Do your personal dynamics help when you are acting under the direction of your brother, Rohit Dhawan?
When I am working with someone like Rohit, who knows me really well, he also knows how involved I am in the project. I was really pushed by him to perform and excel in the role of Junaid Ansari. Every time I was on the sets, he kept telling me, ‘You are Junaid Ansari’.
Since we get along really well, we did not bring any fights from home to the sets. While shooting in Morocco and Abu Dhabi, we would not talk after pack-up. I needed to do that to stay in the character and play it well.
What made you take up the role?
I was impressed by the hook that a top batsman of India goes missing. Usually, it is the script that makes me choose a project. It has to be interesting for me as well as the audience. The film has to have a story and not just cater to commercial concerns. I have to connect with it emotionally. I don’t take up a film for which I need to be convinced. I should get the feeling that I am dying to do this role.
Was cinema an integral part of your growing up years?
We would listen to songs and watch lots of films. We had a laser disco and would keep playing that. Rohit is a major film buff and I know where he gets his references from for Dishoom; he used to watch a lot of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Sam Mendes movies. He also loves The Bourne trilogy.We were very critical of films made by our father (David Dhawan). When Sarkai lo khatia and other such songs were made, we would be embarrassed. And he would say, when you are older, you will know why I did these movies. That’s true. Now, these songs are part of the pop culture of that era.
How different are the cinematic sensibilities of your brother and you?
I’m more into commercial and Hindi cinema while Rohit wants to do cutting-edge movies. The idea behind Dishoom is to redefine commercial cinema. We have only one song in the film and one each at the beginning and the end. Even though Jacqueline Fernandez and I are known for our dancing skills, the film does not exploit that. Similarly, even though John is known for his body, there is only one shirtless scene of his. Today, commercial cinema and its audience have changed.
You do a Dilwale and a Badlapur. Do these two different worlds clash?
If you talk about movies made by my dad or Rohit Shetty, then maybe they clash with a world created by Sriram Raghavan. But Badlapur does not clash with my brother’s movie. Dishoom is a thriller with a realistic tone. So, there is not much difference between playing a character in a Sriram Raghavan movie or in one by my brother.
Do you think you could have done certain things differently in Badlapur?
Yes, a lot of things. Many people loved the film, some told me that I should have done it two years later — that would have helped me treat it with more maturity. But I don’t regret its timing.
Were you disappointed that Dilwale got so much flak?
For both Student of the Year and Main Tera Hero, I faced a lot of criticism. They called me “just another chocolate boy” and “too hyper”. Even when the trailer of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania came out, people were still calling me a ‘chocolate boy’. Badlapur changed that. A film that appeals to a larger section of the audience, always gets flak. Sultan is going to be one of the biggest hits but people are finding faults with it.
Young actors like Alia Bhatt and you are taking your craft seriously.
People are doing fewer films. Secondly, the competition from Western cinema and its influence has increased tenfold. The audience is not choosing from what is available in India but from across the world. You can’t attribute the success of a film only to actors. Filmmakers are making actors work harder and bringing about changes.
You keep track of international shows. Have you thought of taking up projects outside?
My heart belongs to India and cracking the audience here is more difficult. The year Baaghi and Housefull 3 do well, Neerja and Kapoor & Sons do good business. Sultan becomes the superhit of the year while Sairat crosses over and does exceptionally well in the mainstream. You can’t figure out what the audience wants. The only formula is to make a good film — something they can connect with.