You play Shivkar Talpade, the late Maharashtrian scholar, in Hawaizaada. Did you sign this film to break away from the typically north Indian roles you have essayed so far?
I’m glad for the image makeover in this film, but it wasn’t intentional. In terms of being unconventional, Hawaizaada comes closest to my debut Vicky Donor. Nautanki Saala, like Bewakoofiyan, was in a more rom-com space. Hawaizaada is different because it’s about the man who many believe made the first flying machine.
What appealed to you about the character?
Everyone aspires to fly. And every middle-class person from my generation remembers his or her first flight. I remember mine was when I was 16. I took the flight from Delhi to Bangalore to give my CET exam. The flight was full of students and most of us were flying for the first time so the moment the flight took off, everyone clapped and cheered. That was the excitement we had for our first flight and Hawaizaada is the story of the world’s first flight.
Travel seems to be an integral part of your career. You started with MTV Roadies.
At a time when Roadies was a family-friendly travel show, yes. I am not the bitchy, crafty kind of person. I was on Roadies then because I used to be a biking enthusiast. My friends and I would ride to Kasauli and Shimla every weekend.
Then there were the long train journeys with my theatre group from college — sometimes to Mumbai to perform at IIT’s Mood Indigo. We would be on the train for 20 hours, on Amritsar Express or Punjab Mail, playing or composing music throughout the journey. Often, the passengers would give us money and we would manage to collect enough to fund a three-day trip to Goa.
You have a parallel career as a musician.
I write and compose my own songs and perform live too. I believe any artist has a core competency and a secondary talent. My core is acting. I learnt classical music in my early years but never took it seriously. I started to sing because I would participate in street plays. My friend from then, who is my co-composer now, Rochak Kohli, taught me how to play the guitar. I am not a trained singer or musician. Unlike many singers however, I have a texture to my voice, which makes it unique.
Many actors are doubling as singers. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s fair to lend voice to your own songs. We understand that non-singers will not replace singers. The listener can tell the difference as a non-singer will lack the nuances.
I am a bit choosy. Also, Hawaizaada was a difficult film to execute and took almost a year.
Your next is again a rom-com, Yash Raj Films’ Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Are you not limiting yourself this way?
I have a strong romantic streak in me and don’t mind playing the romantic hero. I would like to do a comedy or an action film but I believe an actor has his whole life to attempt these genres. Romantic lead roles look good only up till a certain age and I would like to play them while I can. Even Hawaizaada has a sweet romantic track.
That said, the script of Dum Laga Ke Haisha is not so conventional. I play a simpleton from Haridwar who is married to an overweight girl, which makes us an odd couple. Like with Hawaizaada, where I had to learn a new language, Marathi, I have attempted khadi boli for this.
Do you speak Marathi now?
Mala sagala samajhta (I can only understand).