Mani Shankar tells me he has cast you as the most unusual spy hero ever.
Madhur and Mani... My first big hit in Kannada was "Mona Lisa" and my new film is called "Marathon". I think the letter 'M' is very lucky for me. My role in Mani Shankar's film takes me through the most mind-boggling twists and turns. Mani has shown a lot of faith in me. I hope I live up to those expectations.
Your career is suddenly rocking. A lead with Madhur Bhandarkar and now you've just signed a major film where you play a physically handicapped character?
You can say that again. Madhur's "Corporate", which I'm shooting right now, is an ensemble film. I feel it will turn out to be as powerful as Madhur's "Page 3". Bipasha Basu is so hot in the film she'll burn up the screen. I'm lucky to be working with such talented actors like Kay Kay and Harsh Chhaya. There's so much to learn from them.
Madhur takes care of every character, so they all come alive as real and exciting. Minissha Lamba and I have very well defined roles. We actually feel like young entrepreneurs on the set. As for Nisha Chainani's "Marathon", it's a very challenging role. Not too many people my age get to do such a role. I am very, very excited. I fell in love with the script as soon as I read it.
I believe your character in "Marathon" is based on a real person?
My character Sanjeev is a professional football player who is detected with cancer and loses a leg to the disease. He decides to run the Mumbai marathon as a challenge to fate. I've started preparing for my character. Unlike some other recent films, which turn physical handicap into comedy, this one means serious business.
It is inspired by Lance Armstrong's life, a professional cyclist who defeated testicular cancer, resumed his life and continues to pursue his career as a professional cyclist. In fact, I just finished reading his biography "It's Not About The Bike" where he describes his inspiring journey... I feel I'll 'race' ahead with this film.
Being sporty in real life do you think you're lucky to be doing a sports film?
Yes it is exciting to be a part of a sports film. They're so rare! I have been actively involved with sports since my childhood. In fact, one of my dreams is to do a film on roller-skating... But don't ask me what my favourite sport is. I can't tell you on record.
How do you see yourself in the journey from your first film "Uff... Kya Jadoo Mohabbat Hai" to "Marathon"?
The last one year has been tough because "Uff..." didn't do well. After doing a film with the Rajshri banner I thought I'd get suitably prestigious offers. They took their time in coming.
Fortunately, I'm now getting the right kind of offers. Apart from "Corporate" and "Marathon", I'm about to sign two major films where I play the central character.
Are you happy with the headway you've made so far?
Yeah, I'm happy. There was a dark patch after the release of my first film. But now when I look back I feel good about the way my life and career is shaping. Being from a non-film family in South Mumbai I used to hear horror stories about the film industry. All untrue! If someone mentioned the casting couch to me I'd probably break that couch on his or her head.
What about link-ups?
I'm a friendly guy and enjoy my work even more when my co-star is hassle-free. So far, Soha Ali Khan and Minissha have been my most fun co-stars. It was very embarrassing when Soha and I were linked together. My mother immediately wanted me to get married to a nice homely Gujju girl.
Madhur Bhandarkar and Nisha Chainani say they chose you for your vulnerability and sensitivity. Do you see these as your USPs?
I feel very happy when filmmakers say I look gentle and sensitive. It means I've a place separate from the others my age. So far, my directors have used my personality traits as USPs. I am lucky to work with directors who use my personality correctly.
How do you hope to balance a career in Mumbai and Bangalore?
I must be among the few lucky ones to have parallel careers. I am four films old in Kannada and have hits like "Nanna Preethiya" "Hudugi", "Mona Lisa", and "Amrithadhare". But I find it increasingly hard to balance the two careers. I'm booked in Bollywood till a good part of next year. I want to do at least one Kannada film every year. Maybe I should get myself cloned.
Okay do you want to talk about your off-hours?
I do have someone special in my life... you know that! But she's not part of the industry and would break up with me if I talk about her. I love to party and I love to spend time with my extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins who are all part of our textile business.
In fact, they're anxious that I join the family business. But I've other dreams. And they're coming true! Fortunately, in spite of being an outsider I've found a place in Bollywood. Sometimes, when I see what other newcomers have to go through, I thank my stars.