What was your instinctive reaction when Mira Nair offered you the role of Tej Puri?
"What the hell, I'm not doing it." I went through a whole lot of doubts before I said yes. It is not very pleasant to see yourself doing this kind of role. Besides, Bollywood tends to slot you instantly.
Expectedly, I got a number of offers after Monsoon Wedding to play various kinds of sexual perverts but I said no to all. Most actors would not have touched this role. Mira and Naseeruddin Shah finally convinced me to do it.
But you are, after all, a professional actor who could be called upon to do all kinds of roles, whether it is an underworld don or a paedophile.
True. I should be open to all kinds of roles. But this is the worst kind of human being; paedophilia is unjustifiable and unforgivable. It is the ultimate horror. When I saw the film for the first time, I said to myself, "Oh God, what have I done?" I couldn't bear to see myself. I was depressed for three days.
The key to Tej Puri's menace was the fact that he seemed like a regular guy. How did you arrive at the decision to play him thus?
Yes, that's how I decided to play him — as a regular sort of guy, but a man with a secret, a man who has something to hide. I also factored in his age — he was supposed to be older than Naseer, the uncle who had done a lot for the family, which is why people were grateful to him. The script did the rest.
Considering you were initially horrified at your own portrayal, how did others react?
Even now, I have people coming up to me to say, "We hated you in Monsoon Wedding. You did the role so well." And I say, thank you. But I'm still trying to live it down.