What’s Kaalakaandi about and how did you get interested in it?
When I was shooting for Rangoon, its director-writer Vishal Bhardwaj suggested that I read the script of Kaalakaandi. I liked the script which takes a very entertaining look at Mumbai. It offers an exciting story with a good arch for the lead actor. I play this man, who after finding out that he has stomach cancer, takes some ‘acid’ (a drug called lysergic acid diethylamide) and has the time of his life. By the end, his character undergoes a change. As an actor, it was interesting to have these small cameras shoot on live locations in Bandra and other parts of the city.
Did the movie help you rediscover the city?
If you take the camera around Mumbai, you will discover different set-ups and people. That’s exciting. Barring one day, we shot mostly at night. It is like Macbeth, in that sense. It has only one day scene. However, I discovered the city more while shooting for Sacred Games (produced by Netflix). It took us to places like Punjab Society, Andheri, Dharavi, lanes of south Mumbai and red light areas. We shot in grunge and felt Mumbai for what it is — the enormity of the city and the number of people trying to survive in it. What I am most excited about Kaalakaandi is that the language used in it is very true to the characters speaking it. The characters of Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz speak in Bombaiyaa Hindi. Sobhita Dhulipala and Kunal Roy Kapur speak a different Hindi compared to them, while my character speaks a bit more English.
Are you always so finicky about the language?
It is something people either connect with or don’t. If the characters are speaking in Hindi, they need to come from a certain socio-economic background. By all means, make the movies in Hindi, bring down the kind of person he is to something more basic and make the background more humble.
In all of Karan Johar’s glossy movies, they speak in Hindi…It is misleading that they speak in Hindi. Hindi is something everyone understands. So, it makes business sense to make the movie characters speak in Hindi. It is not reflective of real life. When we take a chance with an indie movie like Kaalakaandi, it is refreshing to have characters speak the language that sounds more authentic.
You have excelled in comedies. When did you discover your knack for it?
The late Yash Chopra had pointed out after watching Yeh Dillagi and Parampara that I have good comic timing. I always had a sense of timing, whatever that means. I had not consciously worked on this until recently when I read some books and tried to understand what technique is and how to make it better. It is not just instinctive. I wanted to know how to be more effective and how to break it down. I have never been taught. While most directors can tell an actor what to do, they can’t say how to get there.
What made you read books on acting ‘technique’ now?
This is a kind of maturity. I was not happy just going through it (acting assignments), I wanted to make it better and understand it differently. It is like many other books I thought I should have read earlier but I’m enjoying now. There is this amazing collection of ghost stories I had bought in the ’90s. I’m reading it now and really loving it. It is written in Victorian English. It is understated but scary.
I have been lazy at times. Since Rangoon, I have been working on a different frequency. I can go through phases when I blame myself and think people don’t want to see me. But I have realised if you are in the right film and looking the part, people are interested.
How was the experience of shooting for Sacred Games?
We have shot Sacred Games well and we got our best talent for it. It is treated no less than like a movie in terms of art direction and costumes. Everything has a real vibe to it. I have pushed myself as an actor and had fun. It would be exciting when Netflix publicises it; the way they would do posters and trailers. Not every producer knows how to market a product and elevate it to another level.
In India, there is a new trend of sending the actor to do everything — appearing on Comedy Nights and other shows like a maniac for 20 days. The audience wants to sample the merchandise. That they can do through trailers and posters. My acting like an ass on comedy shows with two guys dressed as girls is not going to guarantee a great opening. I wish someone would realise that.
Are you nervous that your daughter Sara is making her debut in Kedarnath? What about Ibrahim?
Sara is passionate about acting and very hardworking. I’m sure when I watch her film, I would be all nerves. Obviously, I would want her to be very good. Ibrahim is interested in acting too. I remember him as a child looking at the camera when I was shooting for an ad.