You once said you became an actor by accident. Do you think actors are born or made?
No one is born with a particular mission; their own will and environment shape them. I don’t think Gandhiji was born the Father of the Nation; he was just his father’s son. It was thanks to his deeds that he gained that honour.
In my case, my father wanted me to become an IAS officer. He believed his son should be special — a civil servant with a difference. He did not mind my being an actor but he wanted me to finish my IAS so that I would become the only actor who is also an IAS officer.
What does cinema mean to you?
For me it is my job, my business. Serious business. Films are my way of contributing to society. I talk to people through my films. After entertaining them, if I can send them home thinking, then I would have done what I set out to do.
What kind of movies do you personally enjoy? Which would be your 10 all-time favourite movies or performances?
I enjoy all kinds of movies. I would say my last film is my best film because after every film, I try to improve; it is an ongoing process. It is difficult to pick 10 favorite movies. Time magazine once rated Nayakan my best. But today they may displace it or give it a lower rank.
Ek Duuje Ke Liye was a turning point in your career. So why have we not seen you in more Hindi films?
True, Ek Duuje Ke Liye opened doors for me in Mumbai. But I was more at ease in the South. I was keen on making the movies I wanted to make and I have greater autonomy here. I don’t think I would have got that in Mumbai.
Now that Bollywood is more organised in its planning and is more content-conscious, I would be interested in doing Hindi films. We are planning one, but it is too early to divulge details.
You recently played an active role in a campaign against breast cancer. What prompted you to do so?
Some of my best friends and yesteryear heroines like Sri Vidya died of cancer. Recently, my best friend Gautami battled the disease — and won. It was traumatic for me and her. I have even filmed some of those moments. I plan to use them later to generate awareness among patients.
You have had a colourful, tumultuous personal life. How have you dealt with the controversy and heartbreaks?
I am responsible for my heartbreak. I like to live my life on my own terms. Especially if I can afford it. I see to it that I live my life without disturbing the peace socially. I am a rationalist and cannot live for my neighbour’s satisfaction.
You once said you are not qualified to be a politician. Does that mean it’s a categorical ‘No’ to politics?
See, every Indian is a politician. I am also a political being (‘animal’ if you prefer that term). But I don’t want politics to be my profession. Politics is a social tool I would like to use for my betterment; I don’t want to be used by it.
Two Indians recently brought home India’s first Oscars in a long time. What importance do you accord the Oscars?
For me, the Oscar is an American award. If the US calls a local baseball tournament a world championship, would you agree? Without meaning any disrespect to my friends, Resul (Pookutty) and (AR) Rahman, who are masters of their trade, I’d say aiming for an Oscar from India is silly.
Why aspire for a foreign award for a film made for my people? I should seek an ISI mark for my goods produced in India. I will seek American ratification when I decide to export my goods to the world outside or America in particular. Resul and Rahman did exactly that — they made a film abroad for the West’s consumption. The fact that the content was all about India does not make it an Indian product.