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The location is pretty exclusive. It’s the beautiful boulevard where two of Bollywood’s most illustrious families — Dilip Kumar and the late Sunil Dutt’s family — reside. Between these two bungalows is Reshma building, home to Bollywood’s rising star, Emraan Hashmi.
The building, which has been Emraan’s residence for the last 30 years, is well-known in the area, but thanks to his legendary neighbours, it is still inconspicuous. Not that Emraan lacks a lineage of his own. Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt are his uncles and Emraan is a star in his own right, part of films produced not only by his family, but also people like Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor. Once known as ‘the serial kisser’ because of his penchant for somewhat risqué movies, he’s now being seen as a serious actor, with films like Ek Thi Daayan, Ghanchakkar and Ungli in hand, plus a movie with Danis Tanovic, the director of the 2001 Oscar-winning film, No Man’s Land.
How did this transformation take place? Over to Emraan. Are you enjoying your new kiss… to success, I mean?
It started off as a clumsy peck and now it’s become a full-blown French kiss! Yes, I am enjoying my new success.
Why did you want to become a movie star?
I wanted to be famous and do good work. More importantly, I expected a lot of money. I didn’t know the other implications.
Did you ever interact with your immediate neighbours, Dilip Kumar and Sanjay Dutt?
I look up to them, but there was never much interaction. Even though I was from a film family, I remained pretty disconnected from all the filmi jazz. Though my uncles were in the business, I hadn’t been on a film set before I started assisting them. It was an unfamiliar world that I had only seen in movies in theatres or on DVDs. Therefore my interactions were limited in this regard.
You were called the one-man-industry of medium budget films, mostly made by your uncles’ company, Vishesh Films. But now that you have stepped out, the battlefield is bigger, with a lot more players. Are you ready?
I don’t see myself competing with any of them. I have different ideologies. There are certain similarities between the industry and me in terms of functioning, but at the same time, I have my own set of pronounced rules that I abide by. If I do what everyone does, then I won’t be able to do anything different. There are a lot of rules that I don’t abide by, don’t understand and don’t want to follow.
Everyone from the industry perspective wants to play by the familiar melody; everyone is chasing a wonder figure — the Rs 100/200 crore club. And when you chase that, you cannot take risks. The more you are in that race, the more formulaic and uni-dimensional you get. Having said this, I also want to chase figures by doing some formulaic films, but at the same time, I also want to do a certain parallel to mainstream kind of cinema that changes the terrain. I will always take risks as they have always paid out in my career. So I am not competing. That is my point.
How’s the view from the top?
It’s a decent view, but there’s always a better view as there are lots more levels to climb. It’s a long way to the moon.
But I am enjoying my journey, it’s fun. I have realised that I have reached a certain point in my career where I can start doing things that I wanted to do and steer my career whichever way I want. The choices you get to make at this stage are something I always wanted, compared to five years back, when even though the efforts were the same, the choices were limited. Honestly, I don’t know which level I am on right now. Lots has changed since I started. But the fear of failure is still strong in me.
A sign these days of having arrived in Bollywood is lots of endorsements. What do you say to that?
People with a rom-com image get more endorsements. I haven’t done the traditional running around trees or the
chocolate boy romance. And I cannot take up just any offer that comes to me. In the past I was inundated with offers for lip balms and condoms. I didn’t do them. All those were because of the films I was doing.
But a lot has changed in the last seven years. I know endorsements are great and easy money. It’s just two-three days of work and you get huge money. But in my case there’s no particular desperation, although I am open to endorsing a good and solid product.
Where do you fit on the tree of actors ranging from their twenties to the established forties?
Can I say I am not on this tree? I choose to be the outsider doing my own stuff.
Certain ingredients and dishes have been doled out since the last 20 years for the actors who are now in their forties, and those have been their cinematic beliefs. But now this set of actors has run their race and will move on. Cinema will see a huge change when the new bunch takes over. The trend has already begun. This new lot, with their educational background and taste for a different kind of cinema, will certainly bring in a cinematic revolution.
I see a massive change in the coming four years to begin with, and I want to be part of this big change of doing something unique, which could be mainstream or experimental. It’s a great time for the industry. Tastes are changing. Very soon, a film like Shanghai will become mainstream.
Do you call yourself an actor or a star?
There’s a difference between an actor and a star. An actor reads the script and changes himself to adapt to it. A star takes the script and sees how he should change it so that it suits him.
I am a bit of both. I have done a film like Shanghai where I changed myself to adapt to the script. It was highly exhausting. Then I have also been the star and played to the gallery in most of my movies. I have steadily made that change. Now I don’t want to be a one-dimensional star. I think acting is highly recommended, stardom isn’t. There’s more satisfaction to acting than to stardom. But I need to do both as I need to keep my house running.
What is the price you paid for this stardom?
There were things I could do 15 years ago that I cannot do now. I could easily walk to the store down the lane, sit with friends and have a chat. Goa used to be a huge hangout for me. I have had endless parties there. Now I find myself the object of attention, which is not quite welcome, especially when I am in the mood for an outing.
Maybe I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of being famous. Maybe it’s not what I thought it was. Having said that though, I am not cribbing. If I had the chance to go back and choose my journey again, I would still choose this journey.
Living next door to him, did you never bump into Sanjay Dutt when you were young?
He’s worked with my grandmom in a movie called Naam (1986) where she played his grandmom. Her name was Purnima Verma. She had introduced me to Sanju. I vividly remember the 1993 riots when I was in standard eight. We all got together at Sanju’s bungalow and filled sacks with rice that was to be distributed amongst those affected by the riots.
Now Sanju and I are working together in Renzil D’Souza’s Ungli. It’s very surreal for me. I never even dreamed about it. He’s been very sweet and invited me to his gym. I am so messed up with work now, I haven’t had a chance to visit him. Undoubtedly he’s a great guy.
Was your kiss-my-heroine policy pre-planned? It all looked pretty effortless.
I don’t think any massive thinking went into it. I must have done a hundred kisses so far! And, yes, I have a very mechanical approach to it. People who think I am comfortable kissing must be out of their heads. Acting is weird anyway, and then to do something so private in front of so many people is weirder.
I am not comfortable with kissing on screen, but I make it seem effortless. But it’s still unnerving. I have grown up watching Hollywood movies and, if you have ever interacted with my family, you will know that they are not that orthodox. So it was shocking for me to learn that people are shocked when I kiss.
Your past successes have been greatly music driven. Now that you have moved out of your safety zone and taken up work with other directors, will you still rely on great music?
Music is undoubtedly a great asset to a film, but that alone cannot pull it. I pick up a film because of a great story. I don’t hear the music or songs of the film when I sit to hear the script. Sometimes, the songs come to me a day before we shoot.
It just so happened that I got great songs! In fact, there’s pressure on the music directors to give the best. So in my films, just as the kiss is an integral part, music is and will always remain an important part. My producers understand the market better than I do.
Tell us something about your film with Danis Tanovic.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have an agent in Hollywood. It’s an exciting film that Anurag Kashyap got me. I got a call from him saying I should read the script as he felt I would fit in.
Do you have any say in the choice of your heroines?
The choice of actresses doesn’t feature into my top ten priorities. I am not saying there is no talent out there, I am just saying that for me, everything starts and ends with a great story. Everything else is all value-added components in the film.
In any case, casting is entirely the filmmakers’ department. I choose not to give inputs in this department as director ko laagega ki (the director will feel) I want to kiss that girl. It’s highly controversial.
You are doing an international film and, as we all know, Hollywood demands more than just a kiss. Love-making scenes are part of their movie culture…
I don’t think I am ready for love-making scenes the Hollywood way. As liberal as I am, it doesn’t go beyond this for me. And as it is, I don’t know what Danis’s (Tanovic) film is all about! I am not playing to an image in Hollywood — people do not know me there. For all you know, this film could be a reinvention for me altogether.