Right from his very first film, he’s consistently proved everyone wrong. Despite the criticism he received from the industrywallahs, he believed in his work and kept surprising everyone with successes, one after another. This year has been another golden year for him, with three back-to-back successes – Dil Toh BacchaHai Ji, Murder 2 and now, The Dirty Picture.He’s an actor who believes in entertaining the audience. Here’s Emraan Hashmiin a soul-searching interview with Vajir Singh
Three successes in a row – Dil TohBaccha Hai Ji, Murder 2 and The Dirty Picture. How does it feel?
It feels great. Whenever you do films with great conviction, you hope that apart from the audience’ acclaim, success is proven right by these films. And these films have also had an ascending graph. Last year, even Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai did well. With every film, collections have gone higher and higher, which is great.
It’s only getting better, no doubt! But are you getting bigger or are your films getting bigger?
It goes hand in hand. I think it’s synonymous. Your films, roles and characters ,dialogue, music… everything builds your stardom. It’s a huge team effort.
What about your remuneration? Is that also growing?
Yes, of course! At the same time, I believe that there should be sanity in the way you charge your remuneration. I want this run to continue but should I be short-sighted and start charging an exorbitant sum that I don’t deserve? I assure you that I deserve whatever I take for a film. I wouldn’t want to be one of those actors who believe in filling their bank account while everyone else lives below the poverty line. I would make sure that everyone down the food chain has a share of the pie.
So it’s live and let live?
It’s all about survival in this industry. But it’s about wanting to be in the race for a long haul and not killing the golden goose too. There’s always this thing about making hay while the sun shines but I understand about setting a benchmark.
Have you always had your head on your shoulders while you have been growing with every film?
Yes, for seven years now. Actually, someone once told me, “Actor ko price ghatane mein bahut problem hoti hai,badhane mein bahut khushi hoti hai.” It is a proud moment for any actor to hike his remuneration but when you have to slash your price, it hurts and I don’t ever want to be in that position.
Have you ever been in that predicament in seven years?
It’s not like I have never delivered a flop. But I have always maintained that the price should be justified. I should never be in a position where because of my price, a film has bombed and I have to slash my price for the next film.
A solo hit is very important for any actor. You have been delivering solo hits at regular intervals. Has that helped you?
It has. You benefit from every hit you deliver. You know, when people watch a film because of so-and-so actor, your star value catapults. It becomes a bonafide thing that people have come to watch his film.
Was it difficult to say ‘yes’ to The Dirty Picture, which had a tailor-made role for Vidya Balan?
It was a tough choice but I always knew that I wanted to be part of a good film. I have always maintained that I am a selfish actor. I like to hog the limelight. I like author-backed characters. I like to be A to Z, from the first frame to the last. I didn’t see this film as a compromise. I was just being part of a good film and working with Ekta (Kapoor) and Milan(Luthria) again.
Two back-to-back blockbusters. So who’s lucky for whom between Ekta Kapoor, Milan Luthria and you?
We are all lucky for each other.
Is that why you have decided to do at least one film a year with Ekta?
She is a great producer to work with. She is a visionary. I like the kind of subjects she chooses. They are edgy, risky, out-of-the-box and yet commercial. I don’t like following trends. A lot of people tell me, “Dabangg or Singham jaisi film banate hain.” But I would rather be a trendsetter than follow the trend. I’d want Murder 2 to be a trend for other films. And that is something for both Ekta and Milan to believe in.
Judging by your filmography, you have accepted films of different genres but at the same time, they are commercial.
That is very important. Like there is a dialogue in The Dirty Picture, “Filmein sirf teen cheezon ki wajah se chaltihai – Entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.” Maybe some of my films haven’t delivered but the intent was always the same.
After your first film, Footpath, no one wanted to risk their money on you. Then, after Murder, they accused you of being only an on-screen kisser. It is only now that the industry has just begun to accept you as an actor.
I never really wanted acceptance. I think it becomes a huge issue when you desperately want to be accepted by people. I didn’t want the industry to accept me then and I don’t want it now .But no one can deny that I have an audience. People may say I am a fluke but something is working. I am not putting my finger on it because then it loses its magic. But my films are working. I think the industry wakes up last if you don’t have a conventional face or if you can’t dance. But if you’re not a stereotypical hero, people here will write you off without even giving you a chance. It’s very sad but that’s the way it is.
What is it about you that click with the audience?
Honesty and integrity. If you’re honest to your product, if your intentions are good, and your sensibilities are right, then you achieve what you want to achieve. Some actors like collecting awards and some want the box office. I want the box office.
People say you can generate business only from single-screens. But your recent films have been appreciated by the multiplex audience as well.
People felt my films worked only in Band C centres. And they were right. But all that changes when the multiplex numbers start rolling in. Three to four years ago, I too would have said I was more of a single-screen hero. But now the multiplex audience knows my worth. I needed two to three years to get in there. Earlier, it was a bit of an issue but now I have an audience ther ealso.
In a recent interview to BOX OFFICEINDIA, Sanjay Dutt said that unless the audience in UP, Bhatinda and Bihar o rbeyond Thane knows you, you’re not a star. What do you have to say?
I think the films I have done in the last two to three years are a testament to that. Rooted films like Singham,Dabangg, Murder 2, Once Upon ATime In Mumbaai or The Dirty Picture…they have worked pan India. They have worked from Bihar to suburban South Delhi to an elitist Bombay… everywhere. You have to work as well in a Thane or a Virar as well in South Bombay Colaba to a Bandra. It’s both the classes and the masses. There is a journey that an actor has to make from B and C centres to A centres. There are some actors who are very strong in A centres and capitilise in the B and C centres later. I am the former. I started from B and C centres. For me, it’s been a conscious decision to capture that market.
Name one film that has changed the audience’ perception of you and also one film that has changed the industry’s perception of you.
I can’t speak for the industry. But audience-wise, there are a lot of key films. There are landmark films that add to your career and some films take away from your career. The films that have added are Murder, Jannat and Murder 2. One film that didn’t do well was Awarapan. Though it didn’t do well at the box office, it changed perceptions, in a way. Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Murder 2 and now The Dirty Picture, there has been a gradual change with every film. Nothing changes overnight. Brands aren’t built overnight. Some people hit the bull’s eye with their first film. I have had to walk slowly and steadily.
You were once known as a ‘kissing star’. Now, with so many sequals (Murder2, Raaz 3 and Jannat 2) do you think people will start calling you a ‘sequel star’?
(Laughs) Let them call me by any name. I am just happy to still be in the business and doing great roles. I don’t want to use the sequel tag as a crowd-puller or a marketing peg. It has to have some soul in it. Every film has taken a franchise ahead. It’s a brand and we need to capitalise on it. Murder was a brand and Murder 2 took that brand forward.
Since you pick up interesting movies, what criteria do you use when selecting a film?
Sometimes I have said ‘yes’ to a film after hearing a single line. Sometimes I don’t even hear the whole narration. That happened with Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai. When Rajat Arora and Milan (Luthria) met me, they said this is the story and the script is not ready yet. And I agreed to do the film. Sometimes, I take time to think things over. It’s mainly a gut feeling and what you’re interested in doing. If you try and tap into the audience’ mind that abhi comedy chal raha hai ya abhi action chal raha hai… I never go by that trend. I always listen to my instincts. I have always believed in swimming against the tide. If there is a dark, twisted film like Murder 2, and people say the film won’t work, fine! We’ll see when the film releases.
What made you sign Ghanchakkar, which reportedly other actors refused?
It has a brilliant script.
Have you read the script or was it just one line that made you sign it?(Laughs)
I heard a long narration from Rajkumar (Gupta). He is a great narrator and it’s probably the longest narration I have ever had in my life. I had to take three breaks during the narration. It was almost like watching a four-hour long film. Every detail made me see very character’s motivation. It’s edgy, twisted, funny but in a very different space, which will have you guys on the floor. Witty humour.