People haven’t yet gotten over your performance in ‘
I couldn’t plan this myself but I’m just glad that this year I had one release in 2022 which was ‘Darlings’ and this year I had ‘Dahaad’ and ‘Lust Stories 2’. I didn’t anticipate it to be such a big deal but it turned out to be a very big deal. But now, I am really excited about ‘Kalkoot’ because this is a story which is probably the most close to my heart.
Yeh dil se passion project hai mera
. It is something that I’ve been working on for like three years now. I took out time to do it because I felt like I have not read a script that moved so beautifully. The drama is so unreal.
You play a police officer in ‘Kaalkoot’, yet there seems to be a very vulnerable side to this character…
When I read the script I felt like this is such a unique new thought. So I’ll tell you, this is a police sub-inspector called Ravi Shankar Tripathi. He’s a young police officer maybe two or three months into the job. He’s kept one foot at the door, he is resigning in the beginning only because he’s not feeling equipped enough or suitable enough to do the job. And then what is the case he gets which gets him going. It’s basically a self discovery or coming of age of a police officer and that was very fascinating for me. He’s humanised a man whose job is being a police officer, that was very interesting, to see a police person in such a human way or somebody who doesn’t even look like he can do something. He was willing to quit the job right at the beginning of the career and then the metamorphosis happened. When an acid is thrown on a woman, who is responsible for it? So, he plays a catalyst in finding out who’s truly responsible. That study is what we’ve tried to show with the eyes of a person who seems unlikely to be doing this job.
While you’ve been different in every character, let’s just say that you may have been slotted in the ‘bad guy’ category. This seems to be breaking out of that box, isn’t it?
Yes, the last few outings have been fairly scary for the audiences so I’m just happy to be giving some respite, to be giving them a little soothing balm (laughs), and show myself in a light way. It’s something that they’ve never seen before so it’s definitely a box-breaking role for me and so I am also equally excited to find out how people will react to this. There’s a big section of the audience who wants to see me play the evil guy. They seem to be loving it and I have a lot of fans who enjoyed seeing me do that but now I’m eager to see what happens when I play somebody who is sensitive and empathetic, caring, kind and on the right side of the law.
So, would it be right to say that your role in ‘Kaalkoot’ is closer to home and the empathetic, caring person that you actually are?
The other characters required a certain kind of dropping of inhibitions and really pushing myself into the wild, but here it’s more home because I connect with this character in many ways. I’ve always been an idealist person, fairly naive in my ways, innocent to the ways of the world and in difficult times trying to do the right thing. So, in those battles, I could find relatability with this guy although it is again a completely new character but I was hoping that I could tap onto the warmth that I have as a person, into this role.
You’ve been doing movies for more than a decade now. It’s finally now that you’re getting that recognition. What’s your current state of mind?
Success comes with a very strong medicine, it takes care of all your old wounds. The moment I got a certain kind of love, adulation and eventually, the payments and the scripts (laughs), I started to look forward and not turn back. Where I was and what you’re seeing right now, the influx of work across all platforms is because I could just put my foot down, put my head down and work hard. I knew that there is space for fantastic storytelling for me. I wanted to be part of the right stories and I picked the most difficult, the bravest, boldest, the most dangerous and I will continue to do that, that’s been my agenda.
der aaye durust aaye
(smiles). I have not been a very competitive person. These are certain traits that are assigned to a man and are considered masculine traits. I have very few of those, so I’m very patient as a person. You make certain choices in life knowing that these choices may not give you anything right now, but may mean something to you in the larger scheme of things. So, over the years, I didn’t do work which didn’t speak to me, just for money. I didn’t pick characters that I didn’t believe in. I didn’t just play the hero’s friend, even when I didn’t have work. I never short-sold myself. I believed in myself and waited patiently, hoping that things will turn around. I navigated through tough times by letting go this one day and seeing what happens the next day. Now that work is flowing in, I’m in a much better position than ever before and it’s an important time for me to make the right decisions, so I’m applying myself there fully.
So, do bold choices come easily to you? How has it been to break inhibitions?
It’s agonising to say the least! Because we all feel that we can’t do this and that. For instance, I can’t dance in public! I can’t dance at a public place, I can dance by myself but I’m very shy to dance in front of anybody else. But for a role if I have to then I’ll have to really go through the agony of doing it. So, when I was doing these difficult roles it was agonising because I just feel so shy, embarrassed, sad at times and you don’t like the person.First of all, it starts from there, that I don’t like this guy which I’m playing. And then, you find a way to do it and it happens over the course of a few weeks because it’s not easy to show up and be an a**hole. I think it started with ‘She’ when I worked with Imtiaz Ali. The character I played in ‘She’ was in-your-face crass and sexual, derogatory but there was some kind of a flair and wit to it. So, yes it was embarrassing but it was nice. The moment I started, I knew I had to drop guards and lose my inhibitions one at a time. In ‘Darlings’ also, I think these are gutsy choices because it’s not easy for an actor to pick up a role where you’re getting beaten in half of the film. But, if you are with the messaging, with the film, then it’s completely fine. It’s important to know what the film is saying. ‘Darlings’ was about a marriage where this guy is a tormentor and now he’s tormented and so it’s a law of karma applied like that. One has to understand the messaging of the film.
Having said that, you’d be great at comedy I believe. Especially the sarcastic, deadpan genre. Ever thought about it?
I have often fantasised about comedy. I am slowly getting there. I’m simmering, getting ready for comedy, hopefully, I’ll be served soon with comedy (laughs).
Despite your bad guy roles, you’ve suddenly become quite popular among women who find you attractive in a very unusual way. Your reaction?
I’m very curious to find out why! I want to sit down with a bunch of hundred girls and ask them why they find me hot or at what moment did they think I was attractive (laughs). Jokes aside, I think when I was shooting for Gully Boy, I remember there were a lot of females in the crew. So that time I heard that ‘Moeen’ is kind of sexy. Then in ‘She’, I found the character to be repulsive, but a lot of women loved the guy, strangely. After ‘Darlings’, I thought, a lot of women would want to kill me, but surprisingly, women have much larger hearts than what men have and they were able to embrace this giant, diabolical creature. But I have no idea. I wish I had known what women like, then I would have done more of it (laughs).
And what about the industry’s perception about you? How much has that changed with success?
No, I’m getting roles that I never thought I would be getting and that has been happening since the last couple of years. I’m able to kind of pick and choose the ones I like, but there’s a lot of respect that I feel, there’s a lot of love.
What is the kind of content you grew up watching or dreaming to be a part of. And now the new-age content which you’re a part of, does it resonate with that?
While I was growing up, as a young boy, I wasn’t allowed to watch too many movies at home and we barely went to theatres. But we went to theatres to watch actioners with Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Indiana Jones, because my father was a fan of these actioners. So he would take me for those trips. So, that was my early exposure to cinema and it was only after I went to the film school at FTII in my 20s, is when I stumbled upon the cinema that I found fascinating. It was probably the 70s and 80s cinema, across India and in the West. So, I came across the Scorseses of the world, Shyam Benegals of the world, Hrishikesh Mukerjee, Prakash Mehras of the world and Woody Allen. These were the directors and films that affected me the most and I wanted to be part of that kind of cinema. But I believe the work that I’m doing is a new commercial kind of cinema. It is tastefully done, very commercial, but there is a sense of it being very artistic which I always liked as a young cinema student and an actor.
You seem to be the kind now who’s reticent and wants to let his work do the talking…
I don’t have a personality to just go out there and speak about myself. I feel very shy to put myself out there and I like to hide behind characters and that’s why I feel like the most fascinating part of me is on the screen and not off-screen. I’d like to continue it that way.
Is that why you’re not very open about talking about your relationship?
I’ve never said anything about my personal life, all through my entire cinematic career so far. I would like to maintain that. Having said that, there’s a time and place for everything in life and that time I will speak. But as of now, I’m too shy and hence I wouldn’t like to dwell too much into it.
While you play these complex characters on-screen, it’s so wonderful to see you flaunt your individual sense of style and explore fashion off-screen!
I came to terms with it as soon as I had some money, a poor person can’t do much about fashion is what I feel (laughs). But jokes aside, I was very shy and I wasn’t under the spotlight for years. But I realised, I would be under the spotlight for a brief period of time during ‘Darlings’ promotions and all, I thought of making the most of it. And it turned out that the gig was working and the fashion fraternity took a liking to me more than the film fraternity (laughs).
Tell me what’s happening next. The status of your upcoming projects…
‘The Devotion Of Suspect X’ is still getting ready, that’s what Sujoy Ghosh told me last. We don’t have a timeline for that yet. There’s ‘Mirzapur 3’ which is also getting ready. I’ve started dubbing for ‘Mirzapur 3’. There’s Homi Adajania’s film with Sara Ali Khan and a host of other incredible actors. There are a couple of more projects which I can’t speak about right now.
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