When I told a collegian that I was going to meet Apoorva Agnihotri, she suddenly came alive and shot back, "How cool is that! Give my love to Armaan Sir." That's what he is known as after the popular television show, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin.
The conventionally good-looking Armaan's attraction for plain Jane Jassi (he hasn't recognised her in her svelte new avatar) has filled up several episodes and fired up much debate.
In real life, Armaan alias Apoorva, is married to pretty Shilpa Saklani.
Sunday Mid Day talks to Apoorva Agnihotri about The Male Gaze in a bid to find out how diametrically different are his views on women vis a vis his alter ego, Armaan Sir.
They say men don't make passes at girls who wear spectacles. In Jassi's case, it is spectacles as well as braces. Do you agree that men give a lot of importance to physical beauty?
That's the hard truth. But it's true not only of men but also of women. If women claim that they give more importance to a man's heart than to his looks from the very onset, it's not true. It all begins with getting attracted to a face; qualities like a sense of humour, et al, follow thereafter.
Incidentally when I was in college, I did find a bespectacled girl attractive. But I didn't make a pass at her. That's not me. Also, I would like to add that physical attraction can't sustain a long-term relationship like marriage — you have to start relating to the 'person' in a man or woman.
What did you discover about your wife, a TV actor in her own right, after you were attracted to her?
There were no rude surprises. She was more or less as I had envisioned she would be. She is simple and real, there isn't a trace of superficiality in her.
Why did you resort to an arranged marriage in this day and age?
I think I would call it love-cum-arranged. After pack up one day, a common friend, Rakshanda, organised a meeting with her over coffee at a Barista outlet. She was very cool, very normal. I didn't go out of my way to impress her either. I think at times guys try too hard and it backfires. It works at times and doesn't, at others.
Have you been in a relationship before?
Yes. But I have never been casual about my relationship.
You think all men fall in love more than once in their lifetime?
From the age of 14 to the last day of your life, you keep falling in love. But once you have decided to marry, you have to be committed to the girl for the rest of your life. My father, a film writer, was my role model. He was an absolute family man even though he stayed in Mumbai, away from us, for most part of his life.
What is the most blatant pass a woman has made at you?
At Enigma, a girl passing by pinched my butt.
Can you understand Armaan's soft corner for Jassi?
Yes. Armaan is an unpredictable man.
Do you ever ask the director about Armaan's motivation for wooing Jassi?
I do quite often, but in television, you create situations to extend the serial. There isn't much room for logic and motivation.
Jassi began as a confident woman but now she is dependent on Nina Gupta's character to show her the way. Can't women ever be self-reliant?
Of course they can, but then there is always a difference between real life and a make-believe woman.
Does your male ego hurt at the thought that Jassi is named after the female protagonist and not you?
I am very happy it's called Jassi (laughs) because I have to shoot only for 20 to 22 days; Jassi shoots for 30 days a month!
What is your rapport with Mona Singh, aka Jassi?
She is a very sweet person.
What do you expect from your wife besides companionship and love?
What do I need her for? (striking a pensive pose). I think this is a tough one because needs keep changing with time. I think… I know she will be there for me if and when I am down and out.
You and Shilpa are a DINK (Double Income No Kids) couple. Eventually, when you start a family, who will take the back seat?
I think she will. And she can always come back after two to three years. Look, she's not a very ambitious person, nor am I. If she was ambitious, we would have had our share of problems.
What do you think of the way women are projected on TV?
I think they cry a lot. They look so suppressed. Women in real life, in sharp contrast to the women on TV, are far more in control of their lives.
Does your mom expect your wife to be like the character Ganga she plays in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi?
No. Not at all.
Women are not the only vain species. I can see that you have got your hair restyled.
I have done an extension, a treatment for the hair that increases its volume. I think it's important to feel good about yourself because what's within reflects externally.
At what age did you become aware that you are different from a girl?
When I was probably 10 or 11.
And who answered your questions, if any?
My father would talk to me, man to man. It was very embarrassing.
Who had a greater influence on your life — your dad or mom?
My mom. I am 70 percent like my mom and 30 percent like my dad.
Tell me, has your fan following been affected by your marriage?
I think girls either like you or they don't. Being married doesn't impinge on your popularity; cheating on your wife does. If Hrithik Roshan cheats on his wife, it would impact his career.
It would hold true for me too. A lot of women like Shah Rukh Khan because he loves his wife and kids. They love him much more than someone who is single and is a Casanova.
Are men subjected to the casting couch too?
Yes. But I haven't had to confront it.
Can you understand the psyche of a person who misuses power?
Essentially, people in power can't digest it. My father often told me that it drives people mad.
Would you ever raise a hand on a woman?
Has any woman provoked you?
10,000 times (laughs). But I would never raise my hand on her, unless I am required to do so for the camera.
Would you use such an acting opportunity as a catharsis? For instance, did you find a release for your pent up anger in the scene where you manhandle Mahima in Pardes?
No. At that point of time, I wasn't anxious or angry (half smiles).