Your performance in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, as twin brothers who are so different from each other, has been well-received.
Everyone loves Psycho Jimmy but Karate Mani is closer to my heart. I had to work hard on figuring out Mani. It was critical for us to do that. As director Vasan Bala and I were working together again (they did Peddlers in 2012), it was a lot of fun as well as very satisfying. Vasan and I used to return home after the shoot together every day. We knew the audience would give it a chance. I kind of expected them to like the movie and my role in it.
At the theatres, it’s like a case of a hare and a tortoise, with we being the latter. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a small release with 400-odd screens while Kesari is running in over 4,000 screens. Its ticket sale is slowly picking up, thanks to the word-of-mouth publicity. I have been getting so many messages that my phone’s battery drains out in three minutes. Of course, I exaggerate (laughs). I’m an actor.
Why did cracking Karate Mani’s character need extra effort?
I had no martial arts background. That apart, I had to do my scenes with one leg. To essay the role of a karate master, it required a certain physicality. I had four months to create that illusion. I knew if I got Mani right, Jimmy would be easy. Like Jimmy, I could do anything since he does not follow any rules. He is an over-the-top character.
Isn’t there an exaggeration of Mani’s misery too?
Yes, both are exaggerations. Both the brothers are suffering more in their imagination. Initially, I was overwhelmed. But I learnt to be truthful to their circumstances — which was already written by Vasan.
Since Mani has one leg, I was always asked to keep one leg hanging and used to wear a green-coloured sock on that leg. So that the CGI effects could be added later. It was a relief to play Jimmy as I could stand on both my legs.
You have done a fair number of mainstream and off-beat movies by now. Where do you see yourself in the industry?
I would like to be more empowered so that people can count on me to try something different and release certain kind of movies that the audience will watch. I don’t think I’m there yet. What is more important for me is that what I feel about where I am right now rather than where I would like to be. Also, I would like to stop working when I wish to. I have not jumped at every offer that has come to me and tried to maintain a certain versatility.
How heartbroken were you that your film Peddlers didn’t have a theatrical release?
Very. It was not a laugh-out-loud movie like Mard Ko… but travelled to several festivals and received so much appreciation. That was like a proper independent movie. Several people had put money in it after Guneet Monga put up a Facebook post that she is raising money for it. Yet, for it not to have a release was upsetting. We had worked so hard on it. So, it was a reality check for us. Vasan moved on to make ads and write movies while I acted in Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela (2013) and Hunterrr (2015). There has been a waiting period in between the projects that I have taken up. This is partly intentional as I wanted to do different things. Since I’m not one of the best-paid actors of the industry, I had to be smart about managing my finances.
So, what’s the next project you are working on?
The next season of Smoke, a web series for Eros, will come up sometime soon. I have also done another web series, an eight-part dark comedy show. Though cinema is my priority, I am open to web series if I believe that’s good for my career. It upsets me, however, when a movie directly releases on a digital platform.
How do you sustain yourself in this cut-throat business?
It requires a huge amount of self-belief and clarity regarding why am I here.
Why did you join this industry?
I wish to leave behind the legacy that I’m one of the best actors. I really wish to be the change. That’s why I work in mainstream movies as well as take up a variety of things. The quality of my performance is in my control. So, I give my best to it. I’m a total glory-seeker. And that’s why we are out in the theatre alongside Kesari which is a big release. In a funny way, I relate to their tagline: ‘The bravest battle ever fought’.