After making your acting debut with Karan Johar’s Student Of The Year (SOTY) in 2012, you have played a variety of roles—in films like Ek Villain (2014), Brother (2015), Baar Baar Dekho (2016), and most recently Ittefaq (2017). But don’t you think it’s very easy to get typecast in this industry, and that it’s difficult to be versatile as an actor?
A. I don’t think it is difficult. It is about the choices you make. If you keep choosing the same things other actors have done in the past and recycle them, then you are not aiming to do something new. So those are your choices as an actor. But I have also chosen challenging parts. I have never shied away from trying something new, tried different zones, have also been part of an ensemble cast because this is my opinion and this is my thought about how Hindi cinema should go in the future. I don’t feel that I, as a young actor, am here to do the same thing which other actors have done in the past. To me, it’s important that good things be done, good stories be told. Whether it is a murder mystery like Ittefaq, or a spy thriller like Aiyaary, or a family film like Kapoor & Sons—these are all lovely stories and I am pretty happy and excited to have been a part of them. So, getting typecast is up to the actor—about what he chooses, as opposed to the audience really wanting to see you in a particular role.
Q. You come from a non-film background, and were fortunate to debut with a big-banner film. How has your journey been, from your first film SOTY to now being a part of Neeraj Pandey’s Aiyaary?
A. The journey has been very enriching. I feel the journey has changed my life. I mean I have lived the majority of my life like a normal man with a Delhi middle-class upbringing, struggling in Mumbai, and now I am in this profession, this lifestyle and this schedule. Life has changed for the better, the comforts of life have changed for the better but the struggle still remains. The struggle doesn’t end after you have done a successful film. It is constant—the struggle is every Friday. You have to improve, you have to get something new, you always have to keep planning ahead. So I feel this is a never-ending cycle. It is about aap usko kitni jaldi seekhte hain, samjhte hain [how quickly you learn it, understand it]. I feel over the years, I have definitely understood much about the business, about the people here, and most importantly you realise that all actors need to have an instinct, when it comes to choosing a director or a script. And that instinct is all yours, you can’t ask for help after a point and I am mostly concentrating to sharpen that [instinct] much more. And I feel that at this phase, I am really enjoying, doing challenging roles whether it is the role of a murderer in Ittefaq or whether it is Aiyaary, because I am really enjoying the craft of just acting—camera ki liye different dialogues, different characters play karna [speaking different dialogues and playing different characters in front of the camera]. And yes, I have no complaints. I feel really blessed to be a part of this profession because I know so many youngsters in the country would want to be where I am today. So, definitely I have a lot of gratitude for what I am today and this is just the beginning. There is lot more to do.
Q. What was your biggest takeaway from Aiyaary, in which you worked alongside National Award-winning actors like Manoj Bajpayee and Naseeruddin Shah?
A. When you ask me about my biggest takeaway, what comes to mind first is how little I knew about the armed forces. Because what the Army does, what the BSF does, what the military intelligence does and other various departments do is get information and keep the country safe. I didn’t know ki itni mehnat hoti hai [that so much hard work is done]. And also when I shot at the border and when I went to Kashmir to visit the BSF camp to see up close the conditions a Jawan lives in, what conditions he protects us in, the winter and extreme summer… I think the major takeaway from the film was the newfound respect for the armed forces. The BSF, our secret services, IB department, are all constantly working to keep our country safe and to avoid calamities, and we should acknowledge that and give them respect.
Secondly, yes, of course, working with this brand-new team, be it the director or the actors or the cast. I have had a very enriching experience working with them. We have all seen their talent but they are wonderful people, all like-minded, hardworking, self-made and good-hearted people, which I am really happy about. I think this relationship is going to work further.
“I wish I would grow up. My colleagues and my friends keep complaining about the immature side of me. But maturity can wait… Also, men age slower in the industry. So I haven’t grown at all. There are still college roles that are there and I am probably going to do one very soon.”
A. I don’t think they are at the losing end. If you see the trajectory of certain small films from last year, they have only grown. If you see the trajectory of Neeraj Pandey’s early films, they have only grown—they are A Wednesday, Special 26. They are slow burners and the audience keeps putting money into them because they like them. So I think that trend has always been there. There has also been a trend of some commercial films opening really well and then dying out. They are not able to stand the test of time. As I said, a good film is a good film and people are putting their money into it, recently more so. You see it in the business and you see it in how long the film lasts. So, it’s a great time for content. Content has become the new king.
Q. Is there any genre of cinema that you would like to experiment with more in the future, or any particular kind of film that you’d want to sign up for?
A. Horror comedy, definitely. Nobody has done that, and I have never done that. So yes, it is something interesting. There are so many things I would like to do. I wanted to do a murder mystery and I did it with Ittefaq… The superhero genre as well. India doesn’t have a superhero. It will be very interesting and I hope a good writer comes up with a script that has an interesting character of a desi superhero with a cape. I would love to fly like a superhero. Who wouldn’t?
Q. You got a dream launch by Dharma productions five years back, and now the banner is all set to launch two new faces, Ishaan Khatter and Jhanvi Kapoor in Dhadak. Are you nostalgic for that time, now that you’ve grown up and established yourself as an actor?
A. Not at all. I wish I would grow up. My colleagues and my friends keep complaining about the immature side of me. But maturity can wait… Also, men age slower in the industry. So I haven’t grown at all. There are still college roles that are there and I am probably going to do one very soon.
Q. Who is your favourite co-star?
A. My favourite co-star was the dog in Kapoor & Sons. That dog in the movie was very sweet and his name in the film was Geishu. His real name is Raju.
Q. Finally, tell us about some of your ongoing projects.
A. There is a biopic that I am doing this year. It is about an Army personnel. And most probably, we will talk about it later. There is another college film that I will be doing soon.