Recently you suffered yet another accident.
Yes, terrible. It was on the sets of Subhash Ghai's "Kissna". Till recently, I believed I was just plain unlucky. But now I feel there's more to it. I have been warned to be careful because someone is practising black magic on me. Subhash Ghai had a special 'pooja' for me. A lot of people are praying for me. That is what is keeping me going. In the most recent accident, if that iron chariot had landed on my head I'd have died. So yeah, it's very scary. And honestly I'm worried. I can only pray and hope good karma begets goodness. I believe in good deeds. I just hope whatever it is will stop and spare me from further mishaps. But they're recurrent and always on the left side of my body. That's uncanny. It does bog me down. But like I said, I'm unbreakable.
I hate being pushed to the corner. I hate being confined to bed. The doctors prescribed three weeks of bed rest. But I recovered in eight days. Luckily, the accident occurred on the last day of my schedule for "Kissna".
Could this be a backlash to your relationship with Aishwarya Rai?
I don't think so. Accidents started happening to me from even before I started seeing Aishwarya. A lot of people resented the attention I got for "Company". A lot of bigwigs felt slighted when I said no to their projects. They said, 'Who the hell does he think he is?'
A lot of people wrote me off before "Masti". They thought I'd never bounce back. So when "Masti" became such a big success they didn't like that much either. In spite of "Main Hoon Na", "Masti" is still holding on.
Are you proud of "Masti"?
Very frankly, I never did it to acquire respect as an actor. Surprisingly, women and kids have loved it. And if the kids don't get the innuendoes, "Masti" is like a cartoon film for them. Let me tell you, women are providing the repeat audience for the film. The fan mail that I'm getting from overseas is amazing. They love my subtle sense of slapstick and call me the perfect foil to Aftab and Ritesh. They think Ajay was damn cool too. As far as I'm concerned, the negative responses are minimum. Lots of families are seeing "Masti". Kids are fighting to get in despite the Adults Only tag.
So would you want your children to see "Masti"?
A lot of my cousins from that impressionable five to 10 age group insisted on seeing "Masti", though I was hesitant. To my relief, the innuendoes went over their head. They just enjoyed the slapstick humour. My entire family, parents included, couldn't stop laughing. My grandmother was so amused! During shooting I did say no to what I wasn't comfortable with but I stand by the film. I won't disown the film. Why would I do anything I'm not comfortable with?
Your Parampara ad for Coke seems to be a rage?
The kids specially love it. And the day the ad went on air Vanilla Coke was sold out everywhere by noon. I guess after "Masti" people liked me in the spoof ad. I think the drink is aimed at kids and college students. It's good to reach out to the audience, through films or ads.
So after "Masti", do you think audiences will accept you in the serious role of "Yuva"?
Most certainly. Why not? Audiences come to see characters, not stars doing specific things... or so I'd like to believe. My conscious effort has always been to break away from the boxes I'm put in. From "Company" I went to "Saathiya", which no one expected from me. When I decided to do a sex comedy like "Masti", everyone was aghast. I went by my own conviction.
Again, in "Yuva" I'm completely different from what I am in my next release "Kyun Ho Gaya Na". I don't want audiences to say, 'Oh he's done that already.' It's convenient to fall into the image trap. But I hate to be summarised in one word, unless that word happens to be 'versatile' ha ha.
What's "Yuva" about?
Like "Masti", "Yuva" is also a three-hero film. It addresses itself to the youth's problems through three characters. The first played by Ajay Devgan is the scrupulous conscientious kind who's looking at defining and galvanising the nation's youth. The second character played by Abhishek Bachchan is the grab-and-run ruthless kind. In the last segment comes me, Arjun Balakrishnan... the complete happy-go-lucky guy who isn't serious about anything in life.
I'm so glad Mani Sir wanted me only for this character. There's so much energy in him. He has a lust for life and he's commitment-phobic. He'd like to believe he's a superficial dude. He believes looking out for one's own interest is the solution to all the world's problems. He wants to earn big bucks and walk with a blonde and a brunette on each arm. I fell in love with my character.
Like "Masti", "Yuva" is about male bonding.
Yeah. But then there are different kinds of male bonding. Shooting "Yuva" I discovered two brothers. Ajay and I go back a long way. And Abhishek is a cool dude. When I had my accident on the bridge in Kolkata, a very special bonding developed among us and our director Mani Ratnam.
You know, after the accident there was a comedy of errors. The driver took us to the wrong hospital. When we reached there they said, 'Sorry, this a heart hospital.' I was laughing through my pain. I went into the right hospital joking with Abhishek, flirting with all the Kolkata nurses and pulling the doctors' legs. Then the rest... back to Mumbai, lung collapse...
The friendship with Ajay, Abhishek and Mani Sir, who kept inquiring about my recovery, was the best part of "Yuva". The most difficult thing for me was to go back to that bridge in Kolkata to shoot. It was scary. All the memories of trauma in the hospital came back to me. My co-stars and director eased my tension by mimicking my pain
How's Mani Ratnam as a director?
It's such a privilege and honour to work with him. The first time he called was after "Company" was released. He said 'Good job'. Then he called to congratulate for "Saathiya" and said he'll call me again very soon. When he called for "Yuva" I was shocked. I was dancing like an excited school kid. I was the first guy to be called, to read the script. And the character I loved the most was mine.
There are two ways to act. One is the ordinary way and the other is the Mani Ratnam way. He pushes you so hard to improve yourself. He'll congratulate you for a shot and then quietly say, 'Let's do it again.' And everything looks so different in a Mani Ratnam film. It's so interesting.
Is there room for romance in "Yuva"?
I think the love story between Kareena and me brings in a lot of effervescence in the plot. I think Kareena is brilliant in "Yuva". I remember the first day of shooting when Mani Sir calmly wanted her to be different from her usual self. But she didn't know what he wanted her to do. I knew exactly what she was feeling. I told her to relax.
I knew "Yuva" would be her most outstanding performance to date and I was right. She's so real and interesting to watch. She's done a great job. We shared a terrific comfort level. Kareena and I bonded immediately. When we shot at sea for the "Anjaana" song, she was seasick half the time. I was taking care of her throughout, pulling her to the shore, and pulling her back for the shot before she threw up again.
Is "Yuva" a step ahead for you?
Definitely. I think "Yuva" is my best performance to date. I'm also looking forward to the release of Subhash Ghai's "Kissna" by year-end.