From being a dedicated stage actor to a busy film actor...
Long journey! Apun to bahut filmy ho gaya (I have become very "filmi"). I'm not very sure about my success. I'd like to be a little more successful. I have come to a stage where Bollywood comes to me with interesting roles. When they tell me they want only me for a specific role, it feels good.
Strangely, "Munnabhai" wasn't written with me in mind. I got that role because producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra had seen me in "Let's Talk". He told me he'd like to block my dates since soon I won't have any time. I just thought it was his sweet way of telling me how much he liked my performance. Call it my Parsi mindset, I wasn't very sure whether I could pull off Hindi films because of the way I spoke.
What was wrong with the way you spoke?
Nothing. It was a fallacy in my head. Doing Hindi films just required minor adjustments. The moment I said my lines, I was fine. Earlier I was petrified when Hindi films were offered to me. At that time I spent a lot of time doing photography. Suddenly I was shown this pie in the sky. Would it have been wise to shift careers?
It was Vinod Chopra who convinced me. I took the plunge, and here I am. In "Veer-Zaara", I was asked to speak in pure Urdu. I managed to swing that. The moment you decide you have to do it, it happens.
Suddenly you are everywhere!
That's not how I think of acting. When I'm on camera, I feel it is a very private conversation between my director and me. Suddenly everyone overhears us talking - it's a strange feeling. That's the charm of being in the movies. Everyone finally sees through it.
Were you confident you could pull off the Gujarati comedy act in "Waqt"?
The confidence came not from reading, but actually going out there and facing the camera with "the" Amitabh Bachchan. The editing helped me get the rhythm right. There was a lot of improvisation... It worked like a charm. But I'm not thinking of awards for "Waqt". Of course, I hope I win.
Earlier, character actors were seen to be rather peripheral people. Actors like you and Paresh Rawal have changed that.
I disagree with that. What were Motilal and Balraj Sahni if not character actors? Later on there was Anupam Kher in "Saraansh". Did they even ever want to be matinee idols? I certainly don't. At my age, it's not possible. If there are people out there who feel I'm a star, let me know. I'm basically shy of attention. I like the adoration, but I can't handle it.
When "Munnabhai" was released I wondered how popular the character was going to be since he was a smirking, pompous pain in the backside. Even the guy I played in "Waqt" was a pain. But kids loved it! That's the magic of cinema. No one knows what works.
Are you a movie buff?
I grew up on Hindi films. I remember when I was shooting with Shah Rukh Khan in Darjeeling for "Main Hoon Na", he told me that popular stardom was a strange thing, and how it connected you with the largest number of people. Today I'm successful. But my personal life hasn't changed. If it does, I'm in trouble. My friends and family won't forgive me. I have a 19-year old daughter. My family knows I'm doing a job. Like any other job, I leave it behind at the end of the day.
I go to every film party I am invited to. But that's where I leave it. Page 3 parties may be hypocritical and noisy, but I love the atmosphere at these parties. They remind me of where I come from. When I come home and relate the day's happenings, I feel it is a day well spent.
How does the future look to you?
So far so good. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. I do get a little agitated about the way things are conducted on the sets sometimes. I want to play roles that aren't tailor-made. I'm working on a number of projects that are making me sweat it out. For example, in "Khosla Ka Ghosla", I play a Punjabi real estate agent. I don't look out for only chunky roles. In "Page 3", I was hardly there. It was a nice quiet performance. I'd hate to do routine roles.
Is this a good time to be in Hindi films?
Absolutely. I'm so happy and proud that I can do "Munnabhai" and "Let's Talk", and even "My Wife's Murder" and "Being Cyrus" all at once. I'm happy I can straddle all these worlds. I'm glad I escaped from the comic trap after "Munnabhai". "Lakshya" and "Veer-Zaara" made audiences realize I wasn't around just for laughs. I didn't want people to expect me to crack a joke and make funny faces each time I come on.