Leander Paes loves the big stage. Signing on the dotted line last week just exploded that stage from the narrow dimensions of the tennis court to the vastness of the Indian film industry. Will he cope?
"The world has been my playground and in my world, there is never a chance for retakes. Movies come nowhere close to the pressures of competitive sport," he says, between bites of a Mysore masala dosa at Matunga. "The only thing is that I will have to be careful about putting down too many of these," he smiles and pats his flat belly. "Movie people tell me that the camera bloats any bit of excess fat. Never had to worry about such stuff before, all it took was a couple more sets of tennis and things worked themselves out just fine."
But movies? "Fun thing to do, I think. Always loved performances of people like Amitabh Bachchan, Al Pacino and Clint Eastwood. Want to step into their domain and see what it takes." Risk tennis stardom for the ignominy of being another wannabe actor? "One life is all you get. And all so-called stardom is transient; it all vanishes with time. Might just as well have my kicks when the chance presents itself. It’s also a great medium to reach out to all my fans even after my tennis career ends."
What kind of role is this film offering? “There are actually two of them. Both action, fast-paced. Can’t talk about the first one, but the one set to go on the floors in December is tentatively called Rajdhani. It’s about a train journey from Mumbai to Delhi. But it’s actually a journey about how we, the common people, should look to be the difference that we want to see.”
It will be quite a leap from wearing shorts and running down tennis balls to wearing grease paint and having someone else call the shots. “I don’t know why we have to slot people into set moulds. The India of today offers people the opportunity to explore different aspects of their personality.”
Signing a movie is, after all, the easier part for him. Delivering a performance, however, is the real task. “My tennis opens doors for me. But I know that only solid work will keep them open in this industry. Look, I have nothing to lose. I do not fear failure and I will never live out this dream if I refuse to move beyond my comfort zone.”
Does he really feel he is big enough to straddle two pedestals, each with such intense competition? “Hey, hey! I am not walking away from tennis and this is a new challenge to keep my juices flowing after I quit the sport. I need to do this, I want to. Period. Jo hoga, dekha jaiyega. (we shall see what happens)”