of scripts coming in from independent film-makers as well as studios. I think ‘Force 2’ was the perfect balance of being very different from ‘Mardaani’ and yet in the grey zone which is what I was looking for. I would call ‘Mardaani’ much darker than what ‘Force 2’ is. And it’s going to be directed by Abhinay Deo whose aesthetics I have liked, whether it was ‘24’ or ‘Delhi Belly’. Vipul Shah is a great producer. It was a complete package which attracted me. I think the era of black and white of Gabbar and Mogambo is slowly fading out. What I like to look for is a human element in the characters I’m playing. It’s the human quality in a character that transcends in an antagonist or hero and that’s what the audience also relates to.