So do you play Guru Dutt in Sudhir Mishra's Khoya Khoya Chand?
There are quite a lot of similarities I won't deny that. I play a filmmaker of the 1950's and 60's who doesn't follow any set patterns. The kind of films my character makes are very relatable to Guru Dutt's oeuvre. And then there's a romance with an actress of the times. Therefore, it is semi-biographical.
How difficult was it for you to go back to an era when you were not even born?
Very easy. There was my director Sudhir Mishra to guide me. All those questions about how did you get into the speech; body language and mood of the era are not applicable to me. Because I never do any preparation. I go by my instincts on the sets. And with a filmmaker like Sudhir it gets easier. His clothes, dialogues, sets, and overall aura helped. I began to believe I was in the 1950's. Often after shooting on the sets, I'd feel I had stepped in the future when I stepped outside.
Did you watch the films of Guru Dutt and others?
No none. I didn't do any preparation. I had grown up in Lucknow. Therefore, I am familiar with the 'Nawabi' language.
Do you think the trend of reclaiming the past in our movies is healthy?
Most certainly, if it is done with purely artistic intentions. However if there's a hidden agenda then it's bound to show up. I loved going back to a time when I wasn't even born in Khoya Khoya Chand and Sudhir's earlier film Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi. I was surprised by how well I had blended into the character. To me good acting is when you're not caught doing it.
You were not born in 1975.
Contrary to reports…no I wasn't born in 1975. Khoya Khoya Chand took me even further back. I loved going into an era I had only heard my parents talk about. My director Sudhir Mishra won't just make audiences see an era, he'll also make them experience it, make them aware of the aspirations and ambitions of those times.
You've also been simultaneously working in Jahnu Barua's Har Pall?
No I wasn't. I finished with Khoya Khoya Chand and then went into the other one. I like to work at one film at a time. After Sudhir Mishra and Anurag Basu (Life in a Metro), Jahnu Barua has been a superb experience for me. Jahnu and Sudhir are similar in their passions and yet dissimilar and very different artistes.
How commercial is Har Pall?
As commercial as, say, Shakti Samanta's Aradhana, which on reading must have sounded very commercial? And look how artistic it finally turned out! When I read the script of Har Pall, I wondered why Jahnu would want to make such a commercial film. Contrary to his reputation, I found him to have a very commercial sensibility.
How was it working with Soha in Khoya Khoya Chand and Preity Zinta in Har Pall.
Soha is sweet accommodating and levelheaded. With Preity, it's interesting because she comes from big-banner productions like Yash Raj Films. She brought all those experiences into play in Har Pall.
Though your Bhool Bhulaiyaa is a hit, the reviews weren't too kind to you.
Every director looks for a certain kind of performance. I did what I had to in Bhool Bhulaiyaa. I played to the galleries and blended into the situations in the script.
Are you happy with the way life and career are going?
If Bhool Bhulaiyaa wasn't a hit I'd have been very disappointed. Just as if Khoya Khoya Chand doesn't get me critical acclaim I'd be disappointed. It could become as successful as Muzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan.
I believe you command a very handsome price…
I don't command anything at all. I simply accept what I am given. The rumor that I charge an astronomical fee has been created by people who want to pay me less than I deserve. If I was demanding unjust fees, why does a filmmaker like Sudhir Mishra work repeatedly with me? I am now doing a lavish film, Ek Aur Devdas with him. I understand the value of honest self-evaluation. I am now doing expensive commercial films. In one of my films, Hijack a Boeing 737 was hired for fifteen days. We have done sophisticated stunts in the film.
So Hijack would be your first action film.
Yes, it has a lot of complicated stunts. Now I am leaving the country for a film about the bikers. I don't think anything like this has been attempted before with me in a totally different look. There's a huge amount of investment in the film and me. And I've to justify my price and presence.
What are your immediate plans?
I am out of the country until the end of December. But I might come back for the premiere of Khoya Khoya Chand.