Did films happen by chance?
Not really. Everyone in my family is a Hindi film buff. So, I was naturally very enthusiastic about cinema. I began doing theatre in school, but it was only after I went to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune that I resolved to become an actor, so much so that I never looked at an alternative career option.
Have you deliberately chosen not to play similar characters?
Our industry typecasts actors, so you can’t afford to bracket yourself. The major advantage and beauty of being a film actor is that you get to live many lives. If you are interested in playing one character for long, then you might as well opt for television.
What went into delivering the performance in Shahid?
Given that I could not interact with the man himself (Shahid Azmi), I spent a considerable time with his family, especially his brother. It helped me understand why Shahid did what he did. In preparing for any role, physical transition is easier than making internal space for your character. Letting your hair and moustache grow is a passive change, which doesn’t require much effort. A mental transition, however, does.
What substantial changes have you undergone as an actor?
FTII changed my perception of acting. Initially, for me, being an actor meant, beating up 10 guys and still looking good. Now it has transformed into a meditative art. I’ve been turned down at auditions for the most ridiculous reasons like “you are not fair enough” or “your eyebrows are not right for the role”! But instead of driving myself to despair, I learnt how to channel my energies.
All artists embrace hidden egos. How much truth does this hold for you?
I believe nurturing self respect is more important than embracing ego.
Your next film City Lights is said to be inspired by Sean Ellis’ Metro Manila. Did watching the film help you prepare for your role?
I made a conscious effort of not watching Metro Manila for the fear of being influenced by Jake Macapagal’s portrayal of the character. Besides, I didn’t see the point of watching it, given that the landscapes the two films are set in are completely different. It has been my toughest role by far and has drained me emotionally.