By Devansh Patel, Bollywood Hungama News Network
Now it could've been quite unfair on our part not to be meeting Rajniesh Duggall (yes...change for namesake) after we introduced the two Phirr ladies a few weeks back on our website. A chanced meeting was fixed, thanks to Roshni Chopra, who happened to be our co-ordinator. We were called by the model turned actor to his Andheri residence to join him for a cuppa coffee. The good thing was, he gave us a second option of an Ice cream too. The door opens and Rajniesh and his wife, Pallavi, greet us. So sweet...even sweeter...their cosy little house which completely took us by surprise. Looking at the way they have designed their house was quite inspiring. What's more...everything kept on the wall, shelf or desk had it's own significance. Like next to the sofa, there was a lovely vintage clock which displayed time on both sides. When asked Rajniesh, he replied, "One side is for my guy who can see the time and the other side is for me and my wife who can check on him whether he has come on time for work". All in good humour. Next to the clock was a huge frame of 1920 glued on the wall which Duggall wanted to shift somewhere else so that he could put up some of his personal pictures from his collection. Fair enough, as long he doesn't chuck it away. Then he showed us some of his toy cars and small elephant show pieces which he has hand painted himself. Quite an art we should say! He takes us in his room where he had also painted one side of his wall green, a very different green with different strokes of orange and yellow and many other colours added in one. Had a Lamborghini poster stuck on the wall too. In fact, Pallavi had also contributed to the wall by painting some beautiful butterflies. Wall of Fame huh? But there was one thing which we were really impressed with - the way Rajniesh described the importance of five square frames. The middle frame had an Al Pacino screaming from Scarface, the bottom right had a Sylvester Stallone working out his punches from Rocky, the bottom left had another Stallone picture from Rocky III where he comes face to face with his challenger Mr T. The top left had the ever so gorgeous Marlyn Monroe's million dollar smile and the last top right frame had the Simpsons. No matter how good an actor Rajniesh will turn out to be, one thing is certain, he believes in the aggression of Pacino which all of us should have, he believes in never giving up, he believes in facing his fear and never run away from it, he is a true romantic person and a husband and feels that life sometime has to be funny too. In this Bollywood Hungama exclusive, a man with many visions, Rajniesh talks about his second offering Phirr, his first love - 1920 and Pallavi, his wife, his new co-star Roshni Chopra, his time spent in the U.K and how he thought Slumdog Millionaire wasn't up to the mark. Over to the 'complete man'!
It's quite a shock to many that you weren't nominated at the Star Screen Awards under the best debutant male. Were you unhappy?
You're right, I wasn't nominated. I've always been a sportsman and I have always won my races. That's how I play the game. Yes, I do feel that nomination toh banta tha. Somewhere the jury must've thought that some other people were better or they must've missed my name (laughs). But yes, I should've been nominated.
After 1920 comes Phirr which is shot in the U.K. You should be the Indian ambassador for the U.K. What say?
(Laughs) Why not, both 1920 and Phirr are shot in the U.K. My second film Phirr is 50% shot in Newcastle.
How different was the U.K. experience this time around?
In 1920, we were just shooting around the castle. Phirr wasn't a really chilled out shoot because we had to shoot a lot of outdoors in different locations. The weather wasn't the best to shoot in as the temperature went to -3 degrees. I had a lot of chase and fight sequences to do in the severe cold which becomes quite tough compared to how you shoot them in the normal temperatures. Newcastle was a beautiful place where we could walk everywhere. The best part about U.K is that you can walk everywhere. You can take a tube and be on your own. There were some lovely bridges to see with some delicious Italian and Chinese food accompanied by a great night life. We even found one Lebanese joint where sheesha was available but we were not allowed the sheesha as laws of smoking have changed for better in that part of the west. Of course, I injured my finger there during one of the chase sequences coming down some hundred stairs. Nothing serious but had a few stitches.
It's bizarre but 1920 and Phirr has no scene from London, the commercial capital of the U.K. Did you miss shooting in London?
This time I didn't shop from London as time did not allow me. I have a lot of friends there. Pallavi, my wife, has studied in London. So she has a lot of friends there who are bankers. Poor them, they are just ready to be kicked out due to recession (laughs). Some have luckily ventured out into new businesses. I just had a day off from Newcastle but did not visit London.
How was your working experience with the director of Phirr, Girish Dhamija... different from Vikram Bhatt in 1920?
From one Bhatt to the other. He has moved on. He used to write screenplays for the Mahesh Bhatt camp and is now doing it for Vikram Bhatt. Storywise, Girish is very sound and technically, Vikram Bhatt is very sound. Girish, along with the director of photography and the producer would sit and discuss the entire scene out and only then go on the sets to shoot it. That was like doing your homework before going on the sets. I was quite impressed. I'd also like to state that Girishji's chief assistant director, Gurdeepji, could not come to the U.K because he was denied visas. That was a big blow for us. If your right hand is missing, you're handicapped. But Dhiraj Ratan, who had written 1920, came to the rescue. He offered to be the chief A.D. He tried to handle as much as he could and touchwood, did it very well.
From a horror genre to a thriller. What chills, thrills and frills are you going to offer this time around besides chanting the Hanuman Chalisa?
(Laughs) For a change, I am not going to chant Hanuman Chalisa this time. There is no religious aspect in the film. Phirr has a lot of emotion, drama and action. It's got speed to it. It will require a lot of editing because it's like going forward and coming back kind of a story. Once the film is totally edited, it'll turn into one of the best thrillers you'll see this year. The film releases around June - July.
How did you get along with your debutant actress of Phirr, Roshni Chopra?
Roshni has a lot of experience as she comes from the television medium. She has done a few tele soaps. So she knows how to face the camera. It is always a pleasure working with a debutant because they bring in a lot of new inputs into the film. Their suggestions are also taken seriously on the sets.
What's your role in Phirr?
I am playing a doctor who is based in Newcastle. He is a surgeon. I and Roshni are in love but somewhere down the line I lose her and how after that his graph goes up and down forms the part of the story. It's a whole struggle to find his love back. There is this cop in the film and Adah's character who help me find my love back.
There is this SRK, Salman and Hrithik brigade lead by Aamir Khan and then there is Rajniesh, Hurman, Sameer Dattani, all new comers lead by Farhan Akhtar. Are you guys at all going to match up to the standards of the earlier names I've just mentioned?
It's a whole new breed of actors coming together. There is a lot of work in the industry, believe me. When Hrithik started, SRK was on the top. When Amitabh started, Rajesh Khanna was on the top. When Aamir, Salman and SRK started, Govinda was on the top. Everyone has to start somewhere. And as you just mentioned that Farhan is our leader. So if we are lead by a good leader, I'm sure we'll be fine and our team is very strong. Competition is always good and healthy. If you have talent, if your head stays on your shoulders and you stay grounded, I'm sure there is no stopping you.
What phirr after Phirr?
After Phirr, I've signed a couple of films. One with the big banner which I can't announce and the other is a whole new banner with a whole new director. This new film of the new banner will be shot in one go in March end. The shoot takes place in Kashmir. And by the end of this year, I'll be having two to three releases starting with Phirr.
Tomorrow you might do a Yash Chopra film or a Karan Johar film; will 1920 still remain special for you?
Of course yes. 1920 will always remain special to me. I've always had this fascination of Hanuman Chalisa and that's what attracted to me to do the film. When Vikram narrated me the Hanuman Chalisa in the film, I somehow knew that I wanted to do this. What's surprising is that I, Vikram and our producer Mr. Sharma recite the Hanuman Chalisa everyday. We've been doing it since so many years. All this makes 1920 very special.
How good is the music of Phirr going to be?
We will be missing the likes of Adnan Sami, Pandit Jasraj, Shubha Mudgal and many more great singers who were a part of 1920's melodious classical music. Phirr has a 2009 feel of music. It's young, peppy and vibrant. Phirr has jazz, funk, club house number, love song and a sad number. It's varied. Raghav Sachar is the music director of Phirr who has previously composed for films like Kabul Express and One Two Three. I haven't heard all the songs from Phirr but so far we've shot four songs and all have come out very well on screen. I am a classical music guy. I like the sufi kind of feel. Jagjit Singh, Kailash Kher, etc top my list.
Phirr is a thriller we all know now. You have to give away something now. Be a spoil sport. Who's the baddie in Phirr?
There is a cop who is doing an important role as I mentioned earlier. His name is Parag Tyagi. Then there is me. One of us is a bad guy (laughs).
Are you fooling around with me?
(Laughs) I'm not fooling around. Ok, if you say so...you've met the baddie. That's for sure. It can be me, it can be anyone.
How would you sum Phirr in one sentence?
What you sow is what you reap; jaisi karni waisi bharni or what goes around comes around. These three lines could actually sum it up.
How important is your wife Pallavi's contribution towards your career and success?
A lot. She is my biggest critic. She is very active as far as our work goes. She is very involved in what I do. Both of us love watching films. We both had our own assumptions regarding 1920, be it my performance or the film as a whole. No one is flawless. No matter which film you see, even if it's Slumdog Millionaire, you will find flaws. And that's how I've learnt and will keep on learning. She was with me in the U.K when we shot Phirr. I'm glad that I have two passions in my life. One is work and the other is Pallavi.
If we were to open your wardrobe now, what designer wear are we going to see?
You will find Zara shirts, Armani shirts and of course, suits from Raymonds. I can't miss that (laughs). Actually I've just ended my contract with them and am trying to negotiate something else. You will find jackets from Indian designers, jeans from anywhere and lots of hand and neck accessories.
Didn't you like Slumdog Millionaire?
I was shocked to know that a chaiwala who works in a call centre had an accent. If he is from the slums of Mumbai who has grown up in the slums, how can he have an accent? It's a very small observation. But that's how a critic should be, right? At the same time, I'm not taking anything away from the film too. It has been nominated at the Oscars and the BAFTA is a great thing. I'm proud.
I'm sure A.R. Rahman has done you and the entire India proud?
No doubt about it. He is the best music composer in the world for me. He was long overdue anyway. I wish him all the best.