We see you in phases. Your last major outing was Happy Bhaag Jayegi in 2016 and now you have six projects scheduled to release this year.
I spend my time between Goa, Los Angeles and Mumbai. Mumbai, where my work is, has become too noisy and polluted, so I tend to escape. But I have been working, which is why these five films are almost ready. There is Chopsticks, a Netflix film; Jungle Cry, a film based on a real instance where adivasi children playing football as a recreation were trained professionally; JL 50 is a sci-fi movie; Line of Descent is a drama; and Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai is a Tamil pulp-fictionesque film. My latest is The Odds, a series for the digital medium that I have produced and acted in. It premiered at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, where it was the closing film. I make indie films and, by tradition, indie films do not have a godfather. These films are tough to market and distribute. All my upcoming projects are not Bollywood. They are Indian films funded by international producers. If you ask me how these children of mine will get a release, I don’t know. Films such as Manorama Six Feet Under have taught me that lack of resources for distribution and marketing can often decide the fate of a film.
Why do you still end up making such films?
I realise that people from the outside or those just starting out have less to lose, so they can be more idealistic, whereas people who are in a position of power cannot afford that because they stand to lose a lot. So, they focus on working within the system and using the formula. I didn’t inherently like the formula, so I attract the other — the idealistic lot who make films on provocative subjects but have very limited means.
You come from a film family, which has its own advantages. Were you never tempted to seek fame?
There was a time, yes. But I am glad I am past that. At that time, I could have worked with top producers and chosen to market myself. But I got to make the movies I wanted to. Stardom isn’t as much about talent as it is about marketing yourself. Many talented actors play second fiddle to heroes in films. I didn’t market myself, so I got the image I put out — of an actor, not a star. People see me that way even today, which means I have a longer shelf life.
So you no longer focus on playing lead characters?
Most of these projects have me playing the lead, with the exception of Line of Descent, which is an ensemble with Brandon Fraser. The Odds, directed by Megha Ramaswamy, is more about the two kids. It’s Megha’s tribute to John Hughes. A quirky, abstract, unapologetic project, it shows millennials just how they are. I play a rockstar, but it’s more of a special appearance.
I am sure now that I am not going to be a padding for a protege and son of a filmmaker. I will do fewer projects and focus on developing my own projects. I am aware that the window to stardom can open up again due to the digital medium, which is a lot more democratic than Indian cinema. I have stuck to my original agenda — be provocative, raise the bar, break the formula. Also, I am more aware today.
My actions and their implications. Speaking truth to power gets you blacklisted. People don’t care about doing the right thing and that is okay. People in this industry don’t take up the cause of change.
Is that why the big names in Bollywood are mum on the subject of elections?
It’s tricky to speak up. We don’t have freedom of speech in this country. If court procedures didn’t take years, more people would be vocal. But the fear of being mired in court cases for taking a political stance discourages most of us. Whenever a celebrity does speak up, the real issue gets sidelined, whereas the person becomes the news. It’s easier to take a stand on non-political but relevant issues, such as fairness creams that I spoke up against.