Have you ever felt stereotyped or lost out on roles in Bollywood because of your ethnicity?
I am sure that I have lost opportunities because of how I look, but it goes both ways – I am sure I have also been cast in roles because of how I look as well. I have realised that all I can do is try to choose the right projects, deliver my best performance, and continually improve my skills. I simply don’t have time to focus on the opportunities that I don’t get. Between acting, music, family and adventure sports (mainly paragliding, diving and motorcycling), there’s no energy left to waste. The roles that I have had the privilege of playing in films and series like ‘Aarya’, ‘Sweet Kaaram Coffee’, ‘Roohi’, ‘Main Aur Charles’, ‘Golondaaj’, and ‘Madrasappattinam’ to name just a few, have all been unique and incredibly satisfying. I am extremely grateful that I continue to get great offers, and that audiences and critics respond positively to my work.
Who has been an absolute delight to work with from all the Bollywood actors you have worked with so far?
The ones that stick out in my head are the ones I have worked with recently and/or frequently so Akshay Kumar and I just shot together recently. We previously co-starred in ‘Joker’ back in 2012. He is always nice to catch up with, and is a wonderful scene partner. And he always throws in a little ad lib that can catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it and interestingly, Prabhu Deva does the same thing.
Pratik Gandhi and I shot together recently for ‘Phule’, and back at the hotel we had a really wonderful dinner together, chatting about film, fitness and martial arts, and so much more.
Sushmita Sen and I worked together on Aarya and one of my favourite memories of that shoot was her and I playing pool till late in the night and watching ‘The Godfather’ together in an open air screening in the courtyard of Chomu Palace, Rajasthan.
Rajkummar Rao and I have worked together on three projects over the years: ‘Chittagong’, ‘Bose’, and ‘Roohi’, and I always love connecting with him and catching up on all that has happened since we began. And the list goes on and on…
Do you have any friends from the industry that you hang out with?
I have formed some genuine friendships over the years with quite a few people in the entertainment industry. It’s always great to have friends who understand the nuances of the industry, who share common interests, and can be a sounding board for ideas on how to approach a role or a song. But I have to say that I also truly enjoy the friendships I share with the people I work with on each new project. Even if we are not very close, I feel genuine joy catching up with them when we see each other on or off the set. And when you’ve been around for a while in this industry like I have, it’s inevitable that you keep meeting the same people again and again as they grow from being assistants to department heads, DOP’s, and directors themselves. It’s really a beautiful thing to see people you care for grow like that.
You started your journey in Bollywood with the Amitabh Bachchan starrer ‘Cheeni Kum‘, you were also a part of ‘Chehre’. How has been your experience working with the megastar?
‘Cheeni Kum’ was my first big Bollywood movie and I remember vividly the time that I spent with Amitabh Bachchan on set. What I learned from him was something that resonates with me every time I shoot- it was a lesson in humility and professionalism. I was an absolute newcomer to Indian cinema, and nevertheless, before our scenes he would rehearse with me, and after his closeup was done, he would stand on his mark and give cues for my closeup. He didn’t have to rehearse with me, and an assistant could just as easily have given the cues, but he had the humility and the professionalism to do it himself. This is a lesson that I try to pass on by example as well, not just because it’s the professional thing to do, but also because I believe actors are there to act. We should enjoy acting even when the camera isn’t pointed at us.