With a successful debut film to your credit, would you say that you are ready for stardom?
I hope so. But, what does stardom really mean?
You have grown up with your father’s (Jackie Shroff) stardom so you tell me.
I think stardom means a big responsibility that one has to shoulder. After seeing my father, I have realised that I just have to be myself and not get carried away with all the attention. Personally, my goal is to reach out to as many people as I can and not let my fans down.
Who is that one star that you truly idolise?
Right now, I can only think of Hrithik (Roshan) sir, because he’s been my biggest inspiration and influence. My goal is to achieve at least half of what he has. He’s worked so hard on himself. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but before Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, he had a stammering problem and had suffered so many injuries, but when you see his film, it’s like he’s a superhuman. All those problems don’t seem to exist at all, so hats off to him.
When and how did your journey to become an actor begin?
My prep began six months before I started shooting for Heropanti. I never wanted to be an actor while growing up. I was always interested in sports, but other than cricket, there wasn’t much scope. Academically too, I wasn’t qualified for much. Even as a child, I would get film offers and all my friends would tease me saying, ‘You will also be an actor like your father’, or ‘don’t forget us’. I always took it as a joke, but subconsciously I felt maybe this was my true calling.
Was there any aspect that you had to work particularly hard on?
I am a very reserved guy, I am still very shy, you know. I can’t open up easily in front of people and I am very uncomfortable doing interviews. But I realised that you have to express yourself in this industry, and have to be social which I am not. I don’t have many friends, but a bigger challenge for me was being my father’s son. My father is quite a big star and has been so for many years now. So, my aim was to break out of his shadow and make my own connect with the audience.
When I had decided to become an actor, I did a lot of soul-searching to figure out how I could be different. What could I bring to the table that others or my father couldn’t have? That’s when I worked on my strong points, namely action and dancing.
You just spoke about being different from your father, but tell me about any similarities that you may share.
I think just his humility for which he’s loved by all. Other than that, we are two different individuals. I would like to retain his generosity and humility.
As an actor, what is your assessment of his performances?
I wouldn’t describe him as much as an actor than as a star in his earlier films. He had a great screen presence, superstardom and style. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. Over the years, he has matured in the industry and made a mark as an actor, and now he is considered a very fine actor of his time. He’s got all those emotions to play with —he knows how to tap into it, while earlier it was all about how he was looking on screen.
Any films of his that you are particularly fond of?
I like Parinda and Gardish and of course, Hero is an all-time favourite; my father’s first film that made him a star overnight.
Why did you not opt for a remake of Hero as your first film?
I was offered the film at a very young age, and I did not want to be compared to my father. I wanted to carve my own identity and show people how different I am from him.
How did your debut project Heropanti finally take shape? Did you audition for it?
I am lucky to have a very strong Godfather in Sajid (Nadiadwala) sir and Sabbir (Khan) sir who have launched me. It is the first time that Sajid sir has launched any newcomer. He must have seen something in me, to take on such a big responsibility. His decisions matter a lot to me.
As for the film, one day Sajid sir who had seen my pictures, called me to his office for a casual meeting and asked about my plans etc. At that time I was in school, but when we met two years later, he saw a complete transformation in me. Later, I met Sabbir sir and since they were looking for a newcomer to cast in Heropanti, I was signed for the film.
You were in news for your fitness regime even before you signed your first film, so was that a launch strategy?
I am very passionate about fitness and wasn’t doing it to get into the limelight. But being a star son, people look at me a little differently. Once my photos started getting published, people were curious about why I was building my physique etc.
In order to launch your movie career did you make a portfolio?
When I signed Heropanti, Sajid sir and Sabbir sir had done a lot of look tests and photo-shoots for my character, and they worked as my portfolios.
Describe the moment when you actually signed on the dotted line.
At that moment I didn’t realise what was happening, but my family was there at Sajid sir’s office. My father was recording the moment and my mother was all teary-eyed. Sajid sir too had become very emotional. I was very grateful, very happy looking at them and then I realised that it was quite a big step in my life, and that life had changed. It made me realise that I had to put my heart and soul into this profession to succeed. The first impression is very important, and I am so thankful that all our hard work has paid off, not just for me but for everybody.
How did you feel when Aamir Khan launched the trailer of your film and praised you at the press conference in front of the entire media? Do you also share his passion for films?
It was very nice of Aamir sir to come and launch our trailer. As an actor, he just raises the bar with his performances. Aamir sir is quite close to my father, and one day, he just invited me over to his house. We got along quite well, chatting about films, my interests etc. When we next met, it was at the gym, and since he was shooting for Dhoom 3, he had got a gymnastics coach to train him.
So tell us more about your passion for fitness. How did it start?
I like to have a very balanced fitness routine—I practise martial arts and gymnastics that keeps me agile and flexibile. Rather than running on the treadmill, which can become quite boring, I prefer to work on my dance routine. Besides being a good form of cardiovascular exercise, it is also a form of escape for me, as I never realise how much time has flown by when I am dancing. Weight training which I began at the age of 14-15, is another way to keep in shape.
I became interested in martial arts after watching the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon at a very young age. Something clicked inside me and subconsciously I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I told my parents of my interest and they enrolled me for martial arts classes when I was four years old.
With time, I honed my skills further, and now I watch videos and learn as I don’t have the time to enroll in classes. Besides, action in cinema is very different as you have to express yourself in a different manner. The emphasis is to make it more visually spectacular for the audience to enjoy. So my training has become more glamorous and graceful now.
There were memes and some very nasty jokes about you just before the launch of your film that you handled very well. So, would it be correct to say that you do have a sense of humour?
I take my work very seriously, and am very hardworking and passionate about what I do. But yeah, if people don’t like my work and make fun of me, I can laugh at myself. It doesn’t matter as long as I am being noticed. However, initially to be honest, it did hurt me because I am a very sensitive person. But I realised that even big superstars like Shah Rukh (Khan) sir, Salman (Khan) sir who have been around for so long are criticised. I am barely six months old in the industry, and if I am going to cry about the criticisms, then that’s quite pathetic. I realised that I just have to take the criticism in my stride.
Being a star son has several perks, but what are the pitfalls?
People think it’s easy to get a film; sure it might be easy but what if your film doesn’t do well? My father can’t tell the audiences to like me. He also cannot judge whether a film will be a hit or not. A lot of kids follow in their father’s footsteps in other professions too, so why pick on star kids? And I don’t even like calling myself a star kid. I am just happy that with my first film, I proved that I made it on my own, and created my own identity without my parents help. I take it as a blessing.
What was you father’s reaction when he watched your film?
My father doesn’t say much. He’s got this very laidback kind of attitude, but at the screening, he became very emotional as he had never seen this side of me. My mother who is my biggest supporter was on cloud nine. I was the happiest person on earth that day and instead of the film, I was just watching their reactions. As the film picked up momentum, with the numbers coming in, my parents felt that they were on top of the world. As for me, I felt, now I can die in peace.
According to you, what are your strengths?
My plus point according to Sajid sir and Sabbir sir is that I have a gentle and innocent face and a tough body like Salman sir had during his Maine Pyaar Kiya days. I don’t want to categorise myself as an actor. But in the first three films, I want to establish myself in the industry and carve a niche for myself. The industry is full of fine talent and I want to take my craft to a higher level and do something different, so that I can stand above the others. I cannot take advantage of the fact that I have been accepted. Instead, I have to work on my craft everyday— whether it’s my action, dance or my physique. I wake up every day and ask myself,‘today how am I going to improve?’ If I don’t have an answer to that at the end of the day, then it wasn’t a productive day for me. So, it’s a constant race against time and myself.
Is there any aspect to your acting that you would like to improve upon?
Generally speaking, I want to be more confident and make everything look natural on screen. Comedians are some of the most talented actors—they make everything look effortless and funny — something that comes only with time and experience.The younger generation is doing it very well—Varun (Dhawan) is superb, Arjun (Kapoor) has got that deadpan humour, Ranveer (Singh) of course, is full of energy that he can barely contain himself.
Any Hindi films in particular that you’d give an arm and leg to be a part of.
I’ love to do a Dhoom or a Krrish if Hrithik (Roshan) sir ever wants to pass on his cape; maybe when he’s 60? He’d probably still be flying, but I would like to request him to give me the mask and cape first.
Is there anything about you that has changed?
The Tiger is the same, he’s still just a cat around people. My family has become bigger; I have a lot more supporters now.