The story goes that another filmmaker had approached you to star in a biopic about the famed Mumbai gangster and former politician, Arun Gawli, but you’d refused. Is that so?
Yes, it all started four years ago when somebody approached me to do the film. They were kind of indie people and I thought they wanted me to play the cop or somebody else, not Gawli. They’d done something interesting with an image of my face to make it look like his. I read the script and I don’t want to diss anybody’s work, but it wasn’t the kind of film which was exciting — it wasn’t different from what people had already done with this genre.
Then I started to read up about Gawli, there wasn’t much material available. I started meeting his family members, and dig deeper — and I found a very interesting character. I thought the film should be a true biopic, while the original idea was just something that was inspired by him. I kept talking to the writers of that project but it wasn’t really coming together.
What happened then?
So, I locked myself up in a hotel room in Mumbai for two months and started writing the script. This was in 2014 or so. Once I finished it, I sent it to Ashim Ahluwalia — we’d been discussing a film together at that point about a biopic of a gangster in Canada — and he loved it. Then we worked on coming up with a tighter structure. We had no producers, and I thought ‘Main hi kar leta hoon’ (I’ll produce it). But then we had to go and convince Gawli to give us the rights.
What was meeting Gawli like?
It wasn’t easy, because I’d already created an image of him in my mind. He’s a very soft-spoken man, and he’s got a lot of tehzeeb; he doesn’t speak too much — in fact, none of the people I met from that world speak much at all.
Gangsters in real life are not like the ones you see in our films (laughs). For me, the most important thing was to observe him. It took several meetings with him, his family, his lawyers, to convince him to give us the rights. He stalled a lot because he wasn’t sure if he could trust us. We were sure of the kind of film we wanted to make.
And what was that?
Daddy isn’t a propaganda film, we’re not glorifying anything or anybody. It’s going to be a film where the audience will have to form an opinion of him. We’re looking at five decades of Gawli’s life from several points of view — his family, his gang, his rivals, the police — so it’s a balanced film. After two years of meetings, he agreed, and that’s when his mask came off, the walls between us came down. There was a lot of ease between us. Some of his crew from Dagdi Chawl are extras in the film as well. Ashim has recreated old Bombay and it’s a film with so much detail, you’ll have to watch it twice, whether you like it or not.
Gawli saw Daddy and said “zyaada hogaya” (it’s too much). What did he mean by that?
He’d come out on parole two months ago and we showed it to him. It’s a hard-hitting film, and I think he got nostalgic about the past. What he meant was that we’ve shown everything about his life, and he wondered if people would get it. He said we’ve shown things the way they were. He’s very concerned about me now — he wants the film to do well because we’ve worked so hard on it.
What’s next for you?
I go into Paltan, with JP Dutta. Barring that, I don’t know what I’m doing next — I just want to finish this movie, take a month off.
Ever since you joined Bollywood 15 years ago, you’ve always been somebody whose looks have determined how they are perceived — a ‘sex symbol’ and then an actor. Does it ever get old, to be seen this way?
I don’t think people should feel bored of how they look. You want to walk into a place with a certain element of style, and people enjoy seeing somebody who makes an effort with how they look, who exhibits a sense of responsibility towards themselves. If you’re feeling good about yourself, you’ll have a certain kind of personality — and that is more attractive than just a face. I don’t think it would be right to be jaded about how I look — I don’t look like I did at 30, or how I will look at 70. I’m 44 today but I hope I don’t look too bad at 50.