Meena Iyer traces the grind that actor Arshad Warsi has been through before he found a spot under the arc lights

By Meena Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; February 07, 2010)

Vishal Bharadwaj’s Ishqiya has grossed 15 crores in three days… and may go on to becoming 2010’s first certified hit. The success of Ishqiya also brings in its wake glory for its leading man Arshad Warsi; who has made a mark as the unscrupulous rogue Baban, whose kohl-lined eyes wreak havoc with a captive audience. And, to think, he had almost been banished to a 14-year exile; having begun his acting career in 1996.

Yeah, for the cinematically challenged Arshad began his Bollywood trek a long time ago. Actress Amrita Singh doesn’t remember Arshad Warsi. When he was assisting the prolific Mahesh Bhatt on the Anil Kapoor-Amrita Singh drama, Thikana (1987), this 19-year-old was a faceless blur.

Orphaned in his teens; an impoverished Arshad landed the job of Mahesh’s umpteenth assistant. His chores included the thankless task of gathering crowds for the shot; and writing the continuity sheets. “I assisted on Thikana and Kaash,’’ says the actor… “and chances are that the actors from either unit won’t remember me.’’

“I don’t remember myself too well from then either,’’ he jests.

There you go. Arshad’s movie journey was a roller-coaster ride where he went from being a director’s sidekick to a star.

In the 11-year interim between 1988 and 1996, this natural-born-dancer floated his own dance troupe (married fellow dancer Maria Goretti) before landing himself the lead role in ABCL’s Tere Mere Sapne alongside Chandrachud Singh.

The movie brought him bouquets and a swollen head. Believing in his myth, as most actors do, Arshad became the common-place hero signing on tripe films, many of which are still in the cans.

Hero Hindustani, Mujhe Meri Biwi Se Bachaao, Jaani Dushman - the list of his flops far outlived his instant stardom… and as in the game of snake and ladders, he rolled the dice wrong.

Seven years later he was resurrected by Raj Kumar Hirani who introduced him as Munnabhai’s ‘sidekick’ - the inimitable Circuit - in Munnabhai MBBS. “The prequel and the sequel established his credentials as an A-list actor,’’ says trade analyst Amod Mehra. And Arshad was back in the studios.

A still from Ishqiya

Candidly, the actor admits that in the months spent in exile when he had analysed his career; and in this second round, he was content with being packaged in multi-starrers, where himbos were the leading men; and he the perfect foil. Kabul Express, Golmaal and Dhamaal worked. Goal, Krazzy 4 and Shortkut-The Con flopped.

“Look I saw the flaws in Goal and Krazzy 4,’’ says Arshad. “But I was too small a fry to have an opinion on them. Goal had a far bigger star (John Abraham) than me in the lead; Krazzy 4 was produced by Rakesh Roshan and Anil Kapoor produced Shortkut.

These guys weren’t going to pay attention to what I had to say. Besides, the four-and-a-half-hour version of Shortkut that I saw was amazing. But when we cut down the length, we missed the essentials. It can happen to any film that is edited by half.’’

(Above) Arshad Warsi playing the endearing Circuit in Munnabhai and (below), his celluloid debut in Tere Mere Sapne

He admits that despite being at a disadvantage when he started filming Munnabhai in 2002; Raj Kumar Hirani gave him a voice. “Raju believes in speaking to his actors, asking for suggestions, etc.’’ says Arshad. And does he feel vindicated today post Ishqiya, which has given him the platform he long deserved? “Not vindicated. I’m elated that the film has worked. I’m happy with the phone calls and messages that I have received for my performance,” he says.

Adding, “I won’t take names. However, if you’re leading up to the question on whether I’m upset about some others being bigger stars than I am, the answer is no. I will call myself a superstar the day a producer tells me ‘Arshad we can raise Rs 35 crores against your name’.

That has not happened. Till that happens I have no illusions about my positioning in the industry hierarchy. Ishqiya is a modest budget film… and I’m happy that it has gone on to make money.’’

He continues, “But then I can’t take the solo credit for the film.  It has a stalwart like Naseeruddin Shah, it has the very talented Vidya Balan; and first and foremost, it is a Vishal Bharadwaj film. I’m certainly an important cog in the wheel, but I’m not the wheel.’’

The success of Ishqiya though augurs well for him, his home production Hum Tum Aur Ghost where he goes as a solo hero is slightly brighter now. “I wish it wasn’t true that the entire onus for this film is resting on my shoulders,’’ he says. “But it is true. And the thought is intimidating.’’

Be that as it may, he says that through his trials and tribulations he never resented playing second fiddle to a Sanjay Dutt or for that matter even to John Abraham. “Sanju is a superstar by birth,’’ says Arshad. “He never talks down to his co-actors; and he is also fully confident that no one can enter his space.

Working with him on Munnabhai was a pleasure. Sanju is not condescending or patronising. He is just Sanju… secure in his place. No games, no manipulations.’’

“John is also sweet,’’ he adds. “Believe me, I don’t envy the Khans or Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan or any of the others who are ruling the roost. They have all been very consistent with their track record and hence they have the box office position that they do.

There is no resentment and there’s no feeling of being deprived. Like I said, if I had to have a consistent box office track record, the very same trappings could have been mine.’’

Arshad Warsi with wife Maria Goretti

He isn’t sure whether post Ishqiya life will continue to be a smooth ride either. “Out of the 10 films that are offered to me, I refuse eight because I find the script not up to the mark. But what’s the guarantee that the two I do, will hit the bulls’ eye. You have to choose from what is given to you,’’ he says.

For Arshad what is truly gratifying though, at this juncture is the fact that he’s on the wish-list of makers like Raj Kumar Hirani, Kabir Khan and Abhishek Chaubey. “These are guys who give their 200 per cent to film-making,’’ he says. “Working with them is so satisfying that whatever follows - box office, money, glory are all an add-on. I feel honoured that they find roles for me in their films.’’

A natural progression for him, a couple of years down the line is direction. “Even when I was struggler I was bitten by the director’s bug not the acting bug,’’ he says. “I want to make my own films; I want to tell my own stories. Most actors want to be a director someday. It is a natural conclusion for a creative guy.’’

He could begin by telling his own story.