The actor on his back-to-back releases, two international projects, actress-wife Neha’s comeback and doing a film to pay off a debt
Meena Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; March 17, 2017)

You have Naam Shabana on March 31 and Sarkar 3 on April 7. Overkill or overjoyed?
This hectic phase began last year and I’m liking it. Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh and Soumendra Padhi’s Budhia Singh – Born to Run made a huge impact globally though in my opinion they were distributed sparsely in India. Then, there was Sanjeev Sharma’s Saat Uchakkey, which I think was a smart comedy. I also did three shorts — Devashish Makhija’s Tandav, Shirish Kunder’s Kriti, and Ouch, directed by Neeraj Pandey, all of which created the required impact. I begin the year with Naam Shabana directed by Shivam Nair, whom I have known through his association with Imtiaz Ali and Neeraj. I’m glad we found common ground with this film.

Couldn’t you have timed the two releases slightly better?
I have never used strategy in life because I strongly believe in destiny. If I was a strategist, I would’ve requested Mr Amitabh Bachchan (co-star) or Mr Ram Gopal Varma (director of Sarkar 3) to give at least a two-week gap between the two releases. Then again, since I am only in a cameo in Sarkar 3, I need not worry. My scenes in it are dear to me and Ramu was ecstatic with the result.

Before Neeraj’s production Naam Shabana, my relationship with him began with Special 26 (2013). He sends me every script he writes and we discuss it at length, whether I’m in it or not. Both of us have mutual admiration and respect for each other. The script is nail-biting. Once I chose the role that I wished to play, Neeraj worked on it, making it so much more interesting. This character is completely cold-blooded. But most of the activity in the film is centered on Taapsee Pannu, whose character is all about girl power.

After two-and-a-half decades in the industry, what are the criteria for you to choose a film?
I have been around for 23 years and I have seen more downs than ups. I thank God and my directors for keeping me going. Taking stock of it all, I would say that earlier I had a more cut-throat attitude. The role and the script were the only criteria for choosing a film. Now, I do films based on my emotional connect with a filmmaker. Since I have a relationship with guys like Neeraj or Ramu (Satya, Kaun), I’m happy working with them. I have done so much work; I do not feel the need to be careful with my choices anymore.

Word on the street is that you recently wrapped up two international projects. Is that true?
It is true. Both the films are interesting. Love Sonia is produced by David Womark (who’s previously produced Life of Pi). It is about women trafficking in India and is in Hindi. The second one has an international producer but is in Hindi too. We are hoping to find studios with good networks to distribute them.

Have you ever done a film only because of a hefty paycheck?
Money cannot tempt me but I must not lie. Just once in my entire career, I have done a film primarily for the money because I needed to pay off a bank loan. I am a farmer’s son and I have a phobia of loans since childhood. I have seen my father running away at the sight of bank officials because he had taken a loan for his tractors and they would give him constant reminders about it. I’m happy driving my small car. I also have a luxury car but I hate using it because when I sit in it, I feel as if it owns me. Tomorrow, if I make enough money, I will have a branded car and a villa. But today, I see no reason to go work exclusively to acquire a Mercedes. I prefer a less complicated life.

Your wife is planning a comeback?
Yes, Neha (Shabana) is an actor and she will be back in front of the camera. (Casting director) Mukesh Chhabra had offered her a fantastic role in a big film. However, our daughter Ava needs her more right now. So Shabana has decided to wait it out for a bit. You see, Ava trusts her mother more as the primary caretaker than she trusts me. She is more demanding of her mum. The day we find some kind of a support system for Ava, Shabana will be in the studios. She did an ad a year ago. Currently she is a hands-on mother because she feels that is more important. When she does ads, Ava travels with her.

Will we see the two of you in a film?
Maybe. Actually, why not?