Congratulations on the success of Baaghi 2.
After a long time, I agreed to do a commercial film and Sajid (Nadiadwala, the producer) and Ahmed (Khan, the director) and all of these guys pampered me a lot.
You’ve given us so many memorable characters, like Shrikum Atrey and Prof Siras. How would you describe
I would say that I was very lucky to arrive at a time when Ram Gopal Varma was the kind of rebel director who was getting more and more active in changing the grammar of storytelling. I was very, very lucky to have started my career with a director like Shekhar Kapoor, who did not agree with this stereotypical formula. All the actors, who were migrating from Delhi theatre at that point of time, were all rebels. We shifted to the city in complete darkness. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves in this industry and even this industry didn’t know what to do with us. It needed one Ram Gopal Varma, one Shekhar Kapoor and, in the south, one Mani Ratnam to change the whole thing for actors like me.
Your life has been a remarkable one. You’ve made a journey from Belwa in Bihar to where you are now. What do your parents think of this?
Like any Bihari parents, they are like ‘Acha theek rahe. Apna dhyan ab rakhlena. Khaata kamaata rahe’. The biggest compliment came from my father when I was doing Swabhiman. He said, ‘When I see you performing, you remind me of Motilal’. I think no actor in this industry can get a bigger compliment than that and my father is the biggest fan of Motilal.
You were named after Manoj Kumar.
If you had a choice, which actor would you have liked to be named after?
Manoj Kumar. I told him many times that it was an honour to be known as Manoj. I had wanted to change my name when I was doing theatre because, at that time in Bihar, every second person was named Manoj. But, my father said, ‘I have given you this name with lot of affection, so don’t change it’. But, the ‘Samar’ in Samar Pratap Singh of Shool, was suggested by me to Anurag Kashyap. This is the name I was always toying with when I was doing theatre. I wanted to change my name to Samar.
You had the good fortune of having some very good mentors and teachers. Who are some of these people that come to your mind?
I was quite lucky to have a mentor like Barry John. I would say that being rejected by the National School Of Drama (NSD) every year kept on giving me the strength to do better. The rejection was another mentor for me, it made me stronger.
What would be your take on getting rejected despite being good? What do people in those situations do?
I feel that I didn’t have any option, and that was my strength. I had to either get better or leave the field. I couldn’t go back to my village as a failure. The only thing that occurred to me was that I would work hard and get better next year. I feel that my love for the craft has got me this far and this love is still there.
In your college days, did your paths ever cross with Shah Rukh Khan’s in the world of theatre?
Shah Rukh was with Barry John for a few years when I was also there. We know each other very well. I knew his family. When he shifted from Delhi, we started losing touch. Then, I started meeting him when I migrated to Mumbai because he was my only contact. After a point, I started feeling that I was becoming too much of a burden for him and I let it be. I take pride in everything that he has achieved because I know what all he lost before achieving all this.
Who was your favourite actor in college?
Madhuri Dixit all the way. Tabu is a great friend of mine today. When she started, when she had done Kaalapani and I used to have a crush on her. After we started working together, we became great friends.
Presently, you have a crush only on your wife, Shabana. How did you meet?
We met at a party that was celebrating the 100 episodes of Khana Khazana. I had just finished shooting for Kaun and was completely tired. Vishal Bhardwaj called me and said, ‘I am going for a meeting so take Rekha to the party and I will join you guys later. Please don’t sleep’. I happened to be there because of Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj. And there I met my wife. Now, we have a seven-year-old daughter.
We know you now as a film actor but you have dedicated much of your life to theatre. What did it teach you?
I think theatre is an actor’s medium while cinema is a director’s medium. The 10 years of theatre prepared me not only as an actor but also as a human being. It gave me the habit of reading, watching, and preserving.
The interview is part of the Expresso series. For the full interview, log onto www.indianexpress.com