You finally made your debut on the small screen with 24. How was the experience?
Television abroad is completely different from what it’s like over here. It’s very mainstream. Whether the infrastructure, the logistics, the actors, the money or the budget — it’s as good as a big-budget film. It was like working on a feature.
But it’s still television...
People over there are in awe of Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland in 24). They are fans of TV shows. Ben Stiller was telling me that for his wife’s birthday party, he asked Keifer to come as a guest to surprise her. That’s the way they look at Bauer’s character. So, it’s a big thing for me to be a part of a show like that.
How has the response to 24 been?
I’ve got great reviews. They keep reviewing the various episodes one by one, on and off, and I keep getting good reviews about them. It’s been great exposure for me. And this is the kind of show that is being played in the bedrooms of most of America. So it just adds to my resume, my body of work, for the future.
Did you have to work very hard to play the role of President Omar Hassan?
Of course. I was playing a Middle Eastern president, so I had to work hard. I read Words of Peace, edited by Irwin Abrams, went on YouTube to check out the body language. I went through all the speeches of the leaders of the world. I bought all the books and read about those countries, their history… met a lot of Middle Eastern people and learnt to talk like them.
Did you do the same for Slumdog Millionaire as well?
Yes, of course. I had to practice a lot. It didn’t happen without any effort.
Were you nervous about working in Hollywood?
Yes, a little. But I was preparing myself. The crew and actors over there are more organised. Of course, there are creative discussions, but they’re more or less prepared. So I decided to be totally prepared as well.
You’ve acted in over a 100 movies since 1978. From Lakhan to Arun bhaiya to President Omar... How has the journey been?
I never imagined it. I am taking it slow and not thinking about it. The last two years have been a rollercoaster ride, a journey I never imagined I would experience. I never thought it would open me up to the world, the filmmakers, directors, writers, actors, events, award ceremonies and red carpets. Everything is like a dream. At least for someone like me, who was born in the small suburb of Chembur, this was not something I expected.