You look better off-screen than onscreen.
I think that is to do with the characters that I play onscreen — from playing a ruffian in my first film, to a nerdy mama’s boy in 2 States (2014), or a loser in Finding Fanny (2014) — those roles don’t attract a lot of people, but they attract some others. After Ishaqzaade (2012), people thought I was like that.
So, did you have to constantly open up the first four buttons of your shirt?
I used to do that anyway! But then people said that he’ll open a few more! I’m joking, of course. My off-camera appreciation comes from the fact that people don’t think I’m a hard, grumpy person that sometimes my characters portray me as, or sometimes people try and portray me as.
Are you going to be Chetan Bhagat’s hero for life?
As long as the material appeals to me and as long as I feel it connects with people. ‘Myself not coming from village area but I feeling ki’ (laughs). Actually, I’m happy that line (from Half Girlfriend) has caught on because that scene is so important in the film. Even if your entry to the film is through a meme, and you’re making fun of that boy because of that line, at the end of that scene, you’ll understand why he says what he says, and why he is the way he is. I’m absolutely fine with people laughing at the dialogue.
What was it about Half Girlfriend that appealed to you?
In modern India, speaking in English is expected of us. But there is another huge India out there, that we’re oblivious to. To play a character that hails from 70-80 per cent of India, that was interesting to me. I hadn’t realised that language could be such a big barrier in day-to-day conversation for most people, till I read the script. A person who is comfortable in Hindi is not really given his due, in spite of his abilities. This was a character I had not played, he was very relatable, and I felt it was time for this conflict about language barriers to come out, even if it is in an entertaining way.
Did you watch the parody of the Half Girlfriend trailer?
I did, I smiled. It was funny but I didn’t go berserk laughing. I liked the fact that the voice-over was in the Piyush Mishra space. You’ve also been criticised for not delivering an authentic Bihari accent in the film. I would appreciate the criticism after people see the whole film, because there are only four-five lines in the trailer. Mukesh Chhabra gave us a diction coach, somebody who worked in Masaan. We’ve chosen a dialect from a place that is closer to Uttar Pradesh. So, the character speaks more Hindi in the film, he just says certain words or sentences in a certain way. When he talks to the girl, he’s a certain way; when he reaches Delhi, and then New York, he’s different, there’s a certain evolution that takes place. Our efforts have been genuine, we have not made a caricature of a Bihari guy. We might go wrong, but at least people should see the whole film. I know that every person who hails from Bihar will feel proud after watching the film.
In a recent interview, you were quoted as saying: “No matter how independent or emancipated a woman is, she likes to have someone around who will hold her hand and say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m here to take care of you.’” Do you feel you know what women want?
I was talking in context to Ki&Ka (2016) and Ishaqzaade, and it was a very long answer — sometimes in the writing, the context can get lost, but I don’t blame the journalist at all. I was talking about certain characters I have played. So, in that regard, the opposite sex might see me and think that I, too, have the same qualities as those characters.
Recently, your tweet when Vinod Khanna passed away was particularly personal and poignant. (The actor had tweeted: Cancer is something that reminds me how fickle life is. Had the pleasure of meeting Vinod Khanna ji a thorough gentleman may his soul RIP).
The moment I heard it was due to cancer, it hit me — it was a sucker punch. I needed a moment to ponder over things I think about privately. I had never met him, but I just took the news in, and the tweet felt like an exhale.