Let us start with your recent release Baadshaho. It is your first multi-starrer. So how was your experience of shooting the film?
A. It was a great experience. I have grown up watching those kind of films, Amar Akhbar Anthony and Raj Tilak and all… It is also a period film. It is an entertaining and masala film. It has songs, comedy, and lots of action. It is a fun film so, I had a superb time shooting for it. And the crew was super chilled out. Ajay Devgn, as everyone knows, is a prankster. He is very light-hearted in the film. The whole team—Sanjay Mishra, Emraan [Hashmi], Esha [Gupta]—we all had a fun time at the shoot.
Q. How different is shooting for multi-starrers as opposed to doing a regular film?
A. For the film per se, it is difficult for the director to manage the shoot. Because handling so many actors is not easy. Also, actors are doing multiple projects, so it was a difficult time for Milan [Luthria, Baadshaho’s director]. But he handled it very smoothly. He is a taskmaster. And one thing is there that happens on the set, though everyone there is very professional but we all are like chilled out guys. So everyone on the crew would do a lot of “time pass”, cracking jokes and pulling each other’s leg. But the end result is very good. So not much of a difference but it was a lighter unit I would say.
Q. Your character in the upcoming film Bhoomi is talked about very highly. Could you tell us more about it? How were you approached for it and what made you sign the movie?
A. Ever since I have started working, that is ten years back, I have been experimenting with my characters and with what I want to do. I feel when you do different roles you grow as an actor. And I want to keep learning as an actor. So, when I was approached for the role, I knew that it is a hardcore villain thing, but as an actor, I had to take up the challenge. Most of the roles I have done have been very polished. So normally one’s personal image is quite different. And the role that is offered to you is rowdy and a very dabang type of a character from the interior of Rajasthan—who is not literate, who speaks in a different dialect, the diction is different, its tone is different. So apart from the character, there were a lot of challenges as an actor, so I thought I must take it up, and I said yes to the film. The writers helped me a lot with the dialect.
The opportunity of standing with Sanjay Dutt… he has been there, we have grown up watching him. Off camera and on camera, he is very different. Off camera he is very fun loving, he would spend time with all the crew members; on camera he is completely different. I think this is one of the best qualities he has. His expressions for cueing the other actors are so apt. So my work as an actor was so easy. He is a superb guy to work with and I have learned a lot from him, his life journey and the things he has gone through.
Q. Few films that you have done have showed you as a negative character, except for some Telugu movies. Since you started out as a hero in the industry, were you ever apprehensive about playing the negative role?
A. A north Indian can’t do a positive role there, though I will keep on trying. But if you are stuck with one thing, there is hardly anything to learn. Fewer films come to you when you are not experimental. Doing a particular kind of character, I find it boring. So it’s better that I do both negative and positive characters. You want to be known as an actor. If you see Sanjeev Kumar sahab, Pran sahab or Amrish Puri, they have performed both negative and positive characters to the core. If you see films like what Amrish Puri has done from a Mogambo to what not; and then if you see Gardish, you feel sympathy for him. They are known as versatile actors, not just as villains. I think it is good to be an actor and then try for different roles and then keep on growing. That’s my policy.
And about the apprehensions: the audience now knows cinema. The audience now knows that we are actors and we are portraying a role. Sanjay Dutt has also done negative roles—Kancha Cheena in Agneepath. Rishi Kapoor has also done negative roles. A lot of other mainstream actors have done negative roles.
Q. So you have never had any fear of being typecast?
A. No, I have never had this fear. I see negative roles as challenges. Everyone sees performances now. It is challenging so everyone is doing it [negative roles] I think.
Tom Hardy played a villain in Batman and he was wearing a mask throughout the film, but he was being appreciated like anything.
Q. What do you generally look for in a role when you sign a particular project?
A. It is not rocket science. My philosophy is that if I hear the narration and if I can connect with the character, I should like it. If I fall in love with the character I will be forced to do it. No matter how small a film it is, it is all about liking the character. For me, I think my heart should say yes, not my mind.
“As an actor, if I am dubbing, I will be able to emote better. It’s not just your voice, when you are acting your heart speaks. As an actor that’s the advantage I have when I am on the set.”
Q. You have also done some regional cinema. How different is shooting for Hindi films compared to regional cinema?
A. Not much of a difference. A performer doesn’t have a language. Just that you have to put in a little more effort. I do a lot of homework, I try understanding my lines. I now want to explore more languages. I want to do more language films because that’s more challenging. I think Malayalam is difficult, so I would love to do a Malayalam film. And I am a workaholic—the more work I have, the happier I am.
Q. You also have impeccable dubbing skills, as was showcased in your work in Bahubali. Do you think you have received enough recognition for that, or do you find that it’s just the actors who walk away with all the accolades?
A. You don’t see behind the scenes what all actors go through. It is a lot of hard work. On a film like Bahubali, they have worked for more than three years, day and night. So if the credit goes to them I don’t have any issues with that, and then with Bahubali I have got recognition which I had never thought I’d get. This was the first time people were asking about the dubbing artist. It is great for me personally. More people know me now and wherever I go people call me the voice of Bahubali or, “Ye Bahubali ki awaz hai [he is Bahubali’s voice]”. There are two good things that have happened with Bahubali—one, I got to work with Rajamouli sir; and second, Riteish Deshmukh messaged me and said, “Congratulations, now you are in the history books of Indian cinema.” I am happy with that and I am still learning. So it’s a great achievement, I can tell my kids and my daughter proudly when she grows up.
Of course, the monetary part for the dubbing artists is sad. Because I am an actor, my value and everything else is different. If you see, Vivek Oberoi dubbed for Spider-Man, or Shah Rukh has dubbed; obviously, that is a different case. But for a normal dubbing artist exposure and the monetary part is too less. So if a film is doing well some credit should also go to the dubbing artist.
If the royalty system comes in India, as it works for songs, it will help a lot of people in the industry. Some portion of the profit and credit should go to those who have worked hard for the film.
Q. Do you think being an actor has helped you polish your dubbing skills in any way?
A. It is vice versa. Because when I had started dubbing I used to do TV. It is recorded live. But when you do a film, obviously, you can enhance the performance, whatever you have done on camera. So I didn’t know the whole process of dubbing initially. By doing small roles in Hollywood films, I learnt a little about dubbing. If my performance in terms of acting on a scale of 10 is 8, with dubbing I can increase it to 9 or 9.5. As an actor, if I am dubbing, I will be able to emote better. It’s not just your voice, when you are acting your heart speaks. As an actor that’s the advantage I have when I am on the set. So when I dub, I dub with my heart, not just with my voice.