Tells us about your memories with Rang de Basanti, Kaminey and Jazba?
Rang de Basanti was way back in 2005- my formative year in Mumbai where I had arrived fresh out of college. It was like going to a film school where you get to see actors like Aamir Khan, Waheeda Rehman, Madhavan act and watch how Binod Pradhan lights a scene, Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra sahab directing and some iconic music. Though I had nothing to offer to the film, I was just a small young actor on set getting a meagre salary of 1500 a day, that’s it. I was in England enacting Shakespearean plays for a royal Shakespeare production and travelling the world with it. That time I wasn’t interested in films at all and I was planning to stay back in London doing theatre and got close to make into the Westend Theatre. Our show was almost finalized to be played at Piccadilly Theatre, London and around that time I got to test for Kaminey. I came and tested for the role and left Mumbai. I had no mobile phone or any contact and checked mails once in a week or more. There was no no Instagram and social media like it is today. So, they had selected me for the part but could never get through to me. I called Honey Trehan, the casting director by chance and that’s when he broke the news that you got the part and we were looking for you for over a month. That was how Kaminey happened. Jazba was fun to be playing a villain in the film that had Aishwarya Bachchan and Irrfan Khan and directed by Sanjay Gupta who made stylish films like Kaantey. I gave it my all and got great reviews for my portrayal of the psychotic Niyaaz in it.
You played Nadeem Kazmi saab in Manto, who was Gulzar saab’s guru. Did you get feedback from him about your portrayal?
Yes, Nadeem Kazmi was a very difficult part to play. It was a real-life part and Nandita told me that he was Gulzar sahab’s guru. No, I never spoke with Gulzar Sahab but I hope he saw the film and liked what I did. To be playing the part in chaste Urdu alongside Nawaz’s Manto and being directed by Nandita was a great challenge and to stand my ground opposite these heavyweights in this heavy role used to make me take the challenge and try my best.
How was it Working with SRK. You had resonated with his character in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa when you were in school?
Working with SRK was astonishing. I remember watching Kabhi haan Kabhi Naa in school His character in the film was called Sunil and his unrequited love for Anna, was very touching since I have been always a failure in love and that part always stayed alive in me.
I believe I may not find love ever again and that’s the character of Sunil though Kundan Shah made him met Juhi Chawla in the end of the film, which I don’t agree to. I think Sunil lived alone.
When I met SRK for the shoot of Jab Harry Met Sejal, he didn’t know me and wasn’t aware of my work. But when we started rehearsing for a scene and he heard me act, he developed a liking for me. I am fundamentally a very shy person and I could never express how I feel for him as an actor but later when we spoke, he realised I am from Karol Bagh and he grew up around that area and we bonded on the Delhi accent. I told him, the atta at my place still comes from the chakki in Rajendra Nagar where he grew up. Hope to work with him again on a lengthier part.
Quality over quantity has been what you have pursued. Is it difficult to say no.
It is difficult to say no considering you have to put food on your plate too yet keep your artistic dilemma alive. But the greatest artistes lived in penury and pursued art at the highest level. I would proudly say I may not be famous but I have sincerely lived my artistic life with honesty and integrity and I aim and aspire to pursue it with utmost conviction. I have survived and am still acting and have managed to stay afloat and have made a small name as an actor of integrity and artistic excellence. I want to continue to do that with all my strength.
Today cinema is changing and the main lead in several films, plays an identifiable character role- how do you see this transition and opportunity?
Main lead actors playing identifiable roles is great, but I think this is just a basic necessity. It is always the case in cinema and over the years in Hindi films too. Dilip Kumar being one of those who read and read to play a part. I read somewhere he read up about medicine and surgery, just because he was invited to a medical conference as a guest. This is basic one can do as an actor. The audience will watch lead actors anyways. So, I am very glad such things are happening but there is still nothing for me I feel. It doesn’t mean a director will consider me for a lead part if I bring my craft to the table. So, I don’t see any opportunity for me. Hence, I have started writing my own films and hope to make them, how I want to see and also cast myself to stretch myself as an artist to uncomfortable lengths. That is my endeavor now.
Tell us about your role in Chippa on Zee 5 – where you are a newspaper wale and Kale Season 2 where you are wheelchair bound?
In Chippa, I play a newspaper wale who writes poetry and is called Saahir. He is a man with integrity and a tough man to live with because of his attitude with life.
You are writing a horror comedy. Who would you cast in it? Do you have a wish list?
I have already cast my actors in it and I will let the world know once its ready. It is a difficult film to make. It is a psychological, supernatural, comic thriller.
Cooking in quarantine – what have you explored? Can you share a quick recipe?
I pick up recipes of google and those on YouTube and then make it my own.
Daal is the best thing to make and to keep it light and flavored without any oil.
Roast a small cup of moong in a pan.
Cut some Lauki.
Put it in a pressure cooker with some salt, haldi and green chilli and some sugar.
Boil it with 5 whistles.
Take some mustard oil, heat it till it becomes light in color, add bay leaves, jeera, and some crushed ginger. Add the boiled lauki and daal in it, heat it for some time.
Serve with some desi ghee.
How has the period been artistically speaking – confinement isn’t easy to deal with?
The period has been pretty challenging. Living alone and looking after yourself and your pets is what I have done. I have been just writing and watching myself and talking to myself. I think I have grown more patient, resilient, hungry and I think I have become younger in my head.
Theatre actors are better actors onscreen – do you believe so?
It is not true theatre actors are better on screen. They know the craft for sure, of dealing with a character but film acting is completely different from theatre. Film acting is the acting of the sub conscious. One has to keep it loud in your head but not in front of the camera. Theatre is opposite. You play out your subtext and your sub conscious for all to see on stage. Here theatre actors mix up. Most theatre actors are not told that they can tend to over act, ham and pitch on a top note. I believe in underplay. Less is more. You shouldn’t see what an actor is doing on set. He has to be extremely gentle and calm and easy. You cannot spot his process until you see it on screen.
Tell us about Ashram with Prakash Jha and your future projects.
Ashram I can’t talk much about. I acted alongside Bobby Deol and it was super fun and we became greatest friends and we almost talk everyday now in quarantine. It is a film audience should look forward to. It was an honor to be working with Prakash Jha. He threw me into a well where he pushed me and wanted more. He is a master and I feel I have finally found a mentor in him after years of working in films.