Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a road trip filmed mostly in Spain. What did you find appealing about this role?
Everything about this film project appealed to me—the fact that I would be working alongside two dear, and hugely talented, friends of mine again (Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar), the script was completely fresh and innovative for Indian cinema. I expected no less from Zoya—she is such an accomplished and respected director from the new wave of Indian filmmakers who are really changing the landscape of Indian cinema.
What was your reaction to some discussion about Zindagi being similar to Dil Chahta Hai?
The similarity starts and ends with the fact that the three main protagonists are a trio of male
friends. Yes, they come from different backgrounds and life experiences, but that really is as far as one can go. Zindagi… is a completely fresh offering in Indian cinema—an exciting road trip movie which takes the characters on a journey of revelations and epiphanies.
Compared to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, your upcoming role in Karan Johar’s remake of the Amitabh Bachchan classic Agneepath appears to strike a vastly different chord. How do the two roles stack up?
Yes, you’re right. My role as Arjun in Zindagi… is simultaneously lighthearted yet profound, whereas my role as Vijay Dinanath Chauhan in Agneepath is intense through-and-through. There is obviously the additional pressure of paying due homage to one of the most seminal films of Indian cinema and Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic character portrayal. I certainly wouldn’t be able to emulate his unforgettable performance, but I feel a duty to perform the very best in my career to date. As an artist, I am always looking to take my capabilities to the next level with each role I sign, and Agneepath has provided one of the most challenging roles in my career to date. It’s been a great honor.
After the first few years when you took on several films per year, you have cut back to only selecting one or two movies every two years so. How has this impacted you as an actor?
It is really important for me to push my boundaries and exceed myself with each role I sign. I guess you would call me a method actor, insofar as I completely submerge myself into the skin and soul of a character. I live, eat and breathe that character, and I would be doing an injustice if I were to divide my wholehearted focus and commitment between several roles at any one time. At this stage in my career, it is important to sign roles that challenge me and which by nature require 110 percent commitment from the outset and until the completion of filming.
What are some classic movies you would like to recreate? What roles would you like to undertake? What is your dream role?
You know, there are so many films and characters that I find completely iconic and inspiring. As much as I may fantasize about essaying that role at that time, I’m not on a mission to offer my own, contemporary reinterpretation. It so happened that the opportunity of essaying the role of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan presented itself to me, and was certainly an offer I couldn’t refuse. But again, it doesn’t mean to say I want to re-enact all of my favorite film roles. What I am doing in Agneepath is hopefully paying respect to Mr. Bachchan’s iconic performance, but I am certainly not attempting to emulate his performance. I don’t necessarily have an agenda or dream role as such—my professional ethos is that a role which presents itself should challenge my capabilities as an artist and push my boundaries.
How do you reflect back on Kites?
Every time a film isn’t appreciated by audiences, you are forced to reevaluate and go through a period of self-examination. It is always disheartening because you feel you have let down the most important people—those who pay their hard earned money to see you on screen and enjoy a great piece of cinema. However, after that period of reflection, you have to pick yourself up and move forward, having learned the lessons the experience has presented to you.
How has the Hindi film business changed in the decade since your debut inKaho Na Pyaar Hai? Is there room for experimental, offbeat films? And if yes, would you like to star in them?
You know, the industry has evolved a huge amount over the last ten years. There have been the increasing collaborations with the West, both in terms of on-screen artist appearances, as well as the crossover contribution of behind the scenes talent such as editors, directors, etc, as well as the big studio collaborations and synergies.
Insofar as experimental, offbeat films, these are forming a hugely influential and lucrative parallel to mainstream Indian films as a sub genre of Indian cinema— films which are really pushing boundaries in terms of subject matter, content, stylistics, direction, featuring unknown or debut casts, etc. A lot of these films are proving to be great box office triumphs. Okay, the distribution platform may not be as extensive as a major studio production, but given the fact that costs are often relatively low, a lot of these films have yielded significant box office returns.
There’s some exceptional talent emerging in this alternative Indian cinema, both in front of as well as behind the cameras—fearless filmmakers, superb actors, etc, championing groundbreaking (in Indian cinema terms) subject matter. I guess this is a reflection of changing audience tastes and demands and India’s growing middle class who want something new, thought-provoking and challenging.
I would certainly be open to starring in an experimental or offbeat film—it all depends on the right opportunity presenting itself.
Do you find it unusual that a sizable number of headlining names in Hindi films, including you, are all related to each other?
I don’t think it is necessarily unusual. I’d like to think that although an artist may have a filmic family background, their continued presence in the industry is due to their own merits and capabilities as an artist. I guess for a lot of us who grew up in the industry, so to speak, it was a part of our genetic make-up and it became second nature to follow a career path in the industry.
Do you feel that your good looks detract from being taken as a serious actor? Have movies like Dhoom and Krish typecast you as an action hero?
No, I don’t think so. My role in Kites was very action oriented, yet audiences were not impressed. Audiences may have certain expectations of you, but that does not mean to say they want you to replicate performances or certain role types time and again. My role in Jodha Akbar, for example, was not action-oriented and certainly didn’t capitalize on physical attributes—that wasn’t appropriate for the role—but audiences loved it. My performance was taken seriously and appreciated by audiences, although the role was a complete departure from an action hero avatar. I think filmgoers look at the film product holistically.
Are you secure about your place in the industry? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I just keep on doing what I love to do and feel extremely passionately about. I don’t necessarily have a long term plan and take each day and the opportunities it brings with it as it comes, but will continue to perform for as long as audiences want to see me on screen and filmmakers want to sign me (smiles).
How do you juggle being a father with your professional aspirations?
Luckily, I have a very understanding and patient wife, as she also comes from a film background. It certainly makes things easier and she understands and supports my professional aspirations unconditionally, as does my entire, amazing family. My family is my number one priority. Whenever I am not working, I am at home with my wife and children. Believe it or not, I’m a fairly regular father, despite the hectic working schedule.
You’re known for having overcome a stutter as a child. What advice would you give to people with disabilities?
To understand that these are the characteristics that make us unique and exceptional as human beings, and to try and embrace those things. Believe in yourself and know that you are a beautiful and amazing human being both inside and out, and always do your best.