Sidharth Malhotra on his new film Baar Baar Dekho, learning to maintain work-life balance and being the outsider who dreamed of making it big.
You started the year with Kapoor & Sons. What kind of impact has it had on your career?
The feedback for this film has been very positive. The audience appreciated its craft — the performances, the world its characters inhabit and the emotions and relationships it explores. I have received the maximum love for this film. It is not a very big film and we kept it performance-oriented. There weren’t big sets, extravagant costumes or elaborate song sequences. The set-up was very basic. Director Shakun Batra wanted to keep the sur (tune) very real. My character, Arjun, doesn’t go through any significant transition nor does he have any big revelation to offer in the end, barring his changing equation with his mother. To make that interesting and engaging was a challenge, but it was a fulfilling process.
Has the character of Arjun been the closest to you?
Yes, Arjun is by far the closest to who I am in real life. I could relate to the Kapoor family as it is very similar to my household — a four-member Punjabi family with its quirks. However, to convince the audience that I had not put in too much effort into the role and was spontaneous was very tough. I am happy that I was offered a script like that. Shakun captured the tone of the film very well. He did not push us much and encouraged us to keep it simple and easy. From this experience, I learnt that you don’t have to spell out everything for our audiences anymore. Directors and producers get very insecure at times if certain things are ‘subtle’. But the audience is intelligent; they know how to read between the lines. They connect to every emotion shown in the film.
In the upcoming film, Baar Baar Dekho, you play a man at different stages of his life…
All my films are very different. This role is more challenging as I am playing a professor who travels into the future. I had no idea about how a 46-year-old man or a father behaves. To create those emotions and to age on screen were exciting for me. It has been, emotionally, the most difficult role to play. The film is about how the present generation prioritises career and materialistic goals over family and loved ones. It is about appreciating smaller things in life. When my character takes a peek into his future, he undergoes a transformation.
In a way, I have been in that position too. I was not from the film industry and my dream was far-fetched. When I came to Mumbai, which is a very different world from my own, I focussed only on my career and let go of some friendships. I could relate to this character. Today, however, I realise that balance is required.
How did you approach the role?
Nitya Mehra is a first-time director, but a very meticulous one. We read out different scenes, motivations, phases of my character’s life. Since it is Jai’s journey that the audience will be following, we had to keep him endearing in spite of his flaws. So ensuring audience empathy was a struggle which Nitya and the team worked on. Another challenge for me, as I just mentioned, was to adopt the body language of a 46-year-old. I started observing my father for this. I studied his voice and reflexes. I had to bring in nuances like moving less swiftly.
Since the film industry is highly competitive and demanding, do you have the luxury of taking it easy?
The other day, I was listening to a motivational speaker on television. He was saying that Indians are culturally conditioned and, therefore, open to comparisons. I agree with that view. At home, we are told a certain child of the same age group is getting 90 marks or playing good football or is very well groomed. We are constantly compared to siblings, cousins, classmates, neighbours and others. In case of actors, the competition and comparison become more evident due to their public persona. However, I am pretty well-equipped to handle that. The challenge is to keep the focus on my career and find time for other things. Since I am a single person living in Mumbai, I don’t have much balancing to do, barring giving time to friends and to my dog. I do take out time for them.
There are quite a few actors in your age group. Does that make the competition stiffer?
All of us — Varun Dhawan, Arjun Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor — are around 30 years old. We are a batch of actors born in the ’80s. I can’t speak for the others, but for myself, work remains a priority. I believe that we all have the intelligence to take a break and unwind. The man who balances work and family best is Akshay Kumar. He acts in three movies a year and still manages to take two vacations. He does not work on weekends and has fixed work hours. Tomorrow, if I have a family, this is what I would like to follow.
How do you ensure that you do not repeat the kind of roles you take up?
The only strategy is to keep it fresh and interesting for me as well as the viewers. All my films have had interesting one-line hooks. I have done fewer films compared to others but I am happy with the kind of work I have done so far.
After modelling for four years, why did you decide to switch careers and become an actor?
When I was around nine years old, I used to keep staring at the mirror and repeat dialogues of popular actors, mainly of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Since I grew up in Delhi, we predominantly watched popular movies. My family used to go for movies which people talked about or were hits such as Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! and Lamhe. Today, I understand why I wanted to sport a leather jacket like Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Later, when I was around 19 and modelling in Delhi, I was asked to audition for a role by my agency. They liked it and I was called to Mumbai. That’s when the Bollywood bug bit me. I moved to Mumbai when I was around 21 to shoot for the movie, which was to be directed by Anubhav Sinha, but it never took off. Today, I believe all these things happened for a reason. That experience gave me a closer view of the industry and made me realise that millions of people try their luck for a place here.
What is it about the film industry that attracts so many youngsters?
I can speak for myself. As I child, I was not focussed on anything. I never realised that I could become an actor and tried my hands at different things. I was not sure if I wanted to play sport or do an MBA. I hated math and accounting was ruled out. All the lost kids, perhaps, become the best performers in a way because they are not satisfied with themselves and they want to play other people.
How did you prepare yourself as an actor after landing in Mumbai?
I had found out about these group acting classes but they never attracted me. I wanted to have my individual experience. I learnt a lot by being an assistant director on the sets of My Name is Khan (2010). By the end of the film, I had learnt a lot about filmmaking. I opted to be a part of the post-production too. That process still fascinates me.
So how did you land a role in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year (2012)?
We had a series of auditions. We were singing on camera and mouthing old Shah Rukh Khan dialogues. Karan used to watch those tapes and gauge our strengths and weaknesses. There was a two-week workshop that we had to undergo afterwards.
Student of the Year 2 is going on floors soon. How do you feel about it?
We are all excited about it. I know Tiger Shroff is in it and Punit Malhotra will be directing it. I am very eager to see how Punit tells the story.
Though you call yourself a single man, you are currently being linked to Alia Bhatt. Is there any truth to it?
That’s part and parcel of our profession. I took a while to get used to it. We can’t help but be talked out. My relationship with Alia Bhatt is old news, it’s been circulating since Kapoor & Sons. I am still enjoying my bachelorhood. We are friends and have worked together. There is nothing more to it.