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Playing to the gallery

Being Mahesh Bhatt's nephew must have its advantages. But Emraan Hashmi, Bhatt's nephew and prot'g' has been through many ups and downs during his four film-old stint in tinseltown. He was supposed to play a key role in Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar but his co-star refused to act with him and the role finally went to Jimmy Shergill.

Hashmi finally debuted in Footpath, directed by Vikram Bhatt and produced by his uncle's Vishesh Films. By the time his second film Murder reached theatres he'd already earned the enviable title of Bollywood's smooch king. That was followed by Tumsa Nahin Dekha, in which he locked lips with Dia Mira, but which was a flop. Now the Sydenham College graduate has hit the silver screen with his fourth film, Zeher, where he plays a cop. And he lives up to his reputation in a sizzling kissing scene with damsel in distress, Udita Goswami.

Mahesh Bhatt, the son of a Muslim mother and a Hindu father, has re-written the rules of cinema over the last three decades. He began his career in 1973 but shot into the limelight with films like Arth, Saaransh, Naam and Janam which were partly autobiographical. It took a tragedy like the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent killing of innocent Muslims on the streets of Mumbai, for Bhatt to revisit the wounds of his childhood. And his last directorial film was the searingly confessional Zakhm.

Emraan on Mahesh

After my graduation, at the age of 21, I joined the family banner Vishesh Films and I worked in virtually every department. I was assisting director Vikram Bhatt when he offered me a chance to become an actor. Initially, I got cold feet and refused the offer as I hadn't really thought of being in front of the camera. But my friends and relatives pointed out that it would be foolish to throw away such a chance especially when it had come to me on a platter.

I accepted the offer and the first thing my uncle told me when he cast me in Footpath was that he wouldn't tolerate it if I was a bad actor. He assured me that he was giving me a break but promised to throw me out if I did not do justice to his expectations. 'You have to be profitable to me and my company. That's how we see it and that's how the world works,' he told me.

When I think of the first film I had shot for ' Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar, I remember that Bhatt saab was a much-needed support. My co-actress had said that I was too young and that I didn't know how to act. It was my first attempt at acting. I was devastated. But my uncle told me that nobody had the right to tell me whether I was good or bad.

We do not stay under one roof, but we are really close. Our roots spread out ' there are Muslims, Christians and Punjabis in our family. Mahesh Bhatt is my father's cousin. My earliest memories of him are more of a strict person who used to shout a lot. Then there were his shoots for which I used to be there on the sets. I was a shy child and used to hide behind my cousins. You would catch me biting my nails. I wasn't really close to him initially. I was awed by his persona.

As I got to know him, I learnt one fact of life from him: 'You have to stand up on your own two feet and come through as a winner'.

Mahesh on Emraan

From the first day that I can remember, Emraan has been aloof, but that's only externally. With time, he has grown close to me. He feels protected and safe with me around. My aunt, who is his grandmother, says that when I am not around, he emulates me in all my politically incorrect ways. My aunt finds it obnoxious. I have not seen him emulating me though.

We are very different personalities. Emraan is slow when compared to me. I feel he has to add speed to his personality. But I also think that he has depth in him that needs to be explored. Actually I don't want to pass judgement on him till he sees success. He's on the threshold of it. If his latest film, Zeher does well, he will arrive.

Emraan is a prankster. His dark humour makes me laugh. A few days ago, on the way back from Lucknow where we had gone for the promotion of Zeher, he said that Shakti Kapoor should be made to promote Zeher. I asked him why. He replied, 'Well, Shakti Kapoor's the icon of sleaze right now and since people think we make sleazy films, he would gel well.' I found it very funny.

Though he is like a son to me, there are times when I feel so frustrated with him. He's a terrible travel companion. He parties late, wakes up late and forgets his bags while travelling.

As a child, he was a very shy boy and used to be quiet all the time. When he came to work with me, he was bewildered with my worldly-wise views. I remember the first still session shoot that he had pose for with Amisha Patel for the film Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar, he was clearly uncomfortable. She had refused to work with him. The moment I walked in, his face lit up.

The industry was not very open to Emraan in the beginning. When he was working with me, I asked him to decide whether he wanted to be a director or an actor. He took two to three days, till he came back and said he wanted to be an actor. I have never advised him. In fact, I try not to advise people. I like to push them to exhaust their limits.

Earlier Emraan felt very safe with me around. Now he walks on his own.

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