Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; March 17, 2017)

Today, he's having a field day his. Years ago, entry into Bollywood (Kai Po Che) from television was nothing short of a wild card entry. A master stroke of sorts. Soon after, Sushant Singh Rajput stumbled for a bit and got brickbats for it too, but with his stellar performance as M S Dhoni, he changed that into the finest willow. Yes, he excitedly admits he is single, while shrugging off rumours of link-ups. The man who lives in the moment, is looking forward to his next, Raabta. He talks to us about the chances he has taken, his myopic view on life and how he's realistic about stardom.

We wouldn't be wrong if we said you tapped your potential the most by far to play M S Dhoni...
I know that I have the capacity to do in depth research for a character. Even for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, I knew everything about the Calcutta of the 1940s. I had even watched the Byomkesh Bakshi series, but I think that analysis doesn't somehow put you in a better position as an actor; it only gives you a right or a wrong perspective. For M S Dhoni - The Untold Story, I had a strong visual reference, so even if I didn't sit down and analyse Dhoni, I'd know how he sits, talks or plays cricket. Of course, I watched nearly 1,000 hours of video footage. Fifteen days before the shoot, I stopped doing everything else. I was just playing games. I came up with 250 multiple choice Q&As to figure what Dhoni would do in various situations. So once I was on the set, I knew this is Dhoni in a given situation.

Are you self-critical?
Yes, I am. As actors, we have to be. Sometimes even when I am performing on stage, I am not aware that it's me. I carefully use all my tools as an actor to convince myself that it's not me, and if I do that well, it works.

But are there moments when you can't convince yourself? Is there some sort of disconnect then?
As actors, we're conscious about it, but we can't plan everything. Some moments just happen. I was reading a book called Actors At Work in which Kevin Spacey was talking about Al Pacino and Dog Day Afternoon. He spoke about how he gave 51-52 takes for a scene. I don't know why our industry thinks that one-take actors are really good. Maybe they just have good memory and are confident, that's about it. Sometimes, after 10 takes you feel you are being repetitive and you want to try something different. And then, something special happens. It's tricky but it can also hugely change the moment in the scene.

After a great start with Kai Po Che, there were lows that followed. Did you feel down and out when things didn't go as planned?
No, I never felt low. First of all, I don't think about the past or future. For me, it's all about today. What matters is whether I am excited about a film or not. This is the litmus test for me. Shuddh Desi Romance was very exciting. Likewise, PK for those 15 days of shoot was thoroughly enjoyable. Interacting with Shekhar Kapur for those seven-eight months (for Paani) was wonderful, though the film didn't materialise. When I came to Mumbai, I had made a bucket list of directors. Some of the people I've worked with and some, who I am working with now, are part of that list.

At a certain stage in your career, decisions were driven by monetary reasons. It was probably a matter of survival. Have you gone past that phase?
Money was important when I was growing up. I have a big family with four siblings. I also wanted to go to a good university but I couldn't, and back then, I felt that this was an unfair world. Then, when I came to Mumbai, I was living with six-seven guys in a flat in Versova, but I don't remember complaining or regretting it. We would wake up at 4.30 am to do martial arts, head home, and step out for Shiamak Davar's classes for dance practice. In the night, we all would huddle and chat or watch movies. Those were amazing days, so I never look back and think of that time as my struggling phase.

So, when did your life change gears?
Once I started doing television, my life changed. The thing about success is that once you reach where you want to, you could get immune to it and then wonder what next. If this is what success is, then I don't want to be successful. I want to enjoy my life 365 days a year. For Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, I slogged a lot but the film didn't do well. M S Dhoni - The Untold Story did well and I felt okay. So just for the sake of a few days and weeks, I can't screw up the year. I am very myopic, I don't see that far. When people say that they have cracked the code to success, it feels so wrong because there could be so many right ways of doing something. So, if I make Pink with a different point of view, you would still probably be moved as an audience.

Earlier, TV stars were perceived differently. In recent times, filmmakers have increasingly opted to cast them in movies. Though we haven't seen as many success stories...
I was told that 25 years ago Shah Rukh Khan did it. He could do it because at that time, he was not on television every day for 30 minutes; he appeared twice a week. Television itself has changed so much over the years. Also, I think that people now have become more open to the idea of watching TV actors on the big screen. As for the success of TV actors in films, that's a chance. When I was offered Kai Po Che, I also had six-seven offers as a solo lead, but I chose the one I did for my debut. Having that clarity at the right time is what I call chance.

How different is the stardom you enjoyed on the small screen compared to being a movie star? Have attention and adulation changed you?
Yes, to a certain extent, because I would sit here in this hotel and read books for hours, but now, I know I am being watched. Also, because of technology, you can be bajaoed and scrutinised by everyone. So yes, my way of functioning has changed a bit, but the way I look at myself hasn't. When I was on TV, I used to walk on the roads, go to malls and people would recognize me. They do that even now. I guess what has changed are the pay cheques (laughs).

Ever embarrassed about a role you played on TV or in a movie?
When I came to Mumbai, I was doing plays with Nadira Babbar. There was a play where I was supposed to go on stage and say my lines for two minutes, after which Ashish Vidyarthi was to take over. I missed the cue and those two minutes seemed like 10 years. That was awkward. In the initial 19 years of my life, I was a real introvert and I couldn't talk. So, all this that I am today seems like an impossible dream. I can't believe that 15 years down the line, I can sit and talk to someone and answer questions.

Have you thought of directing a film?
Yes, I will probably direct a film sometime soon. I am also thinking about acting in it.

After being in a live-in relationship for close to seven years, you've been single for over a year now. Does it get lonely at times?
Even when I was living with my family, I would feel lonely at times. I have experienced that the more you take yourself seriously, the lonelier you feel. When I was in school, I was allowed to play my video game from 4-5.30 pm and every day I would wait for those few hours. I've lived the last 10 years like that... waiting for those few hours of my own time. Once I engage myself in work, nothing else bothers me.

You are among the most eligible bachelors in Bollywood. And you're often linked to some of the lovely ladies from the industry. More recently Kriti Sanon, your co-star from Raabta...
When you are successful, you get talked about a lot. If you fail, people will stop talking about you. I'm aware that people get attracted to your success, not you.

So, are you single?
Yes I am! Can't you see the excitement? (laughs).

We've heard that you would like to have a biopic made on your life...
No, that is not true. Someone once asked me which biopic would you like to work on next, and I said, 'Why would I want to work on another biopic? If I want to do that, I will do my biopic 10 years down the line.'