What was your reaction to the honor?
You know, I lost my cell phone a day before the announcement. I thought there goes my chance of getting congratulated. Miraculously, everyone found out my new number on time!
I must say I'm very happy for "Pinjar" and myself. I feel a sense of elation and relief. I felt bad on behalf of the whole team when we were largely sidelined for the major popular awards.
In fact, when I was nominated as 'supporting actor', I wrote a letter of protest to the jury. That finished my season at the popular awards (laughs)! I feel "Pinjar" was a very important event in our cinema. It adapted a major literary work that addressed itself to a very important event in Indian history (the partition).
I felt "Pinjar" should've got a lot more recognition. That's why I see my award as a collective triumph for all of us who worked so hard on the project.
Were you taken aback by the 'special' nature of the award?
The national awards always come suddenly. That's why my award for "Pinjar" was most unexpected. I was busy dubbing for Dharamesh Darshan's "Bewafaa" and preparing for my new film directed by Deepak Tijori.
The National awards had completely slipped out of my mind. When I heard the good news I felt happy not just for myself but the entire crew. We all took a great risk. Finally it paid off.
The character I portrayed, Rashid, had to walk that tightrope between a villain and a hero. I had read Amrita Pritam's "Pinjar" in college and always wanted to play the character. It's so challenging.
I knew what was in Rashid's tortured heart. But to put it across on screen is something else. I liked the challenge. When (director) Chandraprakash Diwedi offered me a chance to play this complex character, I saw it as a godsend.
There were disputes between you and the director throughout the making of "Pinjar"?
You know Diwedi and I are strong-opinionated individuals. I think we both respect each other's talents. "Pinjar" was precious to both of us. I tend to make suggestions on the sets specially if I'm excited about a project. Instead of waiting for the release and then bitching, why not give your inputs while shooting, even at the risk of rejection?
Arguments between us weren't personal. It was about the film. The result is there for everyone to see. After he saw "Pinjar", Yash Chopra paid me the ultimate compliment. He said I made a complex role look like a cakewalk.
I must thank Diwedi for giving me the role in "Pinjar". After I heard about my national award I went to him with flowers. Maine apna abhinandan unko diya (I congratulated him). I want to work with him again.
Rashid is a rapist, a character Bollywood stars wouldn't enact. Is this a ratification of your unique positioning as an actor rather than a star?
I always wanted to make a living out of acting. As for becoming a star, who can define a star? The box office is under no one's control. Who knows whom stardom claims to be its own? Me? I came here only to be an actor. If that could get me my bread and butter I'm happy.
Also, I'd like to disagree with you when you say I'm more acceptable as an actor than a star. In "Ghaat", I played the hero fighting for the common man. And I succeeded. When I'm offered roles by commercial directors as varied as Pankaj Parasher, Dharamesh Darshan and Yash Chopra, it reassures me that I'm wanted.
Whenever there's a certain kind of a role that requires me, I'm approached. So you see, the mainstream cinema isn't ignoring me. You know what? I think everyone wants what he doesn't have. Mainstream stars pine to do a "Pinjar". I get such roles almost by birthright! I've to do them because I've to grow as an actor.
Four of my films are ready for release. Makarand Deshpande's "Hannan" is a very important film. He has explained his creativity very well in the film. Then there's the thriller "Inteqaam", which is a very Pankaj Parasher-kind of stylized thriller. Here I am very different from what audiences expect me to be.
Then there's Dharamesh Darshan... He's very happy the way I've performed my grey role in "Bewafaa". And I feel deeply honored to do a small role in Yash Chopra's film. Whenever I met him after "Satya", I'd ask him for work. When he offered me a cameo in his film I didn't think twice. I told him if he thinks the role was right for me then that's the way it's got to be. The Chopras are very happy with my guest appearance.
You play a Pakistani character?
(Laughs) Can't say much about my role in the Yash Chopra film...or for that matter, in "Bewafaa", where my character provides the humor and flamboyance in the plot. And there's a delicious twist to the character.
In "Bewafaa" you play Shashikala's role in B.R. Chopra's "Gumrah".
Wouldn't know about that. I haven't seen "Gumrah". But yes, Shashikala is a great actress. I don't mind being compared with her. I enjoyed singing and dancing in "Bewafaa". I think I've surprised myself in the film. And that's what I always want to do as an actor. I think I need to chill out.
In Deepak Tijori's "Fareb", I play a very emotional role. I'm also committed to do a film with the illustrious filmmaker Ramanand Sagar's grandson Amrit Sagar, and another film called "Chocolate" with Vivek Agnihotri. He's making a film in the genre of Quentin Tarantino's films in Hollywood.
The script is fantastic. We plan to shoot the entire film in two months. I don't mind sitting at home waiting for the right work. I just can't drag myself to the sets halfheartedly.