You’ve just polished off a bottle of Nutella. Is it the sugar rush that’s making you jump around the room?
Yes, I am on a sugar high. However, what I am experiencing right now is a rush of a very different kind. Nothing can be compared to the high I got on watching the audience respond to Bajirao Mastani at Mumbai’s Chandan cinema. It’s an avalanche of praise — from family, friends, social media, audience and industry seniors. The biggest high was to watch the audience get up and dance to Malhari.
Though Bajirao Mastani is a film tailor-made for you, it also made certain demands of you. So, has the move paid off?
When I signed the movie, I was not thinking about what would happen. I never devoted any thought to the reward. I have learnt this over the past year: it is never about the box office. Before the movie released, I told myself, if the film does well, it will be like sone pe sohaga. I had already received my reward when I worked on the movie; I have learnt and grown so much in the process. I have tried and failed. I have struggled and overcome my problems. This process of evolution has been a very fulfilling one.
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You went bald for this role. Was it a big step for you?
There is a video of it, so that I do not forget the day. In terms of characterisation, going bald was a big leap. For most actors, including me, the way one looks is the creative starting point. If I am preparing for a character, I always request the costume department to send me clothes. I start wearing them, growing my hair in the way the role demands. I start looking like a character and, as a consequence of that, I start feeling like the character.
You had two very different films this year — Dil Dhadakne Do and Bajirao.
Dil Dhadakne Do is a really good film in which my performance was appreciated. Both these movies gave me the opportunity to showcase my versatility. I usually do one film at a time. I don’t like shuttling between characters. Due to unavoidable reasons, I had to do that during Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela and Gunday. At this stage, my goal is to display the range of my repertoire. I want filmmakers to believe that I can fit into any mould they create. I want to keep the audiences guessing as to what I will come up with next.
Why is showcasing your versatility important?
As an avid film-buff, I look up to other actors for inspiration. Take, for instance, Daniel Day-Lewis. When I watch him in one movie and then watch his next, I can’t believe that he is the same guy. I find this ability to transform his entire being most alluring in an actor. In 2013, I had managed to achieve that when Lootera and Ram-Leela released within a few months’ gap. In Lootera, my character is that of an intense, brooding, soft-spoken, vulnerable and sensitive conman. In Ram-Leela, you had a peacock. Ram Rajadi is this shirtless, raw, rambunctious, lewd, garrulous and loud character.
Day-Lewis took five years to do Lincoln whereas you have done 11 films in almost as many years.
Our industry is structured differently. I am also at a very different stage of my life and career.
Who are the other actors you admire?
So many of them — Cate Blanchett, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Woody Allen and Sean Penn.
Do you think Lootera did not get the appreciation it deserved?
Lootera is a diamond whose value appreciates every year. It is sad that it did average business. Somehow, it got overlooked during the award season in spite of the critical appreciation it got. Sonakshi (Sinha) even voiced her disappointment over it. When I watched the film recently, I could not stop admiring its sheer beauty.
So, you are not the kind who moves on after a movie has released?
I like to revisit my movies after a gap. As actors, it is difficult to disconnect from the movie we have acted in. As time passes, we view our work differently and understand them better.
How far have your directors contributed to your craft?
Each director has a unique style of working. And it is your job as an actor to be able to adapt yourself to all those styles. In my case, there is one thing that is common: I surrender to my directors one hundred per cent. I am also open to collaborating with the directors, if they want that. Personally, I like the directors who have a hands-off approach and who allow me to portray my interpretation of the character. For example, Sanjay Leela Bhansali gives you wings to fly. He lets you create your own scene and dialogue. That’s how he brings out convincing performances from artistes.
Aditya Chopra is making his directorial comeback in 2016 with you in Befikre.
It is a light romance — that’s exactly what the doctor prescribed after this intense film. I owe my entire career to him and he is making such a cool movie. We are shooting entirely in Paris. What is exciting is that Befikre is Aditya Chopra 2.0. He is trying something very fresh. He expects me to collaborate in creating the character he has written. That apart, I am in talks with some filmmakers and there is a lot to do before I can lock my next film. However, what is in the pipeline looks very exciting.
You look a lot more youthful compared to your last film. Is this something Chopra has in mind?
Adi has asked me to be at my sexiest best. Though we have not decided on my look yet, it will be very contemporary. I have lost some weight for it. I am in the process of transforming physically. I had to be very frail for the last part of Bajirao. I have to tone my body now.
Other than having to lose weight, how taxing was the last scene of Bajirao Mastani?
We shot the scene in water for 11 days in a row. On the 12th day, my eyes had started rolling back for real.
Do you have a goalpost?
I wish to be regarded as an auteur someday. I want to put out cinema that is written, produced and directed by me. I also wish to make music for it and write the lyrics, apart from acting in it. I have already written two scripts. So many exciting things happening in the acting front that I don’t think I would be able to make this move anytime soon.