In Saala Khadoos, you play an author-backed role of a cynical boxing coach.
It is one of the most important roles of my career as I have invested a lot, emotionally and monetarily, in it. There was the demand of the script, a uniqueness which I was able to see. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and co-produced the film. This could be the film to change the perception of me as a chocolate hero, and convince people that I can pull off something more serious. I managed to do this in the South, in movies such as Run and Tambi but I did not get an opportunity to play such roles in Hindi cinema.
Is breaking stereotypes a part of the plan when you choose films?
Whenever I have been a part of a film, be it Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (2001), Ramji Londonwaley (2005) or Tanu Weds Manu (2011), it is because I have seen potential in it. But, all too often, I have had to keep waiting for people to put money into such films. I am hoping that the success of Saala Khadoos will give me the opportunity to find producers when I have a good script in hand.
Do you have a particular kind of script in mind?
I’m a very limited actor. I don’t have the ability to dance and sing like most other actors. What has worked for me are the intelligent stories that people can relate to. Those stories are few and far between. And those directors are even fewer.
Which are the films that, you feel, have had good stories as well as tapped your potential as an actor?
All my films, be it Tanu Weds Manu, Rang De Basanti or 3 Idiots. A romantic hero, however, does not have a long shelf life. I can’t be expected to play these at the age of 45. I have to work with stories that are real. That’s why it takes a while for me to select a project.
You played a student in 3 Idiots. At 45, how do you see yourself aging as an actor.
At 40, if you are able to pull off the role of a 23-year-old student, then that says a lot about you as an actor. The foreign audience could not believe that I was 40. That’s a great complement, mainly for director Rajkumar Hirani. No one realises that in 3 Idiots, I not only had three different looks but also three kinds of voices — there is a baritone of the narrator, the squeakiness of the student and a manliness of the present version.
You have appeared in a number of films where other actors have had meatier roles than you.
It is not as if I don’t know what I am doing. But there is no insecurity. What I am proud of is the fact that I am able to do what is required of the film and help it in attaining its journey. In a movie such as 3 Idiots, there is Aamir Khan in the lead but you can’t imagine the film without a character like mine. So, getting into the archives is more important than achieving two minutes of fame.
You have been talking about boredom. What bores you so much?
When people slot you and keep thrusting the same kind of scripts at you without an iota of intelligence applied to it, then boredom sets in.
In 2012, my wife realised that I was losing interest in my work. She said, ‘Maddy, take that risk of doing something you believe in. Until we are back in that one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai where we started our life, I won’t be insecure.’ From then on, I was on the look out for a good story. When I got the script for Saala Khadoos, I told director Sudha Kongara Prasad: ‘Wait for me. Let me look the part’. In terms of how much time I took in preparation and the intensity of it, this movie has demanded the maximum out of me as an actor.
Television brought you the first taste of popularity, with shows such as Banegi Apni Baat, Tol Mol Ke Bol, Saaya and Sea Hawks. Was it the perfect training ground for films?
With television shows, I look my first step in acting. When I got the opportunity to act, I did that fearlessly since I was not looking for a career in it. I am grateful for the experiences I had as an actor on television. Having done 1,800 episodes on television, I was not a newcomer when I joined movies. I was fortunate enough to have made my mistakes on TV and get past it when I moved on to movies. Over 15 years, I have done 15 films in Tamil and 11 in Hindi. Because I have been selective instead of choosing to do mundane films every three months, I have continued to be in public memory. Some people who started with me are nowhere to be seen today because of their wrong selection of movies.