Shimit Amin, Ayan Mukerji, Imtiaz Ali, Prakash Jha, Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap, Abhinav Kashyap... is it your gameplan to work with the best in this prime phase of your career?
Let’s be honest. They are choosing me. I am nobody to choose them. They are more talented, more established... they have more name, they have more exposure, more body of work... so they are choosing me. I just feel privileged. I just feel lucky. I have been at the right place at the right time.
You are being modest...
That’s the honest truth. Whatever I have done so far in my career, I have instinctively agreed upon a film because the film somewhere has appealed to me. So I am not really trying to experiment... I am not trying to be different. At the same time, I am not trying to follow somebody’s path. I’m just doing the things I love and I am lucky that these filmmakers have enough faith in me.
How did the connection with Anurag Basu happen?
He had seen my films and had liked Wake Up Sid and Rocket Singh a lot. He had called me and said that ‘I really want to work with you’. He came to narrate three ideas to me and the first one was then called Silence which has now become Barfi!. Before he started narrating the idea, somewhere inside I knew that I wanted to work with this man. I liked his approach to films very much and he really had something to say with his films. From there till today I don’t know how time has passed. But I would like to believe that I have grown as an actor by working with him. I have learnt so much. I have learnt to be simple. Learning to be simple and to adapt to it is very hard and he taught me to do that.
You play a deaf-mute character in Barfi!. You were an assistant director on Black, where Rani Mukerji played a deaf-mute character. Did that help?
Yes, of course. Funny no one’s asked me this. Because a lot of the groundwork was done there. I did a lot of homework for Rani and the little child (Ayesha Kapoor) in Black. I met a lot of deaf-mute children and boys and girls. Actually I stayed in a room with a deaf-mute and blind person, similar to the character Rani played. And what I observed and discovered was that their disability was just incidental. Yes, they can’t talk and they can’t hear. But they are so attentive. They are reading your lips and they are responding and they want to be part of your conversation. They are so curious of what’s happening around. So, all that subconsciously seeped in.
Other than that, we didn’t want the character in Barfi! to be too technical. We wanted the character to be identifiable. We played it like dumb charades. So while all the homework was done, Dada (Anurag) very clearly asked me to subtract all the method in my approach to the character. “I want you to come on the sets and be in a happy mood and be present in the moment.”
Did you watch famous deaf-mute performances as references and prep for your role?
Yes, the references were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson), my grandfather (Raj Kapoor), who himself was inspired by Chaplin. But I did not copy any of them. We referenced them because they were also mute characters and they expressed dialogue, feeling, romance, tragedy all through silence. But Barfi the character is completely Anurag Basu’s original creation. We went on set and the two of us organically created this character day by day by day.
From the first trailer it seemed Barfi! is like this male version of Amelie — a person with his own problems trying to make everyone happy. Is it in that space?
That’s correct. I can’t really give this film a genre. The closest genre, I guess, is life. So films like Amelie, Life is Beautiful, Frank Capra’s films, Chaplin... that vibe. It has that happiness quality attached to it. It has that quality where you feel happy for human beings per se. The disability factor is just incidental. It’s not that we wanted to take a baby check and wring his neck for sympathy.
Which is something Black did...
Absolutely. It worked in its space but this is not that space. Even a tragic scene here is seen in a comic way. Like it’s situational, not intentional. That was the approach. That was how Dada saw the film. Dada himself is Barfi. When you meet him, he is a child! Here was this man trying to so positively tell a story, which is so honest and so real and something coming from deep down.
Is it true that everyone including the producers, UTV, had given up on him when Anurag kept on shooting and re-shooting Barfi! and only you were standing by his side?
Yes, it’s true. I had utmost belief in him and it’s very hard to work with a man like him. Because he works in chaos. Nobody understands that. He has the entire movie in his head. And now I see all these UTV people and all the cast watching the film and going, “Man! This is what the man was thinking!” Somewhere he took me into confidence and showed me the film that was in his head. He painted that picture to me. Yes, people did have difficulty believing in him but I always had complete faith in his vision.
In your first interview to t2 before the release of Saawariya, you told us your grandfather would bring his ‘Gonglu’ to Calcutta. How was it shooting here?
My grandfather actually went to college out here. He was at St. Xavier’s, junior college. So lots of lovely memories of the family from here. Well, it is the city of joy and it’s not called that for no reason. I am in love with the food, the people. And Calcutta played such an important part in giving a palette to this film. Calcutta is such a rich city in culture, heritage, people and we really caught that in the film. That really helps the film. It transports you to another era. Our film is based in the 1970s and the city still has that feel, that quality. The shooting went very peaceful out here. And I am in love with mishti doi! So life is great (laughs out loud).
Given your age [he turns 30 on September 28], talent and popularity, a lot of us feel you are running a one-horse race and it’s just a matter of time before you become this unrivalled Bollywood superstar. How do you look at things?
I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a reality check of what I am today. I don’t have the sense or notion that I feel like a star or that I am the next superstar. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. All I have is faith in my talent, faith in the directors I am working with. They are immensely talented and they will be instrumental in my growth as an actor. So, I am just trying to be an actor right now and slowly, slowly, slowly build my fan base, build my body of work and transcend to becoming a hero. I look at Salman Khan’s films, Shah Rukh Khan’s films, Aamir Khan’s films, Akshay Kumar’s films and I think that some day I’ll be able to do that.
Do you really see yourself doing that?
Of course! I would love to. But it takes time to reach there. When Salman Khan comes on screen, the audience erupts. Because they hero-worship him.
If you do what those superstars are doing right now, won’t they erupt for you?
Not at all. It wouldn’t suit my personality.
They erupted to Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani...
Ajab Prem... was still in that space of young, goofy, underdog character. I still haven’t played a ‘hero’ role yet. I am saving it for a special film, for a special time. Right now, I am using the opportunity to play roles of my age. I know I’ll get there. I know I’ll become the biggest superstar in this world, not just India (goofy smile).
When is that happening? Have you put a date to it?
I don’t have a date. It could happen next year. It could happen after 10 years. It could never happen. No, actually the “never happen” thing we can subtract. It’s definitely happening! But I don’t know when. And I hope it comes as a surprise. I hope it doesn’t come as a plan.
What happened to your plans of directing a film?
Again, stupid amateur statements I keep making every year! I do want to direct. I am not lying about that. But I really haven’t done anything about it. I have been so busy as an actor and I am getting to work with these amazing directors. That is only making me understand my worth. If right now I make a movie, it would be stupid. When I work with an Anurag Basu or an Imtiaz Ali, I understand that making a film is so much more than what I think. I have this childlike love and innocence about wanting to direct a movie. But it’s not easy.
Do you change your approach depending on the director?
You have to adapt. One approach that I keep constant is to try and connect with the director in a way that we both have love for each other and have trust for each other. That is what matters. When you have that, your life becomes so much easier. And then you can be completely naked. You want to do it for the other person as much as the other person wants you to do it for the movie. That process is very important and I started doing that from my first film itself. I believe that an actor will only be good if the director is good. If he is trying to tell a good story your act will be good. You cannot ever say that he was good but the film wasn’t. If the film is good, everything is good. If the film isn’t good, nothing works.
Let’s say this then: you were good in Rockstar but the film wasn’t...
See, it couldn’t have gotten better for me. The opportunity to work with Imtiaz Ali, A.R. Rahman, my late grandfather Shammi Kapoor, the whole cast and crew. And play a character like that. It may not have done Rs 100 crore at the box office, but for me it is a 100-crore movie. Because it gave me so much. It gave me love, it gave me adulation, it gave me popularity. It made me grow as an actor. I have no regrets. I am working with Imtiaz Ali really soon again. It makes me so happy that someone I have already worked with is again instilling his faith in me. It gives a pat on my back that I am doing the right thing.
Is the Kishore Kumar biopic with Anurag Basu happening?
Oh yes! We’ve been waiting for Barfi! to get done with. I am goading him right now to restart work on it. Kishore Kumar is a legend who you cannot mess with. People want to see his life celebrated on screen. So unless we have that perfect script to celebrate his life, we shouldn’t touch it. I am very afraid as an actor and I am also very excited. I really want to do it badly and I want to do it with a man as crazy as Kishore Kumar, as talented as Kishore Kumar, as mad as Kishore Kumar. He is the perfect guy to make the film (points at Anurag Basu).
Can we have a peek inside your diary?
Sure. I have the film with Ayan Mukerji — Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani with Deepika Padukone. Then I start working on a film with Abhinav Kashyap called Besharam, which a lot of people thought was shelved, for no rhyme or reason. Then I work with Anurag Kashyap on Bombay Velvet. And then the next with Imtiaz Ali.
You seem set till 2014.
No, I am set till end of next year. I never sign movies in a rush. It’s just that these great offers have come. And when these fabulous guys want to work with me, I can’t not do it.
Pratim D. Gupta
Pictures: Rashbehari Das
Location: The Park
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