Wazir sees you in yet another never-seen-before role of a cop. What kind of preparation went in to get the character and its nuances right?
The background of the character Danish Ali that I play is that of an ATS officer. The film is not about his life on-duty. In fact in the beginning of the film itself, Danish is shown suspended. There is a certain kind of training they go through, a certain body language is associated with them when they are on their job, and there is a certain decorum they maintain when they speak to people. So these are things I have observed over the years. It’s always fascinating to see them at different environments. If you see them with their families at social occasions, they are very different than what you see them as in their office. They need to keep their calm even if they want to be aggressive. Even if there is physical aggression, the mind has to stay calm. So these are the things I had to work on.
But do you generally follow a certain process for every character that you portray or you pick up nuances of real life people who you have met in your life?
Honestly, there is no fixed method or process. Different characters demand different preparation. For example Danish Ali would require different preparation than what a character like Milkha Singh would demand. Rock On would need completely different preparation than what Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) would demand. For a role like the one in ZNMD, I would hang out a lot more with friends to be able to get the right feel. I spent a lot of time with Hrithik and Abhay. Hrithik and I have been very close for many years, but Abhay and I weren’t that close friends. You need to know each other well for that camaraderie to come on screen and for it to look real. I should be comfortable enough to play a prank on my friend or pull his legs. For the audience to feel that we have been best friends for a long time, it requires a certain amount of improvisation on the sets and that is possible only when we are really good friends. We should be able to take that liberty to pull each other’s legs like we do with our friends. All this is only possible when you spend time with each other and build a great rapport.
You have directed Amitabh Bachchan in Lakshya and in Wazir, you are his co-star. How different was it to associate with him as a co-actor?
It was absolutely phenomenal. I have admired his work ever since I remember I started watching his films. Every single person who has come in the industry after Mr Bachchan has had a desire to collaborate with him in some way or the other because of the influence he has had on us for years. I have been one of those people and it was a tremendous experience to be so up, close with him and learn so much from him during the course of the film. You get to learn so much by just being with him (Bachchan). The film is predominantly about these two characters, so we have a lot of scenes together. We both are bound by a bond in the film and find redemption in each other. The story is well-written and also has action and romance. It is a complete film and we enjoyed telling this story.
What about Wazir made you agree to be part of it?
Vidhu Vinod Chopra approached me for the role. He was very keen that I do the role of Danish Ali in the film. I met Abhijat and I found the story quite compelling. It is a world I am not familiar with, so it took some amount of research and training. Well when I read the script, I didn’t want to put it down before reading the entire script. It was that engaging and interesting. Secondly, how much does my character contribute to the film is important. You have to trust your instincts. You have to go by them. One can never guarantee that this film will work or not. Audience liking it comes into the picture only once the film hits the screens, but before that, you have to like the film and its story to be part of it. One has to approach a script with an open mind with no preconceived notions whatsoever.
How much does box office success matter to you?
It matters; of course it does up to an extent. But that’s not the be all and end all of things. People invest a lot of money in you and in the film so you want them to not only recover their cost but also make profit, which is very important. The most important thing is that you want maximum people to watch your film, not because you want that many more numbers at the box office, but as an artist too, you want more and more people to watch your work, your craft. More people coming to watch the film means that they have liked your film and that will eventually result in great profits. But the main motive should be to make a good film because only a good, entertaining and engaging film will be able to draw more people to the theatres.
You have an added advantage of having been a director, a writer and a filmmaker even when you act in a film. There must be creative conflicts and differences considering you see a film from different angles?
See most people who know what they are doing including actors who haven’t been directors or writers, their strength lies in understanding the story, the characters. An artiste has to concentrate on the consistency of your performance because most of the times, you don’t shoot a film in a chronological order. Sometimes, the climax is shot first, then the beginning and the middle portion is shot in the end. Sometimes, second half is shot first and then the first half. So working in such circumstances gives you a certain kind of training and experience to maintain the consistency of your character. Whenever an actor reads a script or works with a director, every actor has some inputs to give. Sometimes, the first half could be more demanding than the second half. So they might want to shoot it reverse to prepare themselves for the difficult part and shoot it later. This at many occasions is seen as interference by an actor, but that’s not true. An actor is just being sensitive and responsible because a lot many people are going to see your performance on screen and if you are not feeling good about it right now, you won’t be able to perform it better and that will obviously show in your performance.
So do you too voice your concerns and opinions when you feel the need to do it?
Of course I do that. It’s very essential. Any lack of clarity, any question, any insecurity vis-à-vis I am doing the right thing or is it the right pitch at where I would want to perform my character especially at the beginning, or what tone you are going to set for your character is extremely important. It is very important to address your concerns and voice your opinions. One should ask as many things as he can and clear any doubts before he starts shooting for the film. Absolute clarity helps you achieve the best and the desired result. All this has to be done for the benefit of the film. If there is any doubt that’s lingering at the back of your mind, it will obviously affect your performance because you are unsure about certain things. You will then end up doing it just for the sake of doing it, like a machine. Your mind has to blend with the character and that can only happen when doubts are cleared. That’s why it’s very important to have narrations, discussions, rehearsals, workshops to be on the same page as everyone. So when you go on sets, the time that you spend will be extremely productive because you are prepared.
You think 100 crore or 200 crore must be the parameter to gauge the success of a film?
Firstly, I don’t know why everybody is becoming a trade pundit these days. It’s the easiest way to quantify success. There is no point in predicting how much a film would make because one just can’t predict. It’s better to report how much a film has actually made post its release. I don’t think predictions are important. What one should anticipate is whether the audience will like our film and how many people will like it. If you look back, there may be so many films that must have left an impact on you or you must have really loved and enjoying watching even today, but they must have not made that kind of money at the box office as compared to the film you probably don’t like. There are films that have inspired other filmmakers to make similar movies but didn’t have a great box office. You might remember scenes and dialogues of so many films that might have not been blockbusters. So how many crores a film makes should be the parameter to quantify success.