The lead pair of Salman Khan Films’ Hero – Athiya Shetty and Sooraj Pancholi – in conversation with Team Box Office India
Box Office India (BOI): It’s the first film for both of you, so here’s the obvious question… how does it feel?
Athiya Shetty (AS): Completing my first film feels like it was a dream. But now I am extremely nervous. I am excited but also nervous as the film’s release date is approaching. I have mixed feelings.
Sooraj Pancholi (SP): I am excited and not nervous because I think the time to be nervous is over. I was nervous on the sets but what’s done is done. I am waiting to watch what happens.
BOI: At the trailer launch, you were crying, Sooraj, and Athiya, you appeared very confident.
AS: (Laughs) I was acting. Actually, I was more nervous than he was and he had to calm me.
SP: Before the event began and we went on stage, she was very nervous. I was not nervous on the stage; I was overwhelmed.
AS: You were emotional.
SP: Yes, those were tears of joy. I couldn’t have been happier. It was a dream come true. So much had happened with me, up until then, and this was a break from all that. I felt like a winner that day.
BOI: So those were the tears of a winner.
SP: I had never shed tears of joy before that. I had no control over that experience.
BOI: How similar or different are your characters from those in the original film?
AS: Essentially, our characters are the same. The soul and the spirit are the same. My character Radha is extremely positive and she has this driving force within her. She has that ability to conquer the things she believes in. She wants to be independent and is very stubborn. What I love about my character is that Radha has growth in the film. You will see how she grows as a person, from being naïve in the first half, to becoming more practical in the second half. My character’s name is Radha as was Meenakshi Sheshadri ma’am’s name in the original. But we have adapted the film to today’s times like my character’s clothes and how she behaves with her friends. Back in the ‘80s, parents were not like friends to their kids like they are nowadays. So the relationship my character has with her father has changed in this film. We are more like friends. I bully him and I wrap him around my little finger.
SP: My character is called Sooraj because Jackie (Shroff) sir’s was ‘Jackie’ in the original. He is a bad boy who turns over a new leaf after he meets Radha and falls in love with her. The script is the same and the blueprint of the film is the same. But that was a three-hour film and this is a two-hour film. There are fewer characters in this one and there is greater focus is on me and Athiya.
AS: We have made a film that people would like to watch today, in terms of music, locations and relationships in the film, whether the one between Radha and Sooraj or between the lead pair and their friends and parents.
SP: Even the relationship between Sooraj and Pasha, who is played by my father.
BOI: Any childhood memories of watching Hero?
AS: I had watched the film when I was very young. I enjoyed the music and it stuck with me. It is a beautiful film and a classic that has a special place in Indian cinema. But after signing this film, I didn’t revisit the original as I didn’t want any references and I wanted to create my own character. It is obvious that we will be compared but I didn’t want to get into that zone.
SP: I had seen the film in bits and pieces when it used to air on television. I had never watched the film in its entirety as it is a long film. But I watched it at least four or five times after Salman (Khan) sir told me I was doing this film, Hero. It is a great film but it would not be fair to compare us with Jackie sir and Meenakshi ma’am because Jackie sir is such a cool person, even in real life, and I think Jaggu dada is the only ‘dada’ in the industry. No one else can be like him, both on and off the screen.
BOI: Isn’t this a blessing in disguise as both of you had been wanting to become actors for a long time? Then Hero came along and Salman Khan was producing it. So nothing seemed to materialise and then, all of a sudden, you get this huge opportunity.
AS: I look back at all the heartbreak I experienced due to projects that didn’t happen. There are times when you are stuck in a rut, when nothing seems to be happening, and then you get something like this. Times like this make you think that whatever happens, happens for a reason. Sooraj knew about this before anyone else got to know about Hero.
BOI: You knew you were going to do Hero?
SP: Only Salman sir and I knew that.
AS: Only two of them knew. They were everything, from the production house to everything else for the film initially. (Laughs)
SP: Even Subhash Ghai sir didn’t know about it. (Laughs)
AS: He didn’t know that these guys were making a remake! (Laughs)
SP: Yes, only Salman sir and I knew. We bonded on the sets of Ek Tha Tiger, where I was an assistant director. It was the last schedule and he gifted me a film on my 21st birthday. He wished me ‘happy birthday’ and then he congratulated me. I asked him why he was congratulating me and he said, ‘Tumne film sign ki hai na.’ I was flabbergasted and I said ‘no’. But, again, he said, ‘Main bol raha hoon tumne sign ki hai.’ I asked him which film he was referring to, and he replied, ‘Meri.’ He said he was launching a production house called Salman Khan Films and wanted me to do his film. Then he asked me, ‘Karoge?’ I said ‘yes’. He told me he didn’t have a script as yet and that once I returned to Mumbai, I should start training for this film.
After a year and a half, he called me and said, ‘Hero dekhi hai kya?’ I told him I had watched the film but not properly. He asked me to get the DVD and watch it. After I did, I called him back. That’s when he said he wanted to get the remake rights to the film. He swore me to secrecy but he assured me that we would make this film. After that, he told Subhashji, and that’s how it all happened.
AS: Salman sir’s sister Alvira (Agnihotri) saw me at the gym. She told Salman sir about me as they were already looking for an actress for the film. And I was the perfect fit. (Laughs)
BOI: As industry kids, your debut film is very important. What is it about Hero that makes it a good launch pad for you, apart from Salman Khan producing it?
AS: It has a well-rounded script, and, for a first film, it has everything. It has passion, it has romance and it is an intense love story. Lately, we haven’t had an intense love story releasing.
SP: I agree. It is not a rom-com; it is a pure romantic film.
AS: Yes, and it has action. Sooraj is extremely talented when it comes to action, and he is able to pull off the ‘hero’ part. So it has everything… romance, action and good songs. It’s a film that everyone will watch and, as our first film, we want everyone to watch it too.
SP: It’s very simple, I couldn’t have asked for a better title other than ‘Hero’ for my first film because people automatically start calling you a ‘hero’. Of course, with a title like Hero, you have to work doubly hard to measure up to it. I have tried my best and it is a great script. We have modernised it.