With back-to-back hits — Murder 2, The Dirty Picture and Jannat 2 — and offers from Dharma Productions and Yash Raj, Emraan Hashmi has finally entered the big league. But, fortunately, the 33-year-old is just as grounded as ever. He still answers the phone himself to finalise the appointment with t2 to talk about Shanghai, his paunch and his purple patch.
What was it about Shanghai that got you interested?
It’s a very different film and character for me. I have never played a small-town character like Jogi before. Also, I was very keen on working with Dibakar (Banerjee, the director). I had heard about the book (Vassilis Vassilikos’s Z ) and the French film, so when I got the film it was interesting to read how he had adapted a story that is set in Greece to an Indian setting and how it fit so seamlessly.
Jogi is someone who is very insecure and that is something that you have never played on screen before.
Jogi’s backstory that you don’t see in the film is that he is someone who used to live in a small town and he runs away from home and lands up in the city. He has an inferiority complex and he masks that with bravado. It was very daunting to play this character. Dibakar put us all through theatre workshops which again exposed me to a world that I knew nothing about, so I got even more scared of this film and character. And I think that fear just made me push myself.
You underwent quite a physical transformation to play Jogi
Dibakar wanted Jogi to have a paunch, so I gained about eight to 10kg and wore tight clothes so the paunch looks bigger. I got a strange haircut and my teeth were stained and during make-up I would be made three-four shades darker. I remember the first time I saw myself in costume, I didn’t recognise myself! I believe getting the look right is half the battle won. It was then easy for me to get into the skin of the character.
You have always been a ‘commercial’ actor. Were you worried about how your fans would react to this switch?
Not really. I would rather play a character than constantly be the ‘hero’ on screen. Most actors in Bollywood let narcissism get in the way of looking like a character. They tend to think their character is all about the bikes or cars, designer clothes and cool haircuts. I have done that but when a movie like this comes along, I am more than happy to give in to the demands of the script. Also, I believe that after a point fans get bored if you keep doing the same thing over and over. So, films like Shanghai will keep my fans on their toes (laughs).... I am quite inspired by someone like Christian Bale who lost 30kg for The Machinist or looked like a meth-addict for The Fighter.
You said fans don’t want to see you do the same thing over and over again but isn’t it true that Dibakar was forced to add a Sufi song in Shanghai because your films have to have one?
Well yes, there is a Sufi song in the film. T-series insisted on the song. They wanted a romantic song to drive the album. Obviously, Jogi is too ugly to be singing a love song to someone so Dibakar decided to make the video almost like a sequel to the film that shows what happens to Jogi after the film ends. Sufi songs have worked for me in every single film and it’s important for a film’s music to sell.
There have been quite a few stories on the friction between Abhay Deol and you. What was it like working with him?
I don’t understand where the stories are coming from. We had a great equation while we were shooting. Though we have done slightly different films, our styles of working are very similar. He also knew the script inside out. I think his performances are also very studied. We didn’t spend too much time together off the sets because we would fly in and out of Latur if we had a couple of days free.
You have been saying that Shanghai will be a game-changer for you
I think Shanghai will break every preconceived idea that people have had about me.
You are being offered films by Dharma Productions and Yash Raj, so obviously the game is changing for you.
I have always done films that I have believed in. I think I ‘arrived’ when Murder 2 opened with Rs 8 crore. I admire the banners that you have mentioned.... It does feel good to be recognised by key filmmakers and production houses who are known to set the standards in our industry. So, obviously, working with anyone among these names would only broaden my horizons.
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