After he signed Hawaa Hawaai, Saqib Saleem’s biggest concern was that most of his co-actors were children. A skating coach to youngsters between the age group of five and 20 in the film, the actor knew his discomfort would show if he didn’t make friends with them.
“I was scared about how the children would react to me. I knew that if they didn’t like me in the first go, they wouldn’t like me ever, which will come through in the film. So, I made an effort to break the ice and be like an elder brother, and not an actor, around them,” says Saleem.
He would reach the sets an hour early to bond with the children; his idea worked. In the film’s promos, the 26-year-old seems effortless around them, especially Partho Gupte, who plays a key role. The film is the tale of an underdog where a boy (Partho) is trained by a coach (Saleem) to compete in the national-level inline skating competition.
Directed by Amole Gupte, Hawaa Hawaai is Saleem’s fourth film. The actor from Delhi made his debut in Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge in 2011, following it up with Mere Dad Ki Maruti last year — both produced by Yash Raj Films’ off-shoot for youth-oriented movies, Y-Films.
The characters he played in these films became a crucial factor in his decision to sign Hawaa Hawaai. “I have up until now played young, urban characters who are mischievous and have one-liners ready for everything. But in India, an actor in comic space isn’t taken seriously. I realised this when I played a homosexual character in Karan Johar’s short film for Bombay Talkies — everyone noticed my performance. So it was a conscious decision to explore my versatility with Hawaa Hawaai,” says Saleem.
In the film, an otherwise uninhibited, Saleem made the effort to be mature and somewhat the brooding young coach. He brushed up his skating skills as well as acquainted himself with the theory of the sport. “Interactions with two skating coaches helped me understand the body language of a guide. Small details, for instance, a coach will keep his eyes not on the student but on his feet to track his performance,” says Saleem.
In the end, it was the children he was acting with who taught him the most important lesson: of letting go. Amole would ensure that children would always finish shooting first so they could go home in time to finish their homework and get a good night’s sleep. But one day, they decided to start with Saleem on a scene with a five-year-old girl, the youngest on the set.
“It took me seven takes and when the camera turned to her, she delivered the perfect shot in the first go. I was so embarrassed at first, but then I realised that as we grow older, we keep adding unnecessary pressures of competition and performance. From the little girl, I learnt that if I don’t let anything weigh heavy on my head and go with my instincts, it will help me become a better performer.”