Q. Today, you are a celebrity, a Bollywood star. But you have not had a very smooth journey on the pathway leading towards fame. Could you tell us about how easy or difficult those early days were for you?
A. I have struggled for 12 years, and that is not a very short span of time. Back then, I had lost all expectations. I had realised there would be no miracle in my life and I would never become an actor. But I was passionate about my work and kept working hard. I never dreamt of becoming a star. What I liked was the process you delve into for the character. And even when I didn’t get any role, I remember I used to do some scenes with my friends and enjoy that process. I wanted to work. It was not about working in films. Since it was a question of survival, I was ready to work in TV serials, too. So I first came to Bombay to do TV.
Q. The term “method actor” often comes up when your work is being considered. How would you define method acting?
A. There are lot of rumours about method acting. It is not a typical thing to do. I believe it’s an exercise, because in films, you have to do various characters. And sometimes, for certain roles you need some sort of preparation. You go through different “methods” to do the character. This preparation is actually method acting.
Q. For your upcoming film Manto, you have completely transformed yourself, the better to physically resemble the film’s subject, the author Saadat Hasan Manto. What kind of effort went into this enterprise?
A. For Manto, I had to physically change myself a lot. There are two ways of doing any character. Either you start with emotionally understanding the character and then you go with the physicality, or you start your physical training and then you train yourself emotionally for the role. You have to understand the thought process of the character. You have to deeply and emotionally get involved in the character. Only then can you achieve the basics. What comes after all that is working on your looks.
Q. Often, critics say that actors like Nawazuddin and Irrfan Khan are stars, though they are not in the race of being seen as “heroes”. Your thoughts?
A. Who is a hero? I am not able to understand actually how you see someone as a hero. What are the terms of being called a hero? I think a hero is someone who is able to able to get through in any difficult situation. But if you are asking about a “film hero”, then I would say that any actor who has a heroine in the film, is a hero. I am acting as the lead in Manto and Babumoshai Bandookbaaz. So, I think I am the hero of the film. But I believe there are so many different ways to define this term. Someone who is helping others, or working for his country or for that matter, even a child can be a hero. You should stop seeing Bollywood actors as your only hero.
Q. You also said that for an actor, education is really important. And recently, you joined hands with P&G Shiksha as Shiksha Movement Superhero to help continue their mission to educate and impact the lives of underprivileged children, and to support and help build schools in Delhi. Could you tell us more about your school days?
A. The first thing that came to my mind with this project was my school. I used to pay Rs 10 as my school fees. Back then, there was nothing of this sort which could really promote good education and healthy environment for a child. There was hardly any attention paid to education. Children used to fail lower classes, and many would fail in their 10th boards. One or two would pass and that was something really big back then. But P&G is working very hard for it since 13 years. And over a million children are getting help through it. I think it’s our duty to promote such projects.
“What are the terms of being called a hero? I think a hero is someone who is able to able to get through in any difficult situation. But if you are asking about a ‘film hero’, then I would say that any actor who has a heroine in the film, is a hero. I am acting as the lead in Manto and Babumoshai Bandookbaaz. So, I think I am the hero of the film.”
Q. International film events, like the Cannes Film Festival and more, have become permanent fixtures on Bollywood’s annual calendar. But of late, such events are projected more as fashion galas and less as anything to do with cinema. What is your take on this?
A. I am no one to comment on that, but it is a film festival and not a fashion festival. Many big brands collaborate with this event. So, they like to promote their brands with their brand ambassadors here and they have a particular fashion parade here. But I think we go there because our films are officially selected by the panel, and we want our films to get noticed internationally.
Q. Why, according to you, are we not able to land big film awards internationally?
A. Agar aapko shauk hain sirf pyar-mohabbat ki filmein dekhene ka, toh kya kare [If you like watching only films about love and romance, what can one do]? If we make more films on realistic topics locally, then they would get some sort of recognition. Raman Raghav 2.0 was highly appreciated internationally and we got many awards. But in India, when it got released, many disliked it, saying, “This is what you want us to see onscreen?” So, in such a scenario, you really do not know what to do.
Q. Who is that one director that made you feel transformed as an actor?
A. To be very honest, I work with only those directors with whom I know I would enjoy working. Like Anurag Kashyap, Kabir Khan, Nandita Das, Rahul Dholakia. And I really enjoyed working with Kushan Nandy on Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, which is going to be released soon.
Q. If any first-time director or independent filmmaker wants to work with you, would you say yes to them?
A. I would read the scripts and if I think that he or she has the right sensibility and understanding of cinema, I would definitely say yes.