Hiren Kotwani (BOMBAY TIMES; March 2, 2017)

He may still look like the strict, no-nonsense 'bade bhaiyya' of Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, but when you meet him, you realise that he has long shed that image. Arbaaz Khan is calm and chilled out despite the flurry of activity at the producers' office ahead of his Friday release, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. In an exclusive chat with BT, he gets candid about work, divorce and the apple of his eye, son Arhaan. Excerpts...

Having completed over two decades in the industry, what is your criteria of choosing a film now?
As an actor, I ensure that I play a range of characters. It doesn't necessarily have to be the lead role. I am not an extremely bankable actor, people cast me when they think I am suitable for a role. I'm a director's actor; if a role comes my way, I don't go completely by my judgement but the director's. If he thinks he can mould me in some way , it'll interest me. Usually, as an actor, one tends to play it safe and take up roles that suit his image, but I try to experiment. So, I do three-four films a year.

Your roles in films like Daraar and Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya created the image of a serious, intense person. Did that limit the kind of roles offered to you later?
Yes. For a long time, many people didn't think I could do something lighter. There were some directors who took a chance, like Priyadarshan, who gave me Malamaal Weekly and Hulchul, and Madhur Bhandarkar, who made me play this suave and sophisticated character in Fashion. My roles in Dabangg, Freaky Ali and Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon were also liked by the audience. In Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, I play an NRI businessman and philanthropist. These roles give me plenty of scope to experiment. I'm happy with the space I am in as an actor, and I think these are good times.

The industry has undergone a huge change...
Cinema has changed over the years. There is no black and white, no 'this-is-hero-and-this-is-villain' scenario. The lines are blurred; you don't necessarily have to play a hero to get accolades. Earlier, everything was designed to make the audience root for the hero. Today, every character is equally well-etched. I am happy that I've passed that stage when I need to dance around trees with heroines.

Going by the promos, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai looks like a female-centric film...
Yes, the protagonist is Manjari (Fadnnis) and all other characters are entwined with hers. I play an interesting character, who encounters her in the course of the story. To be honest, I like to work. I look for a few things - an exciting project, good team, sound script, well-defined character, good money... if these are in place, I am fine. I've done small, medium and big films; I'm not so goddamn picky. At the end of the day, who knows what will work or not?

How does it feel taking directions from a newcomer, considering the fact that you're a producer and director yourself?
I'm absolutely fine with it. I've been an actor for the longest time, I became a producer-director only in the last five-odd years. I'm very non-interfering and follow what the director wants. If a director is clear about what he wants, there's no need for you to interfere. And if he lacks clarity, then you shouldn't interfere (smiles). It's not fair on my part to interfere as I may see things in isolation, while the director has been working on the script for years. If a script is given to five different directors, they will all interpret it differently. Also, it would be embarrassing if tomorrow, an actor tells me to take a shot in a particular way.

Given your family background, comparisons and expectations will always be there. Do you think it's unfair?
Expectations are going to be there in every field. In cricket, if you score a century in one innings, you will be expected to repeat it in the next. But if you bow down to pressure, you won't be able to do much. Success and recognition came to me late in life, when I produced Dabangg and directed Dabangg 2. You don't know when you will get your time under the sun or as what - actor, director or producer. So, you've got to keep your options open. I have a very holistic view of life. While making it big and becoming successful is great, everyone doesn't become a Sachin Tendulkar, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan or a Shah Rukh Khan. As long as I'm honest and happy with the work I'm doing, I'm fine.

What is the most important advice your father, legendary writer Salim Khan, has given you?
My father has always told us that if you look the character, half the job is done. So, when a director is narrating the story, I try and figure out if I will look the part - be it the garb, gait, body language or diction.

On the production and direction front, talk is that you've silently started Dabangg 3...
We're still ideating. We'll start work on the script by the middle of this year and will roll by early next year. But yes, Dabangg 3 will be my next as a producer and director.

Even as your marriage with Malaika Arora Khan has hit a rough patch, there are often reports of you bonding with her family...
My association with Malaika's family is as old as my association with her. My equation with her mother, sister and father won't be affected just because as partners, matters haven't been fine between us. In fact, I get invited to their house for dinner every other day. I still respect Malaika and she is the mother of my son, Arhaan. He is still young, so a certain decorum has to be maintained. Even if there are differences, they have to be set aside; the child has to be given the right care and attention. Malaika and I did attempt to get back for a long time, but unfortunately, we couldn't find middle ground. However, we are on good terms and will continue to be so. Let's see what life holds for us.

Celebrity break-ups are always in the spotlight. Was it tough explaining matters to your son?
Arhaan is sensible. He was 12 when it happened, now he is 14. His focus is on studies and athletics. When a couple hits a rough patch in their marriage, it's easy for their children to fall into bad company and lose focus, but my son is doing better now than before.

In the interim, there were reports of your link-up with Goa-based restaurateur, Yellow Mehra...
That's all bullshit. She is just a friend. I visit her when I go to Goa, maybe to have a meal. It's really frivolous journalism to make a story based on a picture I posted. The next time I want to post a picture with a friend on social media, I'll be afraid of a link-up. She could be someone's girlfriend, wife...