The year ended on a rather alarming note for you and Kareena.
I decided the more we talk about it the more the media will write about it. We decided not to react at all. But I just want to say one thing. It's my personal life. And it's nobody's business. It wasn't in the national interest to do what they did. It was just to sell copies. And that's sad.
We've put the whole incident behind us. There're so many important things to focus on; I can't afford to think about anything except my career right now.
Has it soured you towards the press?
To an extent, yes. But I can't let one incident colour my views on the media. The press represents the collective conscience of the nation. Most of the media was against what happened. So many people from the film industry also spoke up in our favour. That gave us a lot of strength.
Films at the year-end often do well.
You think so? My new release "Dil Maange More" is as end as it can get (released Dec 31). I've really grown as an actor and know the technique better. Now I can chisel the character better. Though the character in my first film, "Ishq Vishq" and in "Dil Maange More" are similar I felt I knew more in "Dil Maange...". It is a very clean film. No dirty language as in the other comedies these days. No taking-off-clothes happening at all. "Dil Maange More" is for the young. It talks about puppy love, characters who're discovering love.
You're accused of copying Shah Rukh Khan?
Yes, my director Ananth Mahadevan called me up to ask where! I really don't know how and where I copy Shah Rukh. I'm very much my own actor. I guess the tag will drag on. When Shah Rukh came he was compared with Dilip Kumar saab. I'd just take it as a compliment. What matters is the audience has liked me and appreciated it.
You're also accused of overacting?
My performances are always based on the needs of the characters. "Dil Maange More" was a funny film. It required eccentric responses. Our aim was to create extraordinary circumstances out of the ordinary. As long as I made people laugh, I don't care whether I'm accused of overacting or under-acting. I don't mind living with one more tag. I've been living with quite a few.
Do you now want to work with established directors?
The script is still my first priority. I need to feel challenged by a script. I had better be excited at the outset. I've to live with it for about a year. I don't want to be associated with projects I'd get bored with. But, yes, I want to be associated with technicians and actors who'd teach me about acting. I'm only learning, learning...I want to work with people who are far more experienced. Now for a couple of years I need to work with established filmmakers.
When I become a star then I can afford to work with new directors. Even the critics take known names more seriously. Otherwise why aren't they praising Ananth Mahadevan for "Dil Maange More"? He has done a competent job, don't you think? Success is also about clout. One has to do what Aamir Khan has done. Reach a position of power and then work with unknown directors. I want to work with the whole lot of directors, get a reputation for working with top line directors. I've to build a reputation where I can take risks. Otherwise I might end up ruining my career.
How does 2005 look to you?
I haven't signed any film for one year. I felt I was overbooked. I needed breathing space. My next release is Satish Kaushik's "Milenge Milenge", then Mahesh Manjrekar's "Life Ho To Aisi", which is a special effects fantasy on the lines of "Mr India". In John Matthew's film, I'm with Ajay Devgan and Amrita Rao, and Vikram Bhatt's "Deewane Huey Paagal" is a complete comedy.
There's a dearth of leading ladies for you.
Tell me about it. I want to work with new leading ladies so I can learn from them. Of the lot I've worked with, I've enjoyed working with Amrita Rao and Kareena. With Kareena I enjoyed "Milenge Milenge" much more than "Fida". In most of "Fida", we were warring. In "Milenge Milenge" audiences will see us together in a sweet, cute, lovable love story. That's where the chemistry will be seen.