You were the first Indian-origin actor to feature in a mainstream show. Was it a struggle to land the role?
Honestly speaking, I’ve been really lucky and luck has nothing to do with being English or Indian or brown, white or blue. In any profession, it’s hard to find good work and I’ve been lucky to have a consistent job for six years, on Lost. I don’t read too much into it, since I don’t find that useful.
But there’s been a trend in the last few years, of Indian-origin actors playing parallel lead on top-rated US television shows. How do you think that came about?
I think things are moving forward in America. The studios are hopefully recognising that Indians exist... and they can act. Usually, if you are of Indian ethnicity, you are typecast in certain roles like the cab driver or the geek.
How tough has it been to break out of that?
I’ve been offered a lot of such roles, but they were not acceptable to me. Things were hard enough and I didn’t want to make it worse by being stereotyped. I’ve tried to avoid caricatures.
But yes, it also depends on how you play those characters. In drama school, I’ve played a dwarf, I’ve played a 60-year-old King Lear, and all sorts of other characters. As long as you are not offered offensive roles, you can play around with what you have. And no one’s really offered me roles of fundamentalists so far.
Do you still get approached for pointless roles added to in a movie or a show, for the sake of ‘diversity’?
If I’m offered anything, it has to be well-written. It can’t be a load of bollocks. I’d like to believe I have some kind of integrity in my work. So even if I’m offered a part as a gardener, if the part has truth in it, I’ll do it. In Lost, you were cast in the role of an Iraqi soldier at a time when relations between USA and Iraq were sour.
How’d you go about portraying your role at such a time?
The Bush administration was exercising its influence at the time and most networks had to comply. We were incredibly lucky in the first season to operate regardless of what was happening.
We were very aware of our responsibility to the Arab world at the time, in terms of putting such a character on prime time television. We wanted to render the character as a real human being; not black, not white, but complex. And I think we succeeded. Various organisations were quite pleased with our portrayal.
As Lost comes to an end, what’s your state of mind like?
Honestly, I’m quite relieved. The show’s been very tough and demanding. It was reasonably fresh and unpredictable in terms of writing, but it was hard living the same character for six years.
How will life change after Lost?
Personally, I don’t really think on those lines. (Laughs) My life has nothing to do with my profession. Getting married or having children changes your life, being on a TV show doesn’t. My life will go on regardless.
Do you know how it all ends? Is it frustrating to not know?
No, I’ve absolutely no idea how it will end. And yes, it was frustrating for the first couple of seasons. But after that, you get used to it and it doesn’t matter anymore.
How should the show end?
I think, for my sake, and for the sake of the audience, I would love to see it resolved in a profound fashion. It’s been leading up to a conclusion, so it should not be anything short of brilliant, or the audience will be very disappointed.
What would be the perfect end to Sayid’s story?
The great thing about Sayid’s character is that someone, who’s had such a dark past, is capable of such great sensitivity and passion. So, I don’t think it would matter if he lives or dies, as long as he gets some kind of spiritual redemption.
Through the series, what surprised you most about Sayid’s character development?
That’s hard to answer. I think, for the first two seasons, the writers consistently surprised me. But after that, I have been able to second-guess his moves. The flashbacks have definitely left me curious though.
Does air travel creep you out now?
(Laughs) Not really. I’m not concerned about death. I never had a fear of air travel even when I was a kid. When it’s your time, it’s your time, you know? It doesn’t make a difference to me.
How’d you cope if you were marooned on an island?
(Chuckles) There’s no way I’d last more than a week if that happens! I’m not like Sayid at all. I won’t be able to cope with things the way he does.
I’m going to take a break now. I’ve been working reasonably hard for quite a long period. Six years of your life is a long time. (Chuckles) As I said, it’s going to be a relief.
Will you ever do a Bollywood film?
(Chuckles) I would never rule that out! I had a jolly good laugh doing Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice. It wasn’t a Bollywood film per se, since there was no singing and dancing, but I did work with Aishwarya Rai.
In fact, there was a song in the film and you even shook a leg. Looking forward to doing that again?
(Laughs) Oh yeah! Why not? You know, growing up in England, I was quite ignorant. I wasn’t aware of the power of Indian films. I got a small taste of what it’s like with Bride and Prejudice.
(Chuckles) Saroj Khan and her team had to work quite hard to make me dance. I like the fact that there’s so much life force in Bollywood films. They have very little to do with intellect, but they are still rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve got a great vibe, and that’s why people dig them.
Is there anyone you look up to in the Indian film industry?
I’m drawn to Satyajit Ray, but that’s completely different cinema, isn’t it? I like anything with Govinda in it. He’s a genius, I’m totally serious! When I first saw him, I was completely electrified. The only western performer who has that kind of energy is Iggy Pop.
Do you have a crush on any of the Indian actresses?
(Laughs) I wouldn’t say it was a crush but I liked Aishwarya Rai. But I’m more drawn to the ’60s beauties like Nargis.
Indian actors are now trying to cross over to Hollywood. Do you think that it’ll work out?
Why not? People are culturally aware today. Look at me… till six months ago, I didn’t even know how to send an email, but now I do. (Chuckles) If an idiot like me can cope with change, I’m sure things are headed to a time when people can work across boundaries.