Tiger Zinda Hai: Meet Sajjad Delafrooz, the terrifying villain Abu Usman in Salman Khan’s film
Those who live and breathe Bollywood might identify Sajjad Delafrooz in a small role as a doctor in Akshay Kumar-starrer Baby, but the role of a merciless terrorist Abu Usman in Tiger Zinda Hai has earned him thousands of new fans. In a freewheeling chat, the actor talks about his growing years and struggling days in the film industry.
Sajjad, 34, was probably a late entrant to the world of acting. He says, “I must say that Bollywood was a childhood dream, but one needs to take steps. I actually planned to become a full time actor. It’s not easy. I realised that I need to work too much on myself. Hindi language was a major issue, so I worked for almost six years. I left my job as a PR manager and started acting in 2011.”
Born in Iran, he had to stick to a plan for a long time to finally land a substantial role in Bollywood. He says, “I was born in a small village near Shiraz in Iran. I was two when my family shifted to Sharjah, UAE. There I grew up in an Indian neighbourhood. There I learnt Hindi, but it was very different than India. I came to India and realised the beauty of the language. Watching Indian films helped immensely.”
He adds, “I went to Turkey after finishing schooling in UAE. There I spent four years and came back. I did my master’s while working in UAE. My plan was to become a manager. In the countryside, we all had similar kind of dreams: To have a family life, a nice car, a good job.”
But it was all adding up to the day when he had to make a decision. Sajjad says, “I was 27 when I left my job. It was so boring. I felt sorry for the company. But they say it’s never late. I have played even 23-year-old characters. When I shave, things do work for me (laughs).”
He further says, “After working for a few months, I knew this is the place to be, but I wanted to do much more than just TV commercials. I started sending mails, making videos and began to think in Hindi. A dream started to transform in a plan.”
It was just the beginning of a long road. Sajjad elaborates, “In 2015, I did a couple of films that I hoped will get me something better. A movie didn’t get noticed and my scenes were deleted in the other. I was like ‘wow that was fast’. All expectations were gone. I had the choice of not working or working harder. Then I tried to get in touch with key filmmakers. I was working for 10 hours a day on laptop for almost a month. I even had back pain.”
He continues, “There weren’t answers. One of those thousand mails was to Yash Raj Films. I got a mail from them in December, 2016 stating that I may get an audition for the role of a soldier who has gone through a lot of pain. I made a video and sent it to them. After a few days, I got a call from Shanoo. I knew the names of some big casting directors, but when you don’t get replies for a long time, you don’t expect it to be real.”
“She called and said ‘I am Shanoo’ and I liked your audition. I only said thanks. She said we want you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I said ok send me the NDA. When it arrived then only I realised it was Shanoo Sharma. I should have said a longer thank you at least (laughs),” adds Sajjad.
He had to sacrifice the TV commercials he was doing in the UAE. Sajjad says, “I stopped going to shoots in UAE and started growing beard. I honestly thought this is my role. I had to go through three auditions before meeting Ali Abbas Zafar. Then Shanoo called me to India for the camera test with the director. By the time I landed in India, the character Abu Usman had already taken shape in me. They locked me for the job in next 15 days.”
At this juncture, he becomes a little philosophical. “In the beginning, you might get frustrated that I am not getting big roles, but later you realise that it’s a process. You put all that experience in your work. That’s what helped me because I never been to any acting school.”
And then came the moment to actually sharing the screen space with Salman Khan. “We see him as a superstar on screen, but when I met him he turned out to be a beautiful human being. He talked to me like family. He asked about my diet, gave me tips on body transformation. He told me some exercises that I still do.”
Then like a good artist, he adds, “I didn’t have any fear, it was excitement. He always wants to give.”
Before closing the conversation, I asked him whether it was difficult to torture Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif during the shoot. He says, “I am an emotional person, so seeing Katrina Kaif like that was painful. It was hard for me, Sajjad, to be in that situation.”
Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha