The danger with under-playing a character is that one is labelled a non-actor. Let’s face it, the acting in our films is a little over-the-top.
There is nothing odd about it.
I mean, too niche a film…
Actually, when I read it on paper, it didn’t seem like a niche film. The way people are processing it now, it might appear to be so, but it seemed like a very relatable kind of story that people could connect with. It was very Indian in the sense the main protagonist is someone who is not from an upper class or anything. He is a Hindi speaking boy from the Dal lake experiencing love.It had the whole rich girl and poor boy dynamics, so you’d think that would be able to cut across all demographics. Even how Tabu’s character is, the way she speaks… it’s not elitist, it’s not alienating. It’s not about a thing about rich people’s problems so it seemed to me that if you can emotionally touch a chord with the script, it could cut across all sections. So yeah, it didn’t seem to be like a niche film.
The director Abhishek Kapoor is known to make niche films…
Fitoor is his most commercial outing, I think because it’s a love story. I think love stories are inherently commercial and universally kind of loved.
Did you watch the films or read the novel before you began to shoot? How did you prepare for the role?
I didn’t read the novel. It’s not because I’m lazy, that’s Katrina’s theory (laughs). I didn’t read it because it was adapted as a screenplay and very different from the book. They were two very different things. I had seen the Ethan Hawke film Great Expectations quite a while ago and I didn’t really like it. It didn’t really fulfill me emotionally, it left me a little cold. It is a very tricky film anyway, it’s not an easy film to make but visually that film really stuck with me. The reason I didn’t read the novel was because I didn’t want to confuse myself like say he has adapted it so there was something in the script that was not in the novel. Yeah, I’ll be playing something else.
What was the most difficult part of preparing for Fitoor?
There were quite a bunch of things.Like physically like I had to work hard because after Daawat-e-Ishq, I had to lose a lot of weight. That was pretty intense, like in 10-11 months, I lost 17 kilos. It was very psychotic. It was like an obsession or a madness. I wouldn’t have one even one sugar free in my coffee. But that kind of centered me and this character needed to be subdued. I speak fast, I am a born-in-Bombay guy. For Noor, I had to be a little more centered, quiet and reticent. Also the way he speaks, his body language.. I spent some time in Kashmir, I went for a recceand stayed back. I spent some time with the locals just to kind of get some ideas, their mannerisms, lingo, to get little clues.
I did some art classes because I had to look convincing in that whole thing and welding, that was fun. That was a few months, a couple of months. It all didn’t come into the film as you know stuff gets edited out… I did some stuff like melting metal, like fun stuff. It’s perks of the job to be able to learn new stuff. That apart, I had to get myself emotionally charged up for this role. Because it’s like this guy loves a girl from the time he is a kid and continues loving her even though it’s not reciprocated. That’s something I have not been through, thankfully so I had to get that right. Because your love not being reciprocated, is not really nice.
Do you think this generation can relate to something like that? Aren’t they all about moving on?
It is not a generation thing, I feel. Humans like to feel loved back, if they don’t they are won’t pursue it endlessly. Maybe more, I guess, you move on faster, probably so. But kids are growing up very fast nowadays that’s for sure.
Was this part of obsessive lover part of Noor completely unrelatable to you?
I can only pursue someone up to a point. I have never gone through a situation where I have tried to woo someone who was not showing mutual interest. No, but I don’t think that’s my thing. I don’t know if I can love like that. I never had to go through it. Lucky me, touchwood. I think it is relevant because love is something that is through all the ages you love and I think we are all alike. But in films, we need to show things that are heightened versions of reality. You want to see someone that is larger than life. You want to see stories and lives that you don’t see every day. So, you have to show the audience a love so great… because they are also coming to see it and want to be convinced.
What was the best part of playing Noor for you?
I think it was the mental thing of trying to just wrap my head around how he is. Because you know you have to rationalise. How has he lived all these years and still he is painting her and it’s all about Firdaus and how he is able to live like that, just to understand that. I don’t know if it’s come across or not but emoting that was challenging. This is the one film — I might be boring and all — but I was waking up before time everyday just to get on the sets because the world he was creating for me was so novel. The story was interesting and the journey of the character goes and being able to look at situations through this character was exciting.
And to imagine how it would be for a small-town boy to come and just experience this, was thrilling. I was feeling so excited to get to play this part that every day was like a dream for me.
Is there something in Noor that you identify with?
I think that he is passionate and I find that I am passionate about a few things. If I am in a relationship, I’m kind of invested about my work. I find that acting is something I love doing from the last few years. I try to get it right and yeah, I am passionate about cricket and singing.
Were you happy with the way you played your character? If you could go back and change something what would it be?
Every film of mine, when I watch it, there is something I wish I had done differently. I cringe a lot while watching my films. But I do pat myself on the back sometimes, and it is important to do that, too. And more important to later, let it go. But I know there are some things for sure. What it was in Fitoor, I don’t want to let out. That’s not right because I’d rather people find it.
What’s this about you being the best kisser?
Well whatever it is, I think it’s great. I have to thank Gattu for that. (Laughs) And no, we haven’t kissed.
You have done three romantic films back-to-back. Is that deliberate?
Yes, the three solo-hero films that I have done have been romantic films, but it’s not deliberate. I would like to explore different genres as well, though within the lover- boy zone, all three have been very different roles. I’d love to do an action film. I grew up watching them, so I’d love to do them. I’d love to do comedy.
What’s your favourite genre to watch?
When I was growing up it was Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan stuff, but now I like watching a good drama. It depends on the mood. Sometimes, you want to watch an action film, or a good solid drama. Or if you have had a heavy week, a no-brainer light film…
What about horror?
I love horror. I don’t think we have cracked it over here, because being scared is such a universal feeling that horror can strike a chord anywhere, if you are doing it well. Somehow we look down upon the genre.
Yes, we don’t see any of the big actors and directors venturing into that space.
True, we don’t even make many murder mysteries, you know?
How romantic you are on a scale of one to ten?
I would say five.