You studied engineering so how did acting happen? I started out in the fashion industry, which culminated in with a few shows in Nagpur. Then I thought why not acting? As it turned out, as it turned out it wasn’t a bad idea after all. Although I must say it wasn’t easy. Screen success happened slowly over time. Guess it boils down to how well you can convince people that you can deliver. Also, it’s about getting in touch with the right people for the rest of the pieces to fall in place.
Did you always want to be an actor? Well I come from Moga, a small town in Punjab, my mother was a college professor and a businessman. Growing up in a small town, I’ve always wanted to move out and make something out of myself. Let’s put it that way.
How did you deal with stardom? Ask anybody who has grown up with me and they’ll tell you that I am still the same guy they grew up with. In fact I still write letters to my relatives back at Moga and meet up with old pals whenever I go there. I guess you can call the story of my life one of those familiar Indian narratives. Small town guy goes out and tries his luck in the big bad world. In a sense, I am still that small town guy.
How has life changed after you took up acting? Speaking of change, you could say that I have become more of an open person. Every day I come across new people. It enriches me more and more. I love to learn from each new day. I am fortunate to have great friends who have been supportive of my endeavours, and anyway nothing is changed between me, my family or friends.
Anyone you emulate or draw inspiration from? My mother, she has always been a great source of inspiration for me. She passed away a few years ago. I still miss her a lot. Another person I admire is Amitabh Bachchan; I have always looked up to his sense of discipline as an actor and humility as a person.
Besides acting, what else are you passionate about? A few years ago, I started a trust in my mother’s memory for children with no access to education. I wanted to carry my mother’s zeal for teaching through the initiative, for the time being it is doing pretty well.
Coming from a pukka Punjabi family, did you ever envision making a name for yourself in south cinema? South cinema has been a definite stepping stone in my acting career. I started off with Tamil cinema and have never looked back since then. With every film I have grown as a person and learned a great deal from the people I’ve worked with.
You are now a household name playing villains in Telugu Films. How has it been working here? Honestly I have found that the industry can be quite a stimulating place to learn and grow. Every actor has an appetite for creative projects. You can say that mu hunger as an actor has been satiated after working in south films.
What makes a script interesting for you? The decision to select a role depends on a mix of intuition and experience. Five months into the industry and then you just know it. It is as simple as that. As you are reading the script, you just know if you are a cut for the film or not. After that, it is just a matter of taking or leaving it.
If there has been one driving force in your career, what would that be? You have to be absolutely convinced that you were born to do this. Call it determination, call it insistence, I have found that it’s always worked for me. Somewhere, that remains one of the driving factors in my life, a sort of curiosity that keeps me going and ensures that I do my best in every role I do.
What is it that you like best about playing a southern film villain? When I started in south cinema, it wasn’t all smooth and easy. The acting style is a touch overplayed here when compared to Bollywood. But yeah, sure, it is fun! But what matters most is your performance and not so much whether it is a southern film or a film in any other language.
Did playing the villain is Arundhati require any special preparation? Arundhati required five hours of preparation a day across the 50 odd days we shot for. That kind of routine helped me get into my character’s skin.
What is your life Mantra? That’s easy. As an actor and as a person, one has to keep doing what comes naturally. No more, no less.
How do you unwind? I love strumming the guitar when I can. I absolutely love listening to Bollywood music down the ages. Sometimes I still play to my friends whenever there is a get together (smiles), I am no party animal, Of course, I love my dose of Punjabi folk music too!
Are you a foodie? I still find comfort in home cooked food, Daal Chawal and Rajma always works.
How do you feel playing the baddie people love to hate on the screen? You know playing the good guy or the baddie doesn’t really matter for an actor. So long as you know you are putting in your hundred percent in the role.
Do you think villains are somehow sexier that the good guys? Did your negative roles affect your female fan following? Personally there have been no clear lines between the good guys and the bad guys on the screen. Being actors, our job is to simply live the role. I don’t think women fall for villains any more that the nice guys. We can’t generalise, can we?
Have people said that they have hated you since you do negative roles and most often the reel morphs into the real. This has happened to many famous villains like Amrish Puri, Prem Chopra, etc. How do you react to such feedback? When you are doing a certain kind of roles, you tend to get labelled in to a category. I believe I’ve given a distinct shape to the characters in say Jodha Akbar, Arundhati or Ek Niranjan. When the actor faces the camera, the only defining factor is the performance. Not the character’s inherent goodness (or lack of it).
What is the craziest thing a fan did for you or to you? While shooting in Vizag a few years ago, I was bombarded with a bunch of messages from this young lady who claimed to be huge fan. I often receive gifts and letters from her, and this went on for a year and half. Naturally it was getting a bit freaky, and guess what? There was even a marriage proposal!
You are generally accessible on phone to anyone, how come? It is one of those things that keep me grounded. And anyway, getting into a shell never helps, so no starry airs for me. Fate brought me to southern cinema and it all started with that single call, years ago. Glad I took it!