My weakness has become my strength-Emraan Hashmi
Emraan Hashmi talks about his journey from Footpath toShanghai and rise from formula to creative fulfilment
Anand Holla (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 10, 2012)
Days before Shanghai’s release, Emraan Hashmi had to cancel his tickets to the the IIFA awards at Singapore. The last thing this actor, at the cusp of stardom and art, was expecting to be held up by was a stomach flu. At his expansive Pali Hill residence, Emraan, in a checked shirt and flat-front khakis, lounges in the hall that’s flush with sunshine and breeze. “I must have eaten something nasty at Kanpur or Lucknow where I had gone to promote Shanghai. I really wanted to be with Dibakar Banerjee and my co-stars at a platform like IIFA,” he says.
Away from the arc lights, Emraan is the antithesis of his ‘filmi’ screen image. He has had a silent surge, first as a mass hero, then as a bankable star, and now an ‘A-lister’, who is starring in a Karan Johar film as well as a Vishal Bhardwaj venture. In most of his 25 films thus far, the majority of which have been super-hit potboilers, the 33-year-old has played grey, troubled characters that get away with swindling, killing, betraying people and, of course, kissing girls and getting luckier than that too. From Footpath, Murder, Gangster, Awarapan, Jannat, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai to his disarmingly sincere performance as Jogi Parmar in Shanghai, Emi (pronounced Immy) has coursed the long mile. The only thing that has remained unchanged in his career is the signature lip-synced hit song. He talks about what changed, and what didn’t.
Considering your repertoire, Shanghai may end up being the only film your two-year-old son Ayaan can see a few years from now.
Yes, I can’t show him anything else. Even for Shanghai, he’ll have to turn 18 to understand it. By then, Mumbai would have hopefully become Shanghai…or maybe not.
Why did you feel the need to step out of your comfort zone?
I always aspired for a departure from being the mainstream hero. But I couldn’t find anybody who could do this for me without turning it into caricature. Dibakar Banerjee keeps it very natural, so this seemed perfect. Also, I feel most of our actors are smug and narcissistic. Very few want to step out of their comfort zone. They think they do but they are still boxed in and airbrushed. Christian Bale does Batman and American Psycho, and still manages to look like a Crystal Meth addict in The Fighter and lose 30 kgs for The Machinist. Now that’s a real actor.
What does Shanghai mean to you?
Shanghai is a film I am extremely proud of. It has taken the life out of me to get inside Jogi’s skin. I have never done anything like this before, content in my cool, urbanised, aloof characters. Jogi has an inferiority complex but he masks it with an overt sense of bravado. I may have met somebody like Jogi but I wouldn’t understand him. Dibakar recommended I undergo these 12 painfully grilling theatre workshops with Atul Mongia for the role, which I did.
Jogi throws open a dimension of me that three months ago people may have never thought existed. Shanghai tells the audience: Look, he can do this. That said, Jannat 2 is as important as Shanghai. But an actor wants his other facets to be understood as well.
I know that 90 per cent of our industry would want Shanghai to fail. That’s because they don’t have the balls to step out and make a Shanghai. I have been here nine years to understand how an out-of-the-box film that challenges Bollywood’s conventions gets run down by its own people.
Two common complaints people have against you: a) You got lucky because of the Bhatts. b) You look nothing like a hero.
Both these grouses are true. It’s not exactly a revelation that Mahesh Bhatt has always backed me. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be in films. But you can’t hold that against me. It was an inroad but it couldn’t have guaranteed success. Many star kids give their best shot, but if the audience doesn’t embrace you, there’s no place for you. The Bhatts have been protective of me when I have signed films outside their banner. But they understand I need to do my thing too. As for my looks, if I didn’t look the way I do, I would probably be one of those many faces doing a romcom which I detest. The way I look has somewhere defined the characters I played. My weakness has become my strength.
What do you think Bhatt saw in you?
I have no idea. My grandmother Purnima Verma was an actress. Maybe he thought I had inherited her genes. She would say I should stick to being the second hero or a side actor. My family was concerned because I had nothing going for me in the looks department. They didn’t want me to be hurt if I failed. I wasn’t alien to the camera though. As a child, I had done around 20 ads. I was seven when I did a Goodnight ad and got my first pay cheque of Rs 2,500. I had the face that went well with brands such as Rasna.
Was learning to act tough?
I was always plagued with self-doubt. When I went to Satyadev Dubey’s acting class, I was shocked to find how acting was being taught — 25 students facing a wall would recite a Sanskrit monologue for hours on end. You would graduate by picking another wall and continuing to recite. I did it for a day or two and then went, ‘Okay, this is probably not my scene’ (laughs). Eventually, I went to Dubey sir’s house and learnt a few basics. Then I was trained for a while by Roshan Taneja.
Amisha Patel once told Bhatt, “This boy can’t act.” The first day of Footpath’s shoot was at Mukesh Mills and my career’s first take was a wide angle shot of me walking out of a drug deal and throwing a dialogue at Aftab Shivdasani. My family was cheering, the unit was clapping…pedhe bhi batt gaye thhe. But I couldn’t say the dialogue. I froze and remembered all the people who said I didn’t have it in me. My family felt so awkward that they left dismayed. Bhatt sahab thought this guy is really f***ing up, so he left. Forty-five retakes later, the shot still wasn’t canned and the unit packed up. I was devastated. As I was about to leave, a lightman told me, “Hota hai…sab ke saath hota hai. Kal dekho, theek ho jaayega.”
I didn’t sleep that night. Never have I recited one line as many times as I did that night. I can never forget it: Batti band kar. Agar battery down ho jaayegi toh koi dhakka maarnewala aayega nahi.
The following day, the first take worked. Footpath began and so did my journey in movies.
How do you think your career has panned out?
I feel content. Bhatt or Vishesh films wrote my films keeping my strengths and weaknesses in mind. I was happy to do what I was told. Bollywood had never explored erotic thrillers. Murder, which definitely marked the onset of bold cinema, was my first brush with box office success. An Emraan Hashmi film has come to guarantee certain ingredients: An intense, grey central character, a beautiful girl, if he gets lucky then two (smiles), couple of kisses, a few bold scenes, fabulous music and a climatic twist.
My dreams then were anybody’s — buy a car, a house, gift something nice to my girlfriend. I wasn’t mature enough to see the bigger picture of creativity.
Don’t your intimate scenes upset your wife Parveen?
I don’t think any wife would be fine seeing her husband do that. But then it’s my profession, right? Our fights over this haven’t yet reached the dramatic levels of chucking vases at each other. But yes, I definitely experience the agonising pain of her fingernails digging into the back of my palm while watching a film’s premiere. I prefer to deal with her abuses on the night of the screening than tackle it through the six months of shooting.
Hasn’t she asked you why you must have a kissing or make-out scene in every movie?
Of course she has; and so has my family. But everybody understands that it’s an ingredient in my films. Bollywood likes repeating formula because it works. It was shocking for her and my family when I was publicised as a serial kisser. They took time to digest the fact that the kissing scene had become a norm, a part of my persona. Parveen understands it but says, you are a good actor…you don’t need to do this. But if I try and be a clean romantic hero, I would be terrible.
And the scenes would need multiple takes?
The kissing scenes get done in four or five takes (pauses). But yeah, even that’s a lot (smiles). At first it was nerve-wracking. During Murder, I would tell everybody to be upbeat and confident but I was nervous as hell because, after all, it’s a personal thing that you are shooting for the big screen.
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