You told t2 at IIFA that Maximum is the most special film of your career. Why?
I always wanted to play a character who had a lot to say but didn’t have the words for it. My character (Pratap Pandit) is a man of few words… so much like what I am. His actions speak louder than his words. The way Kabeer (Kaushik, the director) has written the character, and the film as a whole, is so special. I have played tough characters in many films before, but Pratap Pandit is one-of-a-kind… strong and no-nonsense, but with his heart in the right place. From the way it was narrated to me to the way it has been executed, I can very proudly say that Maximum is not a regular film.
How did you prepare for the role of an encounter specialist?
I met a lot of cops in Bombay and in Punjab. I wanted to see the kind of lives they lead, both personally and professionally. I wanted to know more about their psyche… how do they kill and then go back home to their families and lead normal lives? I read up a lot about Mumbai between 2003 and 2008…. The time when these encounter cops were brought in to cleanse our system and our streets.
Is Pratap Pandit based on any particular cop?
It’s not based on one particular cop…there are shades of Pradeep Sharma… of Daya Nayak.
How differently has Kabeer Kaushik treated the cops vs criminals theme?
Though it’s a film about encounter specialists, the action isn’t so much in your face. There are undercurrents of it throughout the film, but
Maximum also has a lot of emotion and drama. It’s a human story, above anything else. As Seher (starring Arshad Warsi) had shown, Kabeer has a very strong grasp on cop dramas. This is a genre he is very familiar with.
How was it sharing screen space with Naseeruddin Shah?
Naseer is one of the finest actors we have in the country. If you are a student of cinema, you just have to sit and watch him and you will learn so much. The fact that he give so much to his role motivates others to put in so much more. He always gives so much space to the other actors to better themselves.
Thirteen years into the business, how are you choosing your roles?
I take a long time to lock a film primarily because I consciously try and keep away from something I have already done in another film. I do a lot of films down south. I have two Telugu films lined up for release. Whenever I get time, I pick up a Bollywood film. That’s the path I want to follow in future too… be seen in less films, but meaningful ones that make a difference to my career.
Is it difficult straddling Bollywood and the south?
Dates were a problem in the initial years, but now with the success of Dabangg and a few of my other films, people in Bombay as well as in the south are ready to wait for me if they feel that I suit a particular role. People are now realising that here is an actor who wants to do good work and they know that I am committed to the projects I take up. Thankfully, I haven’t lost out on any major roles.
And yet, you opted out of Dabangg 2, the first part of which was such a game-changer for you...
Chhedi Singh (Sonu’s character in Dabangg, picture left) will always be an important part of my filmography. But somehow in the sequel, I wasn’t happy with the way the role was shaping up. So I thought it would be best to opt out as people have certain expectations from the character and I don’t want to disappoint them. I spoke to Arbaaz (Khan, the director of Dabangg 2) and both Salmanbhai and Arbaaz have assured me we will work together in future.
You have apparently been researching night and day to play Dawood Ibrahim in Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala…
The Dawood that I play is someone who isn’t really the dreaded underworld don we all know of. This is in the phase when Dawood is just becoming Dawood… the early ’70s. So I have been reading up a lot on the Dawood of that time… where he lived, the people he grew up with, his initiation into the underworld. The film explores how a fun-loving and circumspect young man changed within a couple of years to become the terror that he now is. Shootout at Wadala is going to be a very important film for me.