Joined: 15 January 2006
The last time you came to our office, you were here to promote Kai Po Che. How has life changed for you after that?
There's been a drastic change since the release of Kai Po Che. I am getting better roles and a better choice of scripts. I am also lucky to get the chance to work with filmmakers I've always dreamt of working with and the type of films I've always wanted to be a part of.
What else has changed?
The promotional activities I have to do with every film I act in. It's something you're expected to do. You also have to watch your words and behave in a certain manner. I am not used to doing that, so it's a change.
Is there a change in your terms when you consider a project now?
Not at all. I read the script and try to figure out if the filmmaker has something interesting to say and whether the role I am being offered is also interesting. If that's there, and I can see myself doing the role, then I look at the director's vision, to see if we are on the same page while trying to achieve that same role.
When you decide to do a film, does it matter who the director is?
Yes. It's very important that my vision and the director's wavelength match. And the director should have faith in me. Usually, I approach a role with spontaneity. That's not my natural spontaneity but the character's. So the director has to be open to this. There is a certain perimeter within which I work. So when I work with Abhishek (Kapoor) or Maneesh (Sharma), they are very willing to go by my instincts and react the way I want to in the film. So the director is very important. It's all about being in sync.
As I said, if there's something new in a script and it's interesting, I am excited. Relating to my director's vision is more important to me then the genre of the film or its box-office success. I don't have the intellectual curiosity to figure out why some films, which have only mediocre content, earn Rs 100 crore at the box office. And, conversely, why some really good films find it difficult to get a proper release. I don't know how it works and I am not concerned with it. It's all about the script first and then the director's vision.
Having said that, like every actor, I also want all my movies to do well and everyone associated with them to benefit. But I also want each one of us to be creatively satisfied and proud of what we've made. It's a rare combination but sooner or later, everyone will start working towards this.
Despite that, you are working with pretty much the cream of the industry, whether Dibakar Bannerji or Rajkumar Hirani or Yash Raj Films.
That's because they are making the kind of films I want to be part of.
Can you take us through your release line-up?
Shuddh Desi Romance will release in September 6. Then there's PK, which will release next year. And then there's YRF and Dibakar's Byomkesh Bakshi and, of course, Abhishek Kapoor's Fitoor. There are also a couple of other big-budget films which I cannot talk about right now.
So if someone wants to approach you, what's the earliest date you can allot?
Probably, the end of next year.
Actually, I haven't. Right now, I am very excited because these are some really exciting films. Byomkesh in Dibakar's film and the character I play in Abhishek's film are diametrically opposite characters. So, we need eight to 10 weeks of preparation before every film like that. At the moment, I feel I have taken on too much work. For his third film, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor) has a totally new vision. He wants certain kind of honesty from his characters.
And Dibakar is very clear about his character. The film is a 1940s film, where we are talking about one of India's finest fictional detective characters. It is therefore a huge responsibility. Recently, when I was speaking to some people in Kolkata, they expressed their personal interpretation of Byomkesh and Feluda. They were all offering their own inputs and adding nuances to the character. So I have to shoulder a lot of responsibility while portraying the character. And to also accurately convey the character to people who don't know what Byomkesh is all about. So, right now, I am not reading any scripts.
What kind of preparation are you doing for these films? Have you read detective novels like Feluda?
I have read a couple of Byomkesh's stories but not Feluda. I have heard of Feluda, though. As far as prep is concerned, you have to believe you can portray the character with lan so that you can do justice to it. There is also a fear of over-analysing, over-intellectualising. The culture and Kolkata of the 1940s is a mix of Indian tradition and European philosophy, and it is important to understand all these factors.
Back then, boys who were fresh out of college would want only government jobs. But what is the psychology of someone who wanted to be a detective in the '40s? It's not just a detective story. There are different layers to his character.
He is a loner and doesn't have a family, so I am trying to figure all this out. I have worked in TV serials and in films I have never had to figure out the similarities between myself and a character, and the differences too.
There is a point when you are no longer the character and no longer yourself. That's a very confusing and a very exciting state. But everything is possible because you are exploring the character along with the director, and that's a wonderful state to be in. To achieve that, you need to isolate yourself and exercise a lot of patience. That's why we have planned the workshops in Kolkata and Pondicherry.
Do expectations bother you? Kai Po Che was a dark horse. Do the audience expect more of you after that film?
Well, when I wanted to make it in the film industry, I was flooded with suggestions. Some people advised me to do some body building; others said I should do plastic surgery on my nose; and still others suggested that I include the letter 'K' in my surname. They said these things would help to kickstart my career. But I believe if one is honestly committed to working and doing a good job, one will get work. That's what I believed and will continue doing just that.
What was your 'complicated reason' to be an actor?
I am very shy and introverted. But, when I started performing in college, I realised that it's an amazing art that allows you to escape your painful shyness and expose your privacy in front of complete strangers. To start and end a performance in front of complete strangers is an awkward feeling but when you're into those performances, and when you play the part truthfully, the feeling is incredible and addictive. It's all about making people believe you're someone you're not. When you're boring and introverted as a person, you discover amazing characters you can hide behind and have fun with. That's one of the reasons I chose acting as a career.
I have no idea what it means to be a 'star'. I don't know when and how someone becomes a star and when the 'star' realises he or she has become one. It's all very complicated and it takes a long time for that to happen, and I don't have that kind of time to invest. When I get endorsements, I do them. I don't plan my films or I don't plan my strategies on the basis of that. If they think I can endorse or promote a product, I will. After all, I am earning money and they are getting their profits. I am happy with that.
Do you have a plan for yourself for, say, five years down the line?
This is a learning process. I am getting to know people and characters that I have never done in my entire career. I am working with top-notch directors and the experience is splendid and very encouraging.
So, five years down the line, I will have grown as an actor because of all my experiences today. When you watch a performance of yours from the past and you think 'Oh, I had done this at this stage', it's an amazing feeling. I haven't planned anything as such; I just want to grow with every film. So, after five years too, I will be learning with each film.
There is a new breed of actors that includes you. What is your perception of the industry with new talents coming in?
This is a very exciting phase for Hindi cinema. Earlier, films were designed to help viewers escape their mundane lives. There was a misguided but innocent enthusiasm about those films. Everything was larger than life. Filmmakers still make films like this. It was like John Nash's game – the audience was entertained; filmmakers made money; stars became superstars.
But now, there is a new audience that patronises multiplexes, who are open to independent cinema, who are open to more realistic cinema. So, on one hand, we have larger-than-life cinema and real cinema. Today, there is room for everything. Our industry is growing and the number of screens is increasing. There is room for everybody. Whether you're a theatre artiste, a TV actor or a film actor, if you can survive, you will get work. All you need is a little patience. It also doesn't matter if you're an 'outsider'.
What is it like being an 'outsider' as your family doesn't have a film background?
If one's priority is to become rich and famous, that's one thing. But if your driving force and priority is passion for cinema, that will determine whether you will be successful or not. So, if you're passionate about your work, it doesn't matter if you are an 'outsider'.
Everyone around me considered me a fool when I decided to leave engineering college and chose acting. I thought if I didn't succeed in becoming an actor, I would make my own short films. I figured I would at least be happy doing what I love. So it was never a priority to become an A-list star or anything. When I was a kid, I dreamt of doing a Yash Raj film some day and now that's exactly what I am doing!
It is not a quintessential film. I think it is wonderfully written by Jaideep Sahni. The film is very realistic and it talks about relationships in a way that anyone who has been in a relationship can connect with. The film talks about the kind of conflicts that happen in a relationship. After 'I love you' and before the 'let's get married', there is a phase that makes you question your decision and rethink your choices.
There are many expectations and many disappointments but accompanied by one dominant thought, that 'this is the person I want to be with'.Shuddh Desi Romance is about this. It is brilliantly scripted and very entertaining. I didn't need to 'act' while dong that film; it came naturally to me. Maneesh was very clear about what he wanted.
In Kai Po Che, your co-actors were both male and now you have two female actors starring opposite you.
(Laughs) That's a clever one! In my next film also, there are two female leads. I don't know what to say. They are just co-actors. I do my bit and they do theirs.
People believe you are the only actor from the small screen after Shah Rukh Khan to make it this big on the big screen.
You're forgetting Vidya Balan. As far as male actors go, it's the kind of cinema that is being made right now. I still have people calling me 'Manav' and there are others who refer to me as 'the Kai Po Che guy'. It all depends on the perception of filmmakers. And, yes, SRK is my inspiration. Who doesn't want to follow his footsteps?
No wonder people close to you address you as 'SSR'.
(Laughs) We share the first letter, hai na!
Like Chennai Express has done phenomenal business? Yes. But, as I mentioned earlier, I lack the curiosity to keep track of numbers. I don't have the knowledge to understand why a certain kind of film did a certain kind of business at the box office. I stay away from this space. But sooner or later, I will get there too.
Everyone has their own camp they want to work with. You are working with Abhishek Kapoor and Yash Raj again. Are you too gravitating to a 'team'?
When we were shooting for Kai Po Che, Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor) asked me if I was interested in doing his film and I immediately agreed. I think it's that trust between us that we can work together again and it has nothing to do with teaming up or anything. Yash Raj manages me and I feel very secure that a studio like this is managing my work.
Do you think sticking with Yash Raj Films could restrict your growth as an actor?
I am working with the people I want to work with and Adi (Aditya Chopra) has been kind enough to allow me to do whatever I want, with YRF or anyone else. So if there is a project I am keen on doing, Adi supports and encourages me. I don't feel restricted in any way.
Do you take the scripts you have been approached with to Adi or vice versa? How does that work?
He is confident of me and he has told me that I have the potential to become a very good actor. Also, we are both on the same wavelength. If he has a script, he hands it to me and asks me for my opinion. And if I have a script that I like, I consult him. It's very neutral.
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