This is the third film you are doing with Vishal Bhardwaj. What kind of relationship do you share with him?
That keeps changing. While doing Kaminey (2009), we had a very professional equation. During Haider (2014), we came very close. It was a passion project for him. We both did the film free of cost, almost. He wanted to make the film and I wanted to work with him. He told me it was a movie about Kashmir, based on Hamlet. When I went through it, I realised it is something very powerful. Rangoon was very different. It was on a certain scale and we had too many things to take care of. Though I was a part of the film in a professional capacity, I missed getting attention from him. I was used to that.
Do you in some way collaborate with Bhardwaj in building your character while working with him?
I don’t feel the need to participate in developing a character. I believe his strongest areas are writing the script, screenplay and dialogues. Our process of collaboration starts when we get into the preparation for shoot. Then we start discussing the character. If he feels the need to discuss a certain approach to the character in a certain scene, that happens. The prerogative lies with him.
Since he knows you well, do you think your personal traits seeps into the script?
It is the other way round. I don’t allow any part of me to percolate into a character which might not be required. It is more about understanding that world and character and making it my own. Honestly, there is no written rule to the process. It is more about internalising the content — reading it and making it yours. The discovery of the character starts when you reach the sets and start shooting. Till then, it is about becoming familiar with things that you should know. As you start shooting, you get to know the character. I don’t like being very rehearsed.
You have said that Haider was very taxing for you.
Hamlet is one most emotionally challenging characters. Haider was more draining than Kaminey. Playing Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab was another gruelling experience. The role was very demanding; to understand the physical and mental manifestation of this guy was tough. There was nothing I could hold on to and create the character — there was nothing in my life that I could draw a parallel to. It started from a completely blank space. Everything about Tommy Singh was new. I was dependent on the director (Abhishek Chaubey), the material available and my imagination. It is easier to find references for Rangoon’s character.
You started with feel-good love stories. Of late, it is getting darker in your films.
It is not a conscious decision. I am just trying to do what’s exciting, new and bold. Rangoon is not that dark. Padmavati is an extremely big film and Sanjay Leela Bhansali is not a filmmaker who makes dark stories.
With Padmavati, are you moving into a different world?
It is Bhansali’s world. By virtue of that, it would be different from what I have done so far. It is not easy to slip into that world. But what’s the point of going to a set which is not challenging for you. You have to feel some sort of vulnerability. That’s what drives you to do your best.
Your career graph has followed the pattern of a series of flops and then finding critical acclaim. How do you deal with this?
I am no different from others. When something goes wrong, I feel pained, disheartened and disillusioned. I wonder if I would have the courage to try something again. When something works out, I am elated and proud. This is not an easy job. The graph of this job keeps alternating between extreme success and being written off. We are constantly under the scanner. But then you get used to that. My skin is pretty thick now.
What has helped you sustain through these highs and lows?
I started shooting for Ishq Vishq (2003) when I was 21 and I am 35 now. I work probably 25 days a month. So 75 per cent of my adult life has been spent working. That investment of time, focus and energy makes it the most important thing in your life. There was no other readily available option for me to pursue — my father did not have a big business that I could take over, nor was I rich enough to study in the best university. It all just happened. I am extremely blessed that it all worked out.
Was there an attempt to rediscover yourself as an actor?
An actor has to rediscover himself consistently. The times we live in today, things become irrelevant very fast.
What’s your idea of marriage and have you now happily settled into it with the arrival of your daughter Misha?
Unmarried people have several ideas about marriage. All those ideas are nice and good but marriage is to be discovered — the pros and cons unfold slowly. I am very happy being married and I have my baby now. This feels good.