Actor traces milestones in over a decade-long career and roles that are identified with him now
Roshmila Bhattacharya (MUMBAI MIRROR; February 16, 2017)

RANGOON (2017)

In the last two-three years, I’ve been able to reinvent a new silhouette for myself in almost every film which is a fortunate place for an actor to be in. Rangoon is my third association with Vishal Bhardwaj, probably the most relevant filmmaker in my career who has given me opportunities, again and again, to showcase myself. And Nawab Malik is as unique a character as Haider or Guddu and Charlie in Kaminey.

There’s something about men in uniform that draws you. They are always soft-spoken and courteous despite what they do. You can feel their nobleness, discipline and heroism irrespective of the times they live in. What makes Nawab Malik distinctive is that he is with the British Indian army in the 1940s, a complex time when India was on the verge of independence and patriotism at its peak. How Nawab Malik, a patriot, lives with these dual realities given his feeling towards his country and its freedom made the dynamics of this character exciting for me and the conflict a cinematic experience for viewers.

The other exciting thing was that as an actor it gave me the opportunity to engage with the heartland of the country. During Haider, I’d stayed in Kashmir, shot in the interiors, met locals, felt the energy of the place and savoured the flavour of the state. That was true for Udta Punjab too, which was filmed in Punjab. With Rangoon, I discovered Arunachal Pradesh in 20-25 days. We filmed at railway stations and in jungles on the Indo-China border. We also drove for fivehours from Guwahati in Assam to shoot at a waterfall and stayed in places where there were no proper roads, electricity and telephone lines. That is a strong association I’ll always have with Rangoon, apart from getting to play a fresh and completely original character.


Tommy was the most obnoxious character I’ve played — a drug addict on an ego trip, a spoilt brat who took his success for granted and behaved badly with women. On paper he was a much hated guy but my director’s (Abhishek Chaubey) brief was that in five minutes people should love him and that was the challenge.

I modelled him on the kid you sometimes see lying on the floor in a kids’ shop, throwing a tantrum for something they want. Your first thought is: What a terribly behaved child. And then you tell yourself he’s just a kid, he doesn’t know better, and you forgive him. That’s how I wanted viewers to see Tommy — a spoilt, lost kid who gave me the freedom to be obnoxious. It was liberating and enjoyable at times.

HAIDER (2014)

I remember shooting the scene where Haider is standing by the grave of his father at a wildlife sanctuary in Kashmir. Since he has believed all this while that his father is alive, he breaks down when confronted with the reality that he is no more.

We did the shot in a single take, the cameras placed far away from the action. By the time Vishal sir called “Cut” I was so into the shot that for that moment it had become real to me and I was overwhelmed. When I opened my eyes, Vishal sir was holding me in his arms. For me, Haider is that moment.

KAMINEY (2009)

Kaminey is impossible to forget because someone or the other, usually at traffic signals, will randomly start talking to me in the ‘Pha’ language, “Abe phaale, pha ko pha bolta hai. Pha ko ‘pha’ nahin bolega to kya ‘la’ bolega.”

It was the first double role of my career and scary because every actor worries about pulling it off. It came in the first six-seven years of my career so I couldn’t say I was prepared or experienced enough. I’m glad I got it right and my first double role wasn’t rejected though I could have done better.

When we started, everybody thought Guddu was closer to my natural personality so we focussed on the rugged bad boy Charlie who was very different from my familiar image of the sweet boy next door. We shot the first 20 days with me as Charlie and when we finally got on the sets for Guddu, Vishal sir and I looked at each other and asked, “How do we play him?” Guddu evolved on the set as we didn’t have time to prep for him.

Stammering is something actors often get wrong and I didn’t want Guddu to be seen as a funny guy who stammers. Stammering is a speech defect which comes from a lack of confidence. That Guddu turned out as hero whose speech defect was presented with sensitivity and dignity was our victory.

Will there be a Kaminey 2? I doubt it. I’d be surprised if Vishal sir makes a sequel. I don’t even know if I’d want to play the characters again after so many years.

JAB WE MET (2007)

It was my most under-rated performance. I feel for Aditya Kaushik, both in the movie and after its release, because he didn’t get the recognition he deserved. Instinctively, I knew that 10 years later people would get this guy but at that time, to make Jab We Met work, one character had to anchor the story so the other one could jump around.

In an actor’s journey, you get to play the clown often. Nine out of ten films you are offered, you will be playing to the gallery. Seldom do you get to play a character that is silent, complex, layered. But I had a great time doing the film. Imtiaz Ali was still new. Who was to know that he would turn out to be the brilliant filmmaker he is today. I feel privileged to have worked with him so early in his career in a film that turned out to be so memorable, so liked and so relevant. The best thing about it is that wherever I go people talk to me about Jab We Met and say that, “Yaar jab bhi we are in a bad mood or low, we play this film and we feel so happy.”

That is the magic of Imtiaz. He was able to make people happy with something that wasn’t an inyour-face laugh riot but a simple story with a good heart. Whatever Imtiaz was feeling at that time, he made people feel it… And they are still feeling it!

VIVAH (2006)

Vivah, I must confess, was a world I had never experienced. So, to play Prem, I simply imitated Sooraj ji (director Sooraj Barjatya). It’s ironic today that I have had an arranged marriage but at that time I had no idea what such a match was all about, where a girl and a boy just talked over tea and ‘paani’ was referred to as ‘jal’. I give 200 per cent credit to Sooraj ji for the way he moulded me, got me in the right emotional space for the character. He helped me find and stay in the sur. I was really soft-spoken and nice during those couple of months which was good for those around me.

I remember flying to Delhi for the last leg of promotions. A day before the release, I was sitting with Sooraj ji whose previous film, Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon, hadn’t done well, and he told me, “Shahid, tomorrow I will tell you if this film will work or if it has been rejected too.” The next day he came to my room, post launch, “Don’t worry Shahid, now I will talk to you in 10 weeks, the film has been accepted.” I was stunned because those days the maximum a film would run was five weeks. But Sooraj ji was right. This one completed a silver jubilee! He has a loyal audience and he made a film for those people.

I bumped into him after my own vivah at a recording studio. He smiled and said, “Finally, you have settled down!”


I was selected for my debut film after several rounds of auditions and rejections over three-four months. Finally, when I got to meet the director, Ken Ghosh, he was sitting at a computer and laughing at the screen. Turned out, he was looking at a video of a baby chimpanzee sticking his finger in his butt, smelling it, and swooning. He was watching it on a loop. It made me wonder, “Is this the guy who will introduce me to the world as an actor? My ‘mai baap’? for the next one year.” I was petrified!

On the first day of the film’s release, Amrita (Rao), Ken and I visited a theatre in town. It was before the advent of social media, and since we were newcomers, no one knew us and simply smiled politely as we walked in. But after the show got over, we had to be shunted to a room and barricaded to avoid the fan frenzy. I went from being a normal person to a star in a matter of three hours. That’s the magic of cinema.