Actors in Hindi cinema are known to be self-obsessed. Saqib Saleem refreshingly belongs to the new breed of actors who understands that the medium of filmmaking is owned by the director. “Actors only think about themselves. I am not trying to change that, I am just trying to come close to the fact that filmmaking is a director’s medium,” he says. As to how he approaches acting, he mixes the method with his instincts. “I am a very slow actor. I love to read my material over and over,” he says, about his process. After reading multiple books on acting or taking part in a workshop, the only method he believes is to “truly understand what the director wants”. So before shooting, he calls a couple of his friends over to brainstorm and to shoot stuff, experiment with looks to achieve what will essentially please his director. When he got the role of a coach in Amole Gupte’s Hawaa Hawaai, he was very clear that he wanted to learn skating.
Having played state-level cricket professionally Saleem always wanted to do a sports-based film. “But I was never good with kids. I was scared that if the kids don’t love me, picture toh gayi (picture will go downhill). But kids used to love Dhiraj sir and Ajay sir (the coaches). Kids would run and hug them. I wanted to achieve that in my film,” he says. In order to prepare for his role as the skating coach, he relied on the skating footage, which was recorded for him. He would sit down with the two coaches to get the terminologies right so they could be incorporated in the script.
Hawaa Hawaai was a new terrain for him. In his three-film-old career, Saleem has only worked with Yash Raj Films (Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge and Mere Dad Ki Maruti) and in Karan Johar’s Bombay Talkies. Naturally, he was used to lavish scales. So, Gupte’s guerrilla style filmmaking was a surprise. “Amole sir believes in magic. He would improvise and keep the camera on. He would never say ‘cut’. It took time for me to figure out where the camera is. I was used to 100 people on the sets, instead of 10 in this unit,” he adds.
Saleem is happy that he made it without being a star son. “You grow up everyday to be somebody’s son. To just prove a point to the world that you are as good as him or that you are not in the industry because of him. I feel lucky. I didn’t have to come in and prove a point to anybody. I don’t have to live up to any expectations. People didn’t expect much out of me when I came in. I surprised them. There is no baggage,” he says.