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Keeping in mind the climax of Raja Natwarlal, is there a sequel on the cards anytime soon?
Don’t know if it will happen, but Inshallah, we should do something soon! If the overall response from the audience and at the box-office is good, then we will definitely work on a sequel. In fact, we have even started working on it. Actually after watching the film, our team started planning the next part, which I assure is going to be more interesting.
You went all colourful, with patchwork shirts and a tapori lingo in Raja Natwarlal. Are you happy with the way you presented a new side of yourself to the fans?
Absolutely happy! I went back to my roots and now, I am doing films that have built me as a brand in the mass audience space. The fact that I experimented with genres like supernatural, comedy and other stuff in the last one- two years was intentional, since I wanted to do something new. Let me also add, I had sworn that I won’t do con films. It was because the kind of stuff from this genre that I have seen, no matter how popular they are, don’t have an emotional base, which I am fond of.
The story is all about revenge and the gradual growth of an individual. Raja is a small time con-man on the streets and one incident makes him go against all odds to take this revenge against Vardha (played by Kay Kay Menon), who is far stronger than him.
As far as the outfits are concerned, going colourful was fun. Raja wears the kind of stuff that any local guy would wear with the little bit of money that he has got. So, the audience got to see me in cheetah printed shirts, colourful denims and crazy patchwork stuff. But of course, there is a gradual change and the character does evolve during the course of the film. His personality becomes more polished and he is seen wearing a lot of suits and formal apparel.
How difficult was the process for you to get into the skin of Raja’s character?
Actually, I had seen a couple of films which were technically about frauds and scams. But Raja Natwarlal is in a different zone, as it only has scams as its sub-plot. So, there was no extensive research involved as such. I went through a couple of articles on con-men and also watched a few television shows to understand the mindset. That’s about it! But yes, the most interesting part was to learn the teen-patti game, which both Kunal (Deshmukh, director) and I did under disguises outside a few railway stations in Mumbai. That helped us to figure out the way it is played on the streets.
Has your son, Ayaan, seen any of your films?
You will be surprised to know this, but he still hasn’t seen any of my films. But yes, Raja Natwarlal is the first film he has seen. He is back from the treatment and doing well. My wife and I had already planned in advance to shut his eyes during all the kissing scenes (laughs).
The title underwent a change during the making of the film. Personally, which one did you prefer – Shaatir or Raja Natwarlal?
Make any film buff or even a lay person think about the most popular conman that the industry has ever seen and the prompt reply would be Natwarlal, a name that has become colloquial for the mastermind who is involved in scams. Actually, even when we started working on the film, the makers were trying to get the rights of the title from the producers of the old film (starring Amitabh Bachchan). But since it didn’t work out, we added the character’s name ahead of it to make it sound more bold and smart and that’s how Raja Natwarlal was born. It has a nice ring to it, so I like the new name.
The songs picturised on you have always gone on to become huge hits. How much do you think the music of a film contributes to its success?
Oh yes! A lot of my films were successful because of its music and of course, eventually, it is the way people accept the film. The music of Raja Natwarlal, composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja, is the kind of stuff that people sitting on the front rows will enjoy a lot. Some of my past films, like Ghanchakkar and Ek Thi Daayan, belonged to experimental genres, which had unique music. So, I was really missing the dhinchak Bollywood rhythm.
This is also the first time that you are seen doing an out-and-out dance number on street-side inspired tunes in a film.
Damn! Ikki dukki was great fun. Matching steps with the dancers on a massy rhythm, wearing blingy clothes and shiny reflective aviators was crazy. You know, I have always run away from shaking a leg on tapori tracks, because I know that I am not really one of the best dancers in Bollywood. But Raju Khan and Kunal made me believe that I can do this and then, I was made to do some insane latkas and jhatkas, ghaati dance, which is a common sight during weddings and the popular Ganpati festival. I did a couple of rehearsals before shooting the song.
What went into the preparations for Mr.X, where you are seen in a different avatar all together?
My character in Mr.X is physically demanding and yes, I had to mentally prepare myself for the role as well. It’s all because the film is set in a science-fiction zone. Although I can’t speak much about the film, I must put this across that my character in Mr.X is not at all about a superficial guy. He maybe invisible, but he has a soul and is extremely emotional.
You are also getting back to the romantic space with Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, where you are paired opposite Vidya Balan for the third time.
I am extremely excited about Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, because it is a mature love story; a complete emotional roller coaster ride. It’s a script that is very close to Mr. Mahesh Bhatt’s heart. He and I believe that this is definitely one of his best scripts. He has finished penning the story and the film will go on the floors by September end. It’s a touching film that will strike a chord with people across all age groups. I have always described it as a tearjerker, which will make you laugh and cry. Again, you will see me in a completely different space all together. People have seen me play these rakish characters, but my character in Hamari Adhuri Kahaani is very sweet and simple. And yes, working with Vidya (Balan) and Mohit (Suri) is always special.
What else is keeping you busy these days?
Rensil D’Silva’s Ungli is complete and it will definitely hit the screens this year. There is also a project titled Tigers, which happens to be my international film debut. The film will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival next year, and we are all quite excited about it. My character in the film is called Ayan, which co-incidentally, is also the name of my son. The film is helmed by Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic. We are still looking at a date to release the film in India.
In hindsight, how do you look back at your decade plus long journey in the industry?
Honestly, it’s been a huge learning experience for a guy for whom becoming an actor was never like a childhood dream. It was de-tour, like an accident. I was a guy who got his commerce degree and out of nowhere, became an actor. So, in the first five years, it was all about learning the ropes and tricks. Trinkering in films, falling, stumbling, accepting failures and getting up again. The most difficult part was to find my own voice. I was struggling to find an audience base, who would like me and the films that I am a part of. I was trying to find a parallel mainstream niche for myself, which is different from the kind of mainstream cinema that our industry is known for. Yes, I am proud of the fact that I have found a space that I can call my own. Now, everyone knows about an Emraan Hashmi kind of a film. It has it’s own elements, which has my signature stamp. I am glad I could utilise every opportunity that came my way. You don’t learn too much from your successes, but you do learn a lot from your failures. Thankfully, I have had my fair share of failures. That has always been the driving force. It has helped me to bounce back, work hard and deliver a successful film.