Meet the Coolio


Q. You’re known to be pretty chilled out.
A
I am. I don’t carry the baggage of my stardom. You’ll find people acting off the set too. But that would definitely wear me down. I’m not only an actor. Off the set I’d rather just be me. I don’t take stardom seriously. All this could end tomorrow and I’d walk away thinking it’s been a good journey.
Q. How do you manage to keep yourself grounded?
A
People around me keep me grounded. I have family and friends who don’t talk films. When I’m not working, I like to spend time with them. The way I have for the last 30 years. I don’t mix much with filmy people. If I call up a distributor, it’s to know how a new film has fared.
Q. Is your aloofness misconstrued as arrogance?
A
Nope. Sometimes I may seem a bit evasive. I’m not the extremely jovial type. I don’t go around with a permanent smile on my face. If I’m upset on the set, I don’t pretend otherwise. If I’m having a mood swing you might think I’m arrogant. I don’t do things to please people. I’m very bad at creating first impressions. But once you get to know me, you’ll realise I’m chilled out I don’t try too hard to win acceptance. I would never step on someone’s toes. I’ve got my principles straight.
Q. How do you keep your cool?
A
I don’t see things that happen on the sets as a crisis. I like to laugh in a crisis. People who don’t understand it, find it a bit weird. You’ll never see me angry though some things do ruffle me. I come on time and I go on time. But if you get in the way of that, you’ll find me a cribber. However, I do try to make things as easy as possible on the set.
Q. Most of your films have done well at the box-office. Do you consider yourself lucky?
A
Till recently I was not much into trade figures and stuff. I’ve just woken up to them. Initially, figures spelt boredom for me. Because I had nothing to do, I became an actor. I never wanted to be one. I don’t watch too many Hindi films either.Really?Yup. I don’t get the time. I can’t remember the last Hindi film I watched. I still have to watch my own films. I’m probably the only actor who doesn’t watch Hindi films. Probably, that’s where my sensibility seems a bit warped. The films I do don’t have to meet a benchmark. I’m quirky enough to do a Murder 2, which deals with a serial killer. It has blood and war, which is twisted and bizarre. Thankfully, I get filmmakers who are as twisted as I am. I have an instinct for what I like to do.
Q. Do you think the media has given you your due?
A
The industry or the media’s perception of me was right to a certain extent. Here was a guy who didn’t in any way fit into the conventional mould of a Hindi film hero. My looks are below average, I’m a terrible dancer, I kissed on screen, which was blasphemous for its time. I agreed to eroticism on screen, which again was blasphemous. Everyone must have thought, what the hell is this guy doing? He’s contaminating and corrupting Indian cinema. But tastes evolve. The paradigm doesn’t shift overnight. I came at a time when the audience was ready for bolder cinema. I started in 2003 and it took till 2012 for the audience to understand what I was doing. For the first five years, my films were ripped apart. Slowly, people started warming up to them. You heard random voices saying, ‘This is nice.’ So from ‘really bad’ it became ‘okay’ and ‘bearable’.
Q. But shouldn’t you have defended yourself?
A
The audience comes to watch my film. They’ll come again if they like them. I don’t want to be intrusive. I am not desperate to get into someone else’s mind space. I don’t like too much media noise. I’m as subtle as my performances. Some actors like to overdo things. That’s not my persona.
Q. But you shouldn’t underplay either…
A
True. It would be really short-sighted of me not to publicise my film. I understand it’s important, I’ll never be complacent about it. Once the film becomes a success, it becomes a part of the audience’s subconscious. Inshallah they’ll see your next film.
Q. Are insecurities part and parcel of being an actor?
A
I have my insecurities. But I’m selfish enough to know that there’s a larger goal. I won’t compromise on my principles. I can’t hog the limelight for a product that isn’t completely mine. But I do fear that my career might end tomorrow, my films might fail and people wouldn’t want to see me anymore. That they would hate me or criticise my work. Those fears exist. But they drive you to do good work and push yourself.
Q. What’s your USP?
A
The realism in my films and the credibility of the characters I portray. My films are unlike anything else you’ve seen out there. They have thrills, mystery, suspense, a dose of eroticism and an unabashed intimacy. They mirror reality as my characters are flawed. I’ve lived enough years to know that the person who seems too good to be true, isn’t. There’s something behind the façade. Then there’s heroism in redemption. I’ve been playing ordinary people with extraordinary deeds. That’s one aspiration everyone has.
Q. So what is your take away from your career?
A
It’s been a learning experience. Earlier there were films I did purely for money. I would do some films out of confusion, unsure of what I wanted to do. But I guess I found my voice a couple of years back. I’d rather compromise on money now than do a film the audience won’t like. That leads to longevity for an actor. Creativity is paramount for me, I should believe in the project.
Q. Didn’t doing movies only with the Bhatts initially marginalise you?
A
I didn’t come prepared for movies, this was a summer job. So being aware about the media, how films are perceived, the current trends... I didn’t think about these. I’ve started learning all of that only now. The trade also wants to see you in something that sells. It’s not your choice anymore. But if you come into the industry with a bang and garner huge box-office collections, it’s different. I started off as a supporting actor to Aftab (Shivdasani) and Bipasha (Basu) in Foothpath.
Q. You’re doing movies with Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj. Do you finally feel a sense of acceptance by mainstream cinema?
A
I was always mainstream. The rest of them woke up late to my films being mainstream. They never knew they’d work, till I made it work, or rather my films made it work. Everyone saw films as family dramas, romantic films, love stories with songs and dances. Sufi songs, eroticism, love making, kisses, blood and war, thrills, suspense; that’s something that has got us the box-office numbers. And now everyone thinks they’re  lucrative. You will go to see a The Dirty Picture, Murder 2 or a Jannat now. These are films that broke the status quo. You have numbers that have far exceeded expectations and are climbing with every film. So they think this actor works now.
Q. Do you think you’ve arrived?
A
It’s great to be working with people I admire in the industry. I don’t understand my standing in the industry. But I admire their creative work. Vishal has a rustic style. Karan is all candy floss. It’s great to be acknowledged by both of them.
Q. Apparently, Karan had approached Salman Khan first.
A
Films may be offered to a gamut of actors. That’s not my concern. I know it’s come to me. It’s not about being egoistic, though sometimes actors are. They may not do a film for that very reason.
Q. Doesn’t being the second choice after Salman, a superstar of the masses, make a statement?
A
Salman has a huge mass following. I’ve always wanted to be an actor of the masses. I had actually said something very arrogant long back to a journalist. It was wrong to reprimand him. He told me I’d done a good job. I thought he was being high-handed. I retorted, ‘Critics can never do what the man on the street can do for me. I want to be an actor of the masses not an actor of the critics. So I’d rather take their love than the love of a handful of critics.’
Q. So you believe you’re a hero of the masses?
A
Yes, I got my first taste of it after Footpath, when I walked out of a single screen cinema hall. The whistles, love and adulation that you get from a mass following is an actor’s ultimate high. I go to the cinema halls to see whether the audience is laughing, getting restless or whistling.
Q. How do you look at competition?
A
I’m not in the rat race. The man you should fear the most is someone who does not see others as competition. He competes with himself. I care two hoots for competition. Let them compete with each other. It doesn’t really make a difference to me. All I’m competing with is my last successful film and myself.
Q. Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan or even Shahid Kapoor harp on working with A-list actresses. You’ve never felt the need to?
A
I’m not anal about setting up a film. It’s the world I create; I could create it with anyone. Even an inanimate object for that matter. Every girl I’ve worked with has been brilliant. Mind you I’m not taking away from the top actresses. But I wouldn’t mind creating magic with even a new girl. The rawness that comes from fresh talent is something many can’t touch. With a skilled set you just get efficient, you stop groping around. That groping around is vital. It makes their performance believable whilst exuding vulnerability, which is great for my films.
Q. What does your mom think about your ‘serial kisser’ tag?
A
She doesn’t like it. She’s like ‘What the hell is this man doing?’ Not many mothers have their son being called a serial kisser. It must be traumatic for her but she doesn’t say much. She likes my films. Murder was a shock to my family. But since I didn’t know what was floating around in the industry it wasn’t an issue for me. I didn’t know a kiss was going to be so impactful. Ignorance is bliss.
Q. Is a kissing scene mandatory in your contract?
A
(Laughs) Not at all. In fact, I don’t want another kissing scene. Enough is enough. These days, the girls in my films are amused. They must think I’m a pervert. I’d rather someone else grabbed the kiss tag and left me alone.
Q. Do you inform your wife (Parveen Shahani) before doing an intimate scene?
A
No way, that’s a complete no-no. I’d rather listen to the flak for a day or two after she sees it than hear about it for six months before the film releases. (Grins) I would never tell my wife, ‘Sweetheart, I’m going to kiss my heroine today.’ Only someone not in his senses would.
Q. Daniel Craig apparently does that.
A
(Smirks) Ask him what happens after that!

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