Posted: 20 November 2004 at 4:02pm | IP Logged
FACE OF THE WEEK
There's much more to Samir Soni than meets the eye, says Arundhati Basu
Wall Street's loss is Jassi's gain. Yes, we are talking about the suave Purab aka Samir Soni on the hit TV series Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, who started off as a financial whiz on Wall Street but let his passion for acting take over. As he relaxes in the coffee shop of The Park in the Capital, you detect an almost imperceptible shiver. "Actually I am not very well and guess what? I am supposed to be relaxing right now," he smiles. It's holiday time for the model-turned-actor as he takes a break after a job well done in his new movie, Dance Like A Man.
Donning the comic cape suits Samir who plays the love interest of Anoushka Shankar in the film, a powerful human drama based on the premise that in our society if a woman forays into male territory, it is called progressive, while if it's the other way round, it is pathetic. And it is here that Samir finds his true calling. "I had been waiting for donkey's years for an English film. Naturally I was very excited about the whole project."
So how did the offer come about? "I bribed Pam!" he jests, referring to the film's director, Pamela Rooks. On a more serious note, he adds, "Well, Pam had just got over with The Train to Pakistan when a close friend of mine, who was assisting her, put my name forward for the cast of Dance Like A Man. A few reading sessions with Pam followed, and I bagged the role."
The plot of Dance Like a Man revolves around Ratna (Shobhana) and Jairaj (Arif Zakaria), a dancer couple who are excited about their daughter Lata's (Anoushka) arangetram or debut as a Bharatnatyam dancer. Lata brings her fianc Vishal (Samir) to meet her parents and sets the ball rolling. In an environment alien to his own, Vishal acts as a catalyst to expose the skeletons in the family's closet.
The 20-day shoot for the film had its share of funny incidents. While the director asked Samir to help Anoushka out with her accent, he would end up taking her accent on instead. "I have stayed in the States for six years. So whenever she used to go into a twang I would say, 'Anoushka, shut up', go to a corner and sing a Hindi song to get my normal Indian accent back."
Then there was this rookie's first brush with Shobhana, the senior actress from down South. He laughs at the memory: "Here I was, this cool dude from Bombay with my shades on who went up to her and said, 'Hey Shobhana, I'm Samir'. She gave me such a dirty look! But then, we got on really well."
Life has taken this actor on a roller-coaster ride. After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, he was bang in the middle of the world's financial centre, with the Wall Street Journal. He had it all — a fat wallet and a plush apartment facing the Statue of Liberty, yet all the while the actor in him was struggling to find expression.
"I was miserable. I wrote my dad a letter saying I didn't want to be 40 years old and telling my kids that had I the guts to become an actor, I would have made it big," he reminisces. So, he took his courage into his hands and moved to Mumbai, stayed as a paying guest and applied to modelling agencies. As early as the second day itself, he received a call.
The breaks have been good, he says. But it's been a constant struggle to find his foothold in the industry. With a forgettable debut in China Gate, where his role got slashed at the editing table, Samir considered himself lucky to get to play Amitabh Bachchan's younger son in Baghban. "It was only because of Mr Bachchan that I agreed to the role," he says. That itself was a memorable experience. His first shot with the Big B during the family reunion was one which gave him butterflies in the stomach.
"What do you do when you meet a parent after a long time? You hug him, right? But this was Amitabh Bachchan. What would be more in place was to ask him for an autograph! But then I had to hug him. So I went ahead and did it. Now whenever we meet, I don't shake hands with him. We hug," says Samir. That's when he received a compliment from his director Ravi Chopra about the way he pulled it off. While Samir tried be modest about it, Chopra said: "You are forgetting that you are working with Amitabh Bachchan. He's the biggest of the biggest actors. So if you can do a scene with him and retain your individuality, then you are good."
Playing second fiddle does frustrate him sometimes, though. "You know there's this potential waiting to be discovered, yet fate is playing hide and seek with you," he grimaces. The temptation to give up was at times overwhelmingly strong, then something would happen to make him change his mind. "There are times when I hate God. Just when I am about to let go, things happen and I am like, 'Now what? Spare me my misery.' But He has never let me give up and I never quit," he smiles in relief.
The last few months have, however, put him in an optimistic frame of mind. "Good days are here," he says. Personally, too, he has had his share of emotional turmoil with the passing away of ex-girlfriend model Nafisa Joseph. "At times I when I am sitting alone, flashes of her keep coming back and I cannot comprehend that she's not there," mulls Samir as he adds that the most tumultuous part of their relationship was when the two had broken up one-and-a-half years back.
With projects such as Dil Kya Chahta Hai (a serial to be cast on Star One) and Double Act (a play which might open this November), the actor has his hands full. Dil Kya Chahta Hai is a male version of Sex and the City where he plays Ram Sinha, the eldest of four individuals, whose attitude can be summed up in four words: 'Been there, done that'. Samir pairs up with Mandira Bedi in Double Act, a play about a couple who bump into each other after being divorced for five years. "The two cannot be without each other and yet are not meant to be together. This is what forms the crux of this comedy," he elaborates.
Quiz this man who has made a profession out of his hobby on whether he has any regrets about missing out on the perks of corporate life and pat comes the reply, "Nope. I live for acting." What makes it special is that occasional letter from a friend saying: "Congratulations for having a dream and having enough guts to follow it".
There are some surprises in store for you if you thought he's the usual vacuous model mouthing platitudes. The deeper side to this man is revealed as he quotes his personal philosophy from the Vedas: "You are what your deepest driving desire is/As is your desire, so is your will/ As is your will, so is your deed/ As is your deed, so is your destiny."
Photograph by Rupinder Singh