Aug 14, 2013

One day, people will forget me: Irrfan Khan

Before the release of D-Day, I had the pleasure of interviewing Irrfan Khan. I walked into his room and he said to me ‘I’ve seen you before’. I was a little stunned at this and politely said that I haven’t spoken to him before, though I’ve certainly seen enough of his films to know what I want to ask. He smiled and said he had found me intriguing as I was the only girl with a camera in the press con. I blushed, said nothing and found myself a place next to him as he started rolling some tobacco.

Tell me about your character. 

Irrfan: Wali Khan was picked up by RAW chief and sent to Pakistan. In the time he went there, he was a different person – he went with a mission, with a kind of conviction. When you start living with people, you have a perception about them. But when you spend time with them, it changes. So I find it very interesting how the concept he had about Pakistan changed when he went there. Then, he got married. But getting married to a Pakistani girl and living in that culture must have done something to him.

I’m not sure whether he was trying to test himself or what it was. But the interesting thing about the story is that at one level, it’s an operation where you have to bring back this guy from Pakistan to India. On another level, there’s a family line — Wali has a wife and kid and they aren’t supposed to know about his profession. They’re not supposed to know about it and that’s very interesting about these lives. I never knew how these spies used to work, what their living conditions are, why do they do these kind of jobs. Because there’s no reward in it – you don’t get medals, don’t get recognized, don’t get acknowledgement. If you fail or are exposed, the risk is ultimate.

Not specific to this film, how do you create a character sketch in your mind?

It’s the script – the way it’s written and what the director’s take on it is. Where does he want to take it? You try to understand that and then your personal inputs start coming in. Sometimes what happens is that you can push the story into another direction and the director is trying to push it to another. Sometimes it can create dynamics; sometimes it can destroy the impact. For me, it’s very necessary to work in collaboration with the director.

Have you faced such clashes in the past?

Yes, yes. Sometimes, I didn’t know what he was trying to do and I was doing something else. I thought that my detailing or homework was a hurdle. But it’s the director who has the final say. He’s the person who is telling the story. He’s in charge of everybody.

Did going to National School of Drama give you an edge over others? Because from most of your films, it seems like you always get the tougher roles to portray.

Maybe the tougher roles have come to me. Drama school gives you a kind of insight or training to do different characters. In India, we haven’t done too much of realism. So we don’t have a realistic school where you learn the techniques. Every actor has his own method. But drama school gives you exposure and prepares you in understanding and doing characters rather than cultivating a style.

Is that something you’re trying to bring about into Bollywood?

I’m trying to create my own space. That’s the only way – you don’t open a drama school and start teaching. An actor has to convince the industry and audience that they will be entertained when they see him perform. He has to convince the director and producer that he will do justice to the role and bring back the money.

You’ve worked in Hollywood in ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. What elements of the industry would you want to see here?

We don’t reflect life in our films or explore subjects in a story. We depend too much on melodrama. There’s a large chunk of today’s audience which is dying to watch credible cinema. It’s high time that we start doing it.

But isn’t it happening now to a certain extent?

A little bit. People are in two minds. There are good subjects, biopics, lot of possibility to explore real situations. But suddenly, you see that the actor and director are deciding to go the other way. Even the talented and prominent writers go the other way to ensure that the film does good business and bring in elements that are not credible or interesting. We’ve been seeing that for ages! We are celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. But do we have a point to celebrate? We can celebrate that we survived. But we didn’t go forward and we still need to evolve.

So what’s the Hollywood perception of Indian films?

Naach gaana, masala…I think it’s recently started changing because there are films that were based in India and they could see the Indian talent in the technical department and things like that. Fortunately, those films were acknowledged in the Oscars and so, the studios have opened up. Now they can base a story in India. The exchange can now happen and will influence the coming generations.

Diverting further, are you as serious as you’re made out to be in film?

(laughs) Not much. I watch comedy channels. The whole trip of my life is to make things lighter, happier and more enjoyable rather than broody. The industry gives me serious parts. But I try to find lighter elements even in those characters. Maybe it’s because of the way God has made my face.

There are a few characters that you want to come out of. In ‘Treatment’, a series I worked on, I was in America for three to four months. It was a heavy character who was too burdened and suffering. It’s not fun to do a character who’s suffering. It takes something from you. If the character demands that kind of involvement, I don’t get out of it. ‘Treatment’ was like that and the ‘Namesake’ character was like that. But in Bollywood, we don’t have a kind of writing where you need to connect so deeply. It’s a little superficial. We’re still not banking on nuances; we’re banking on louder things. They depend on the plot and the plot is their safety net. We still try to underline things. If a person is saying a sad line, the music would be sad. It’s over-emphatic and there’s no layering.

Would it be safe to assume then that you watch a lot of films?

Not Hindi films. Sometimes I watch documentaries or obscure ones that I come to know about. But I like to watch films in the theatre.

Fair enough. What are your upcoming projects?

I’ve done a film called ‘The Lunchbox’ by Ritesh Batra, who’s a new director. The film was in Cannes and got a fantastic response. I’ve wanted to do love stories but got few opportunities like with ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Yeh Saali Zindagi’. This is a special film and I suggest that if you are in love and want to increase that feeling, go and watch it. You’ll come out much more romantic. I’ll be shooting one movie after the other from August onwards.

So you have a romantic side to you as well? 

(amused at the shock I ask this question with) I’m an out and out romantic. Romanticism is something that gives you a break from the mundane reality. So you try to find that in music, film, poetry or just create your own form. You can look at people and feel romantic. You seek that romanticism through different sources.

What are your thoughts on Bangalore?

I haven’t explored it but I’ve heard a lot about it. The apparent thing which I can experience immediately is the weather. But I keep hearing that it’s not the same as it was earlier. But that’s the story of every City. The way our planning in India goes, we don’t give too much importance to infrastructure. All the cities are growing in an unplanned way like a disease. We call it ‘development’.

I’m much happier when I’m in a forest or where I can’t see any man-made alteration. I love that. It just rejuvenates me and brings me back to myself. You enjoy city life if you go to New York or Paris or Istanbul. In New York, whatever interests you have, you will find like-minded people. There’s so much happening there.

What are the fears of a modern-day actor?

There’s no guarantee – this job is insecure and you have to keep working. Even if you’re on top, you keep working to remain on top. I’ve seen very few actors who are okay. The basic nature of an actor is to draw attention, to thrive on attention. So that is something that’s very risky. There must be very few evolved actors who could really do a transition in a smooth way and can leave the temptation of drawing attention and still remain healthy mentally.

But the good thing about acting is that it gives you a chance to explore your surroundings, your life, yourself. I wouldn’t have been a happy person if this profession didn’t have the possibility of exploring myself. That has saved me. Otherwise, I’d have gotten bored with it. The presence of destiny is noticed much more in this profession than others. Losing that attention is the biggest fear that an actor feels. One day, people will forget me and that’s the reality. In today’s generation, there are some people who don’t know who Dilip Kumar is. That’s the way it goes.

Thank you, Irrfan. 

Aug 12, 2013

The lesser known side to Huma Qureshi

I have this image of myself 40-50 years down the line when I’m recalling my initial years of being a reporter in a daily. This image is completely assuming the fact that I make it as a journalist and go beyond writing about art shows that I don’t understand and bharatnatyam performances in shady auditoriums. But the one thing I will look back at with pride is the interviews I’ve done. About a year into working, I realized that I was better at getting famous people to divulge little pieces of information that the audiences they cater to normally don’t hear about. Huma Qureshi was one of those people. Here’s the full text of the interview with her before ‘D-Day’:

What’s Zoya Rehman like? How was your experience taking on this character?

Zoya is an explosive expert and an undercover immigration lawyer. On the surface, she’s a girl of very words and may come across as a little steely. But she’s quite human and fragile like anybody else. There are these choices that she has to make which are difficult. But she has to make them because if she doesn’t, it jeopardizes the whole mission. And in a way, she’s sort of the only girl in this all-guy team. Of course, it’s a very guy-heavy film and it is about the men and machines and espionage. But I think the girls, whether it’s my character or the other two, have a very special place in the movie and hold it on their own.

For me, it was just exciting to be a part of an action film. I’ve never done action before and I didn’t think anyone would cast me in an action movie. But I’m very grateful to Nikhil (Advani) for giving me this opportunity. I hope I’ve done justice to what he had in mind. I always say I’m as good or bad as the team I’m working with because I’m very raw. I’m still learning as we go by. It’s a medium that I’m still grappling with. Yes, you may say I’m four films old but it’s just been a year and there’s too much information I’m trying to cram. It’s all of those things combined.

Any character traits you could relate to personally?

She’s very pragmatic and I think I am too. Actually I’m very emotional so that’s not true. (laughs) Zoya’s very different from who I am. I’m a very emotional person but Zoya’s calm and collected and knows what she has to do. I’m far more volatile as a person that way. But Zoya also has the ability to put on these masks whenever required. I think I can do that because I’m an actress.

Can you compare your experiences with theatre and films?

Working in film and theatre are very different. I can’t say which my preferred one is because they both have their pros and cons. In theatre, I love the fact that you get an immediate response. You know exactly how it went. Films, of course, you reach out to so many people and so, the percentage of adulation and appreciation is much more, which is great. But technically, it’s just a matter of internalizing or externalizing. In films, you have to sometimes do very little to express. Theatre, on the other hand, just by the sheer design of it, needs you to project, express and ensure that the person sitting in the last row on the last seat is able to hear you as clearly as the first person. They’re both very difficult mediums.

And modeling versus acting?

I’ve actually not walked down the ramp that much. Ever since I started doing films is when I started being showstoppers. Before that, I was doing more of television commercials, which is more acting work than modeling. So I’ve never been a model in the quintessential sense of the word.

How do you feel when you look at the year that’s passed?

Honestly, I feel very cool. I don’t feel cocky or arrogant or that I’ve accomplished something. I don’t think ‘Oh my god, I’ve so much more to do’ or ‘Oh my god, I’ve come so far’. I don’t know what’s happening but I just feel it’s pretty cool. It’s one of those feelings. What’s really nice is that a lot of people tried to scare me. They tried to tell me that I was starting off in a very off-beatish space and I should wait. They said I have the looks and the talent and can be like the quintessential mainstream heroine. I could have chosen to get scared and rejected a film like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and the other movies that I’ve done. But I’m glad because I guess that makes me different. That’s my USP and what my audiences expect and like from me.

At the same time, I’m very open to doing commercial films. I’ve never been bracketed as an ‘off-beat actress’. I think tomorrow, if I do a rom-com, which I am planning to do, it’d be accepted as much as any of the dark edgy films that I’ve done. I’ve not had an image that people associated me with. The kind of person that I am – very talkative and in my brother’s words ‘badtameez’, emotional, hyper - has not come out in my movies. They’ve been strong, contained characters and my brother says ‘That’s a fraud! That’s not you’ and I say ‘Ya man, they don’t even know how I actually talk’. I’m just waiting for a film in which I can be my mad self.

So there’s someone that you specifically want to work with in the industry?

More than actors and directors, the genre I want to work with is in romance because I think it’ll reflect who I am. I’m a very rom-com sort of a girl. I love movies that make you well up and cry. It’s great to do an action film - it’s a lot of fun, very difficult and takes your endurance levels to another threshold. But I like romantic films.

Is there romance in your life? (Hint: Shahid Kapoor)

If there was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Do you see yourself growing old with films?

I do. I’ll act as long as I can. Maybe I’ll be wrinkled and nobody would want to cast me. Maybe I’ll turn producer or director or writer. But I’ll do something with the movies. They’ve always fascinated me as a child - just the whole experience of watching a movie in a theater. That’s what gets you hooked. And to sort of live the dream, where you sort of aspire for it but don’t know what’s going to happen, is what I’m going with. I don’t see myself not being associated with films.

Clearly, the Indian film industry is taking an independent direction these days. What’s the future of ‘Bollywood’, according to you?

What’s started happening in the last one year is the fact that there are very interesting and stories and characters that are coming out. Earlier, you had very simplistic notions of good/bad, right/wrong, superhero/evil. You had the vamp or the damsel in distress. It’s not that today. Now, you have characters that could be slightly grey - someone could be a heroine but could still be in love with a drug lord. Someone could be a thief but a nice guy who is just telling his story. Someone could be a sperm donor. The hero of the film could betray the heroine and rape her but come back and redeem himself. Those are characters we see around us because people don’t come in blacks and whites; they come in all shades of grey.

Our movies are moving towards that and audiences have started identifying with that greyness they see around them all the time. Once they have accepted it, it gives the directors and actors more confidence to experiment and explore. It’s going towards an independent approach because newer and braver stories are coming out. Who thought that a film about Paan Singh Tomar or Milkha Singh would be made five years back, forget ten? But they are being made and there is fanfare and interest about them. That’s the whole point. People have started accepting it, which gives us a lot of hope.

Even in the commercial space, you’re looking for interesting things. You don’t want to see a guy and girl fall in love at first sight because that doesn’t happen anymore. It happens in very unique and weird ways and film-makers are exploring that. Say, a film like ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’, it isn’t your quintessential Bollywood film. It has so many shades of grey and all the characters are flawed. The set-up, in terms of your song and dance sequence, is there. But the stories have changed - the style and format has changed and that’s exciting!

Music is being used very interestingly. For example in ‘D-Day’, we don’t have any song and dance number because it’s not required. Hats off to Nikhil for not succumbing to the pressure and pushing in an item number suddenly where the heroine comes out dancing and the hero does a shimmy with her. He’s created the music with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and he’s cut it in the film in a very interesting way. You have maybe a lovemaking scene and an action sequence going on and a very beautiful track in the background. It’s real and that’s what people are looking for. Music is such a big part of our Indian culture, whether it’s in weddings or festivals. But it doesn’t happen in the way it’s been shown on screen. Finally, people are feeling that it’s being projected how it really happens.

From the way you’re talking, is it safe to assume that you grew up watching a lot of films?

I was very balanced growing up. We used to have a cinema theatre close to our house and my mother would take us every weekend to see a film. But they were quintessential normal films. My brother and I used to sneak up and watch those cheesy films at night on Star Movies - like ‘Back to the future’, ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’. We used to love those films and I used to watch them on repeat. I wouldn’t say I was a film buff while growing up. In fact, I was quite the contrary. My parents always thought I’d do something more academic like sciences. But I quit that and did humanities instead because I told them I wanted to be a civil service officer. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I had to tell them something.

But being an actor, what has helped me, is the extreme upbringing we had. We’d go to a South Delhi school where you have your cool friends and listen to music and go out partying and then I’d come back home where my parents used to be very strict with me. I couldn’t go out after 8 pm, no boys calling at home and I’d be like ‘fine, Mm. You’re so old fashioned’. Then I’d go to my Dadi’s house, which is even more conservative, and wear a salwar kameez, be a good girl and behave myself. For summer vacations, we’d go to Kashmir because my Mom is from there, which was another world where I had a different set of relatives and a different understanding. From a very young age, there was a political consciousness because of what happens there and the impact it has on our lives.

What happened was that wherever we went, my brother and I knew that we had to fit in. You couldn’t not fit in because then you’d miss out on all the fun. So when we went to Kashmir, we became Kashmiri. I think that sort of helps in acting today because we are adaptable people. Even today, when I prepare for a part and director tells me ‘this isn’t working, let’s try this’, I immediately get into it.

So was going into acting was seen as an act of rebellion?

Acting was more than rebellion - it was a form of acceptance of myself. When you’re growing up, everybody goes through these adolescent pains and feelings of self doubt where you wonder whether you’re good enough. Acting was something I really enjoyed doing. But it was also one of those things I could never accept to myself that I wanted to do. It’s not the easiest thing to tell your friends and family that I want to be an actress because they’ll laugh at you and say ‘tumko heroine banna hai?’ You get mocked and I did.

They tried to convince me that it’s a passing phase. ‘It’s just gone to her head that she wants to be an actress’. Coming from a middle class family, they feel it’s unachievable. They think actors and musicians come from some different tree altogether; they don’t come from us. So that took a while. It only happened because my father really loves me a lot. My mother thinks I have him wrapped around my little finger, which is not true. I told my father ‘Dad, if I don’t do this now, I’ll always hold it against you that you never let me try’. That’s when he got emotional and said ‘Do it. But if it doesn’t work out within a year, you better come back and sort your life out.’ I respect him for that because if he hadn’t given me the deadline, I’d probably have been lazy and bummed around and in a sense, Mumbai as a city can really spoil you with the parties and new lifestyle and the freedom.

For me, as a girl who had never stepped outside the 10 km radius around her house and was always chaperoned, I still remember the feeling when I got my first house. My friends dropped me over there. It was an empty flat and I bought myself two liters of water and a mattress which cost me less than 1000 bucks and I moved in. My friends were petrified but I knew I just had to do it. I felt so grown up and so cool.

It had more reasons for it not to work out than to work out. But I guess sometimes you just have to hang in there, do your thing and believe in yourself and be ox-headed about it. I’m an ambitious person and I like to be good at what I’m doing. Acting has given me confidence. It’s put me in touch with myself.

(There’s a knock on the door to inform us that the other reporters are waiting for their turn. I stop the recording, watch Huma put on makeup for the photograph and do the job my lazy photographer was supposed to do. She approves of the photo, gives me a hug and I leave.)

Aug 2, 2013

Arjun Rampal: from model to action hero

I had to interview the extremely handsome and articulate Arjun Rampal last month for his upcoming film ‘D-Day’. He appeared to be one of those really tough cookies to crack. But a few casual jokes and I got straight to the point.

Nikhil Advani’s been known for his romantic/drama genre. What made you agree to do his first action thriller?

All of us had the same question when Nikhil came to us and said that he wants to make a realistic action thriller about nabbing the most wanted man in India. But the real question was the difference between my level of realism and his. He convinced us that the way he wanted to do it was in such that when the audience watches this film, they will really experience the whole drama, the human side of these people and it will really feel like it’s all unfolding in front of their eyes. It’s not nice to compare but to give people a clearer idea - it’s almost like an ‘Argo’ or a ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ mixed with maybe a ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ and as Irrfan says ‘The Heat’. It’s got the right blend and we took these films as parameters for making the film just so that when we saw the film, it came across. To trust him was a good decision.

Tell me about your character, Captain Rudra Pratap Singh.

I don’t think there are any similarities. I can’t kill anybody. But if I had to really go into where he’s coming from, I think Rudra Pratap comes from a very dark space - from a space where he’s seen the worst situations. He’s been let down a couple of times and therefore, he doesn’t believe in working with a team because he feels that every individual has his or her weaknesses. So he likes to work on his own. He is extremely one-dimensional when you meet him - very cold cut, frank, he speaks his own. And he doesn’t see eye to eye with Wali Khan, which is Irrfan Khan’s character. I think what is really interesting in the film is the journey that he goes through through this mission. He goes to hide out in the red light district of Karachi - Napier Road - where he meets a prostitute. It’s a really beautiful relationship between an assassin and a prostitute and the dynamics of that are what I really enjoyed playing in this film. It kind of gives Rudra another layer where he comes out of it and he starts looking at life. Two hopeless people - one can kill, the other can sleep with someone for money - find each other and start giving each other hope. A guy who doesn’t take things personally starts making this mission very personal.

How did you get into the character?

I don’t like to make a blueprint - I don’t want it to be like a building that just comes up and you say ‘Oh! it’s A,B,C,D,E’. I think you just go with the flow and feed off the energy of your co-actors, your director and his vision. For example, for this film, I had to go through two and a half months of proper training with Tom Struthers. Why? Because he said ‘I’m going to use the action in this movie in the drama’. The reason why Hollywood’s number one action director comes to this film is because he sees some credibility to this script. I really loved his approach to it, where nothing was pre-conceived and there was no choreography.
So it was all natural?

He put us in a camp where we were fighting with commandos - punching, blocking, fighting with knives, dismantling a gun, putting it back together, being timed while we do it, firing the gun; if a bullet got stuck in a chamber, how to dislodge it and keep on firing. Because you can’t stand up there (which I’ve done in previous movies) and say ‘Cut! My gun’s jammed’. I can’t do that because I’m an agent and guns do get jammed in the line of fire and I should know how to dislodge it. The scenes are there in the film. It was so good that we went through that practice. We met people who train the Mossad who told us how we should walk, how our mannerisms should be. They told us how alert you have to be all the time. For example, if somebody’s following you, you’re not going to look over your shoulder and see if you’re being followed or not. Because then, the enemy knows that you’ve caught on to something. You can’t lose the element of surprise. You have to surprise your enemy instead of your enemy surprising you. So you go to a reflective surface and see what’s happening behind you. If you’re in a restaurant, I could see the spoon and use it as a rear view mirror. These things don’t necessarily need to be in the film. But it’s the information you gather. If you feel that you can do it in a scene, that’s what’s nice because it’s real.

Do you think you could use this information in real life?

Definitely, if I got into a street fight, the guy would be cursing himself because he wouldn’t look very good. But yes, it gives you a confidence and that’s what I think it was supposed to do. Tom comes onto the set and says ‘okay, this is the set. There’s a sewing machine there, a pair of scissors, a newspaper. Rudra Pratap, you are disarmed. This guy’s picked up a pair of scissors. What are you going to do?’ He shows you how to make the newspaper a weapon - he uses the props within the set to choreograph it. Then he’ll say ‘okay, that move that we taught you. You’re going to do that. Irrfan, you’re going to do this move. Now go’. It’s all instinctive and the camera’s just moving and capturing whatever it has to.

Do you personally think that’s how it should be in action films?

No, it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that. There are people who choreograph sequences because it’s stylized. Some people do that. With ‘D-Day’, I didn’t want to create a blueprint because everything has to have this uncanny energy that will keep you on the edge of your seat. So even if there’s silence before you’re going to do something, it should be eerie enough to make you wonder what’s going to happen. If a finger’s broken in the film, you feel the pain. If a car slams into your car, you see how the guy inside shakes. And we were shaking because they actually slammed cars into our cars. But it was done in a very, very safe manner. They have the craft to do it and it was fantastic to work on that level.

And do you think this slick approach to the genre makes it a first in India?

I think so. I don’t think they’ve seen action like this. If you see the action in ‘Bourne Ultimatum’, he’s the same action director. But then he’s not done the action from ‘Dark Knight’, which is stylized in a particular way. But if you see ‘Inception’ or ‘Blood Diamond’, the way they use and guns and how they are, you see that here. These are all my favourite films. So I was really lucky to be a part of this film and experience this technician who gave so much to this film that supports the script that Nikhil Advani made. Because the action had to be credible since we’re not doing a James Bond kind of an espionage film. We’re doing a very realistic film.

Fair enough. This year, you’ve done ‘Inkaar’, there’s ‘D-Day’ and you have ‘Satyagraha’ coming out. How do you switch on and off from a particular character?

They’ve all been intense characters. I do one film at a time and I take at least three to four weeks off before I get into another film. So I think there’s enough time. Before you commit and say yes to a film, you’ve already spent three to four months with the script and you’ve tried to understand and see the film as clearly as the director sees it. So when you’re doing one film, you’re just with that film. Then you need some time to come out of it. And some characters don’t necessarily leave you. And sometimes, you like certain qualities of certain characters that you want to keep.

Can you point out any of these instances?

I think there was a lot of me in Joe Mascarhenas when I did ‘Rock On!!’. I think there’s a lot of ‘Rajneeti’ in me and it took me a long time to get out of that one because that came to me; it wasn’t me. When I was doing that film, my wife didn’t want me to come back home. She told me to go and live in Bhopal and come once the film was done.

What’s your character like in ‘Satyagraha’?

In ‘Satyagraha’, he’s an aggressive guy, a guy who has a heart of gold, who has political ambition. He is the voice of the youth but he is a zamin ka aadmi. He looks at this movement and joins satyagaraha, a peaceful demonstration, even though he’s not the most peaceful guy because he believes that society needs to change.

How do you like Bangalore?

Bangalore or Bengaluru? I really like it. Bangalore’s had some very lovely memories for me. I did my first fashion show here as a model and the first time I walked on the runway was with my wife. She wasn’t my wife then and I was so nervous on the runway that I held her hand because I thought I was going to faint and she thought I was trying to make a pass at her. But then, a relationship’s developed from there. It’s been lucky for me because the first time I came to promote a film here was for ‘Rock On!!’ and I won a national award for it. And then ‘Housefull’, which also did well. So now, I’m here for ‘D-Day’ and hopefully my dream run with Bangalore continues.

Do you prefer walking the ramp or is it easier to have dialogues backing you up?

What do you think?

I suppose I would want the challenges of acting. What about you?

You’re right. It really depends on how you approach your work and that’s what’s key in anything that you do. When I was modeling, my approach was that I had a lot of love and passion for it. Those were exciting times the fashion industry wasn’t as big as it is now. It was still looking for that industry status. There were few designers, few models and it was an intimate industry that was experimenting and I was lucky to be a part of that. It was a lot more than just walking the runway or doing a good picture. You spent a lot of time making the picture really good.

Was acting a secondary career? Did it ‘just happen’?

I loved watching movies since I was a kid. Unfortunately, from the 80s to the 90s, I stopped watching them because there were really terrible movies. I watched all of Mr Bachchan’s films. I was a big fan of his and still am. I remember I used to get completely transported into that world when I’d watch a movie and just get lost in it. Then I’d come back, enact it, maybe dress like that actor for a few days, depending on how it influenced me. I wanted to go to New York and study filmmaking and that’s when Ashok Mehta called me for ‘Moksha’ and Shekhar Kapur really pushed me in that direction. Once I was in front of the camera, the camera was like ‘okay, now you can’t get rid of me’.

How do you view yourself?

I’m comfortable and happy with the kind of work that I’m doing. I know where I want to move and in what direction. And I think I am different from the rest and as long as I know that, that’s good.

How do you brush aside the ego?

It’s all perception. I come with a lot of baggage of perception. My challenges have always been to break them because ego is the only thing that can pull you down; it’s your worst enemy. And I’m aware of that. I’m a Buddhist and that’s the way it is.

Thank you, Arjun.