How has the experience of being a member of the jury at Mumbai Film Festival (MFF)?
I was very surprised when they called me to be a part of the jury. I remember standing in a queue for hours waiting to buy a ticket for MFF when I was younger. Being in the jury is great because I get to watch a lot of films. We sat through 20 films of five-minutes each, the theme for which was Mumbai. I enjoy any film which moves me emotionally, it should make me happy or sad.
However, I am not an industry veteran to judge others. I still watch films like I used to when I was a student. I had the help of other jury members like Shoojit Sircar, Ravi Jadhav, Niranjan Iyengar and Tisca Chopra to judge the films.
When did you realise that you wanted to be an actor?
I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was in school. It started with a keen interest in dance and martial arts. Later, I took part in school dramas. When I got into college in Delhi, I joined a theatre group.
Who were the actors or films that inspired you as a child?
I am a film buff. When I watched DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge), I became Raj (Shah Rukh’s character). When I saw Hum, I became Tiger (Amitabh’s character) for a week. I used to fall in love with all the films that I watched and got obsessed with them. Growing up I was particularly inspired by Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Manoj Bajpai and today I look up to Irrfan Khan, he is doing some great work.
Was your family open to the idea of you getting into the film industry?
They were more than happy.
If you weren’t an actor what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t an actor, I would be struggling to be an actor. I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else.
There was a phase where I wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated with the universe and outer space but I was never smart enough for that.
What tips would you give young aspiring actors?
Both, an actor who has done a few films and an actor who has done nothing at all, have to keep working on their craft and strive to learn. There is no alternative to hard work. I didn’t have anyone to give me pointers when I was getting into the industry. I learned after making a lot of stupid mistakes. I don’t think you need a godfather to get your first film.
Is it easier in today’s times to get a break or is the industry in India saturated?
The industry is dynamic. You have films being released online, lots of young directors are getting exposure and audiences across the world are noticing Indian films. This means that a lot of work is now available. But people still want to bag only a Bollywood film.
You started your career with Love Sex aur Dhokha. How has life changed since?
I have started giving more interviews. I’m still getting used to answering so many questions. Other than that, I’m still the same. I miss my home. In the last eight months, I have been able to spend only a few hours at home.
Life for my family still hasn’t changed much. They are happy living in Gurgaon. Of course, when there is a film release, they get very excited and this is mostly because neighbours and school friends are all so proud.
How did you prepare for your role in Shahid?
In Shahid I was playing a real person so I spent time with his family. I wanted to enter the character’s mind and reach his soul. I spent time with Shahid Azmi’s brother Khalid. I would ask him how Shahid would react to certain situations and try to then gauge how he would think.
In case of a fiction films, I try to create characters in my head. But this was different.
Is it more pressure to portray a real person?
I wouldn’t say it is pressure but it’s definitely more responsibility towards the family. Khalid has seen the movie and he told me that I was able to capture 95% of his brother’s personality. That is all the validation I need.
Is there competition between you and other young actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Imran Khan etc.?
I can’t talk about anyone else. The competition is with myself.
Would you do a mindless, masala, formula film?
Why not? If I like the script, I’m open to all kinds of roles. I don’t look down on any of those roles. The script has to excite me. I need to love something about it, be it the plot, the character or even a character other than mine.
What are the projects that you are working on?
Queen, directed by Vikas Bahl is coming out in February. I worked with Kangna Ranaut in the film and it was a great experience. She is a fabulous actor, but beyond that she is also a fantastic human being. I will soon start shooting for a Mahesh Bhatt film and there are a couple of other projects lined up.
I’m definitely busy.
What do you do in your free time?
I watch films. Yes, it seems strange that I spend all day on film sets and still want to come back and watch films but I honestly love cinema and just can’t get enough. There is no solution to this problem. (Laughs)
So what’s next on your checklist?
To be the greatest actor alive.