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“We have to learn to detach ourselves when it comes to numbers”

Ahead of the release of Jabariya Jodi, Sidharth Malhotra talks to Bhakti Mehta about what sets this film apart from his previous urbane roles, the importance it holds in his seven-year-long career and pulling off a comic character but with a unique twist

You said in an earlier interview that you now want to challenge yourself as an actor. What was it about Jabariya Jodi that challenged you to be part of it?

It absolutely fits into my thought process. Jabariya Jodi is a film which is a nice blend of what I wanted to do, basically, portray a character that I have never done before. This is a commercial film with me playing a colourful character, it is based in the heartland, something that is completely different from all the films that I have been part of till now. I think maybe people assumed that I could not do this because I had not done this till date. Just to break that myth and that perception, I was tempted to do this film. And then, above all, I genuinely enjoyed the story as well. I think it has a great concept and it is told in a very entertaining way even though it is a serious issue; that makes the narration new. And I had a lot of fun playing this boy who hails from Patna.

The character that you play, Abhay Singh, is perceived to be loud, a little bit in your face. How did you draw the line so that you do not go overboard?

In my opinion, it starts when all of us - the writer, the director, the team and I, we get the right sur of the script. We get the hang of what the character is all about and how to portray it. And then in this, we wanted to maintain a balance because we are talking about a serious issue. But we still wanted to make it colourful but not larger-than-life. I do not think that larger-than-life characters are real. Real characters get hurt, get emotional, laugh and get scared as well. Larger-than-life characters look fictitious. That balance, I think, was set right from the beginning. And then, there was the part where I had to do a lot of homework. For me, it was to make the language very comfortable, subtle and yet believable and natural. That was where the maximum amount of work went in. Since this was a Hindi film, we wanted to a touch of Hindi in its tone and language. So what we incorporated was Patna ki Hindi. It was about me speaking Hindi but with a Patna accent. We could not let the tone go completely Bhojpuri or Maithali or Magahi because if we did that, then it would make it a regional film. We aimed to make it real but kind of funny. And we are pretty happy with the response so far from the trailer that has been out and now we are really looking forward to the release of the film on August 2.

You have done comedy films like Hasee Toh Phasee before. Your character in Kapoor & Sons also had a touch of humour. But this is a different kind of a comedy.

This is definitely a new zone for me as far as the comedy genre is concerned. As I mentioned above, it was a new kind of character with a new sur for me to portray on the big screen. The most interesting part about this character is that he is very strong with his presence. He is called the Baahubali of Patna in the film. He carries guns and kidnaps grooms because he thinks that the people who ask for dowry during weddings are wrong. He gets them married forcibly no matter what amount of dowry they ask for. And even though he is a little threatening in his ways, he is quite easygoing too. And I think that is where most of the humour comes and it is situational. People have not seen me do this genre. Firstly, it is a film from the heartland. Secondly, he is colourful yet strong. His characteristics include constantly chewing paan, wearing a gamcha and an earring. This in itself transforms the film into a very desi one which also makes the humour change from the comedies we see in the urban areas and from the urbane characters. The zone of the film is different and I feel that the audience will find a lot of freshness in this kind of comedy. It will not resemble anything that I have done in the past. 

Do you feel that the general belief of comedy being the hardest genre still rings true?

Absolutely! To make someone laugh, crack-up in the theatre and to not make just one but the whole family laugh is a great challenge. I have a huge amount of respect for people who write this genre. Comedy has to be done firstly from the writing point of view because you need to have a joke, relate it to a situation maybe and then give a punch line to it. Whatever response we are getting for the film and its humour from the trailer, I would like to give all the credit to the writers. Whether it is the script or the dialogue writers, they all have done a swell job. They have given us some brilliant opportunities and lines. All the dialogues in the trailer are punch lines delivered not only by me but also by the ensemble cast that we have in this film. I definitely feel that comedy is a difficult genre. I had fun shooting this film, I really enjoyed the zone of the film. The fun that we had can be seen on the screen. People have gained enjoyment from this film and all of us have been working very hard just for the love of the script.

We have a lovely cast in this film, be it the gang of friends that I have or even the others. The film has a strong emotional hold to it, it will touch you in a certain way and tell you about the Jabariya factor in it and the dowry element. But we have not done it in a preachy way. You will be smiling throughout the film and still register the dos and don’ts. 

As an actor, do you think a film with social commentary has a wider reach when it is mixed with humour?

Absolutely! As an audience member, I personally like that. When I see a film which is being made on a particular issue with humour, it is something that I like. Everyone knows the rights and the wrongs, like everyone knows that groom kidnapping or kidnapping of any kind is illegal. Do those cases not happen in our country? Of course, they do! In certain states, small towns and villages, cases like these continue to happen. There is no point talking about it in a serious way when it is already prevalent. The fun lies in incorporating a twist to it, which is what this film has done. Jabariya Jodi introduces a twist in that concept. We have added a love story at the core of it to make it reach a wider audience. Hopefully, people will enjoy the film.

Hasee Toh Phasee is still very fresh in our minds. Do you feel a certain pressure to recreate that chemistry with Parineeti Chopra that was much loved by fans?

I look at it as an advantage. People still do remember the film, they still like it. People are showing us a lot of love now that we are coming back together in a love story. I do not think there will be any comparisons with Hasee Toh Phasee because both the films are very different from each other. That film was set in a city and there was a Gujarati flavour to it. Jabariya Jodi is a film that is completely set in the heartland but there were more activities to do in this film. It is based on a social cause. Hasee Toh Phasee was a more intimate, slice-of-life kind of story. The only thing I am looking forward to is for people who loved that film to accept us and like us in this film. In this film, there is a lot of friction between us. That will be a different flavour. I am intrigued as to how they will respond to this film.

You started your career with Karan Johar. Did that create a benchmark of sorts for you and does that affect your choice of choosing your directors?

You do not choose your first film. People choose and cast you in your first film. I still think that there is so much to be grateful for that I was cast in Student Of The Year. But I realised over the years that eventually an actor has to really rely on his own instincts and has to bear the brunt of choosing good and bad films on his own. To be honest, at a personal level, there was a phase when I used to look out for guidance, especially since I am not from Mumbai or a filmy background. But now, over the years, learning from the box office numbers of my films, I realise that I have been following my instincts. I do not think anybody could have seen me as a Bihari guy two years ago. But I felt strongly for this character and convinced myself that I should just go ahead and do it. And I look forward to keep doing this in the future. I did not discuss my choices with anybody else.

You once said that you are starting to understand the business of films. Is the process of learning still on?

This is a profession where you keep learning new things every year, with every new film. I had to learn it from personal experiences because nobody gave me a handbook to learn. At home, I did not have dinner table and drawing room conversations about Hindi film business. I had to learn and gauge the business based on what was happening to my movies. There are two sides to it. I do not think an actor can let numbers affect him all the time because it would really hamper the future projects. If I make movies with the sole purpose of making money, that would not help because nobody knows what works and what does not. In my career, certain films have worked and certain films have not and I do not know why. The film business is very unpredictable. But we have to learn to detach ourselves when it comes to numbers. So I do not take that pressure. My only reaction to something that does not work my way is to work harder and try things with more conviction and surprise people with things that they did not expect from me. Jabariya Jodi, Marjaavaan and Shershaah are answers to that. I can only hope for the best now.

Now that it is your seventh year in the film industry, do you look forward to making more experimental and radical choices?

I felt the seven-year itch quite early in my career! I always try it every year with an interesting zone or a character, be it Ek Villain, Ittefaq or Jabariya Jodi now. People did not expect me to play a negative, an aggressive or a colourful character now. I am glad these roles are happening.

Lastly, what is the update on Marjaavaan and Shershaah?

We just finished shooting for Marjaavaan. It has got me, Riteish (Deshmukh), Tara Sutaria, Rakul Preet (Singh) and Ravi Kishan. It has a completely different zone. It is a larger-than-life, massy film that is based in Mumbai. It has action and it is a lovely film. Since it is directed by Milap Zaveri, it has powerful dialogues and larger-than-life action. It is a zone that I have not ventured into before. Brothers and Ek Villain are the two references but Marjaavaan is a step ahead.

After that, I have Shershaah that I have started shooting for but majority of the filming will be done now. I will soon go to Kargil to finish the shoot. It is a biopic, a real life story about a hero. It has got pretty much everything. It has a flavour of reality and a lot of scope for me to perform. Because it is the story of an Indian hero, it will cater to the entire nation. That will come out as and when we finish shooting. I am really attached to that film. I wanted to be part of it for many years now. I am happy that it is finally being set-up and we have got a script together which we all like. I am looking forward to the next schedule of Shershaah.

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