Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I never believed people would pay to watch me on screen: Saqib Saleem

He sure left a mark with his Bollywood debut Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge in 2011 and worked his charm yet again in Mere Dad ki Maruti last year. Not sticking to any particular genre, the 4-film old actor took a timely dive away from the mainstream and is already winning hearts for his performance in his latest, Hawaa Hawaai.   

The extremely talented and charming actor talks to me about his experience working with director Amole Gupte, his short but exciting journey in Bollywood and lots more!

Working with Amol Gupte...
Honestly, initially I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Having worked with YRF (Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, Mere Dad Ki Maruti), Karan Johar (Bombay Talkies), I was coming from a different school of thought, different style of filmmaking... where you’re pampered and given all the perks of being an actor. [I share this joke with Karan that you take all your actors to foreign locations and had me shooting on a railway station (laughs)].

Here I walked in to a set (Hawaa Hawaai) with no vanity van, make up artist or a stylist. Most of what I’m wearing in the film is mine. It took me a while to get used to the new set up, Amole, his style of work. Amole has made very personal, intimate, heartfelt films. And film-making I believe is a director’s medium. If you have to do a film, you need to believe in him. I knew if I wanted this to work, I had to surrender to his vision.

Amole is a man of few words but gives you all the space and freedom to let you be. But let me tell you, he’s watching you very carefully. He lets you be while still gets what he needs from you.

How did films happen...
I'm an accidental actor. I've been a cricketer all my life. I played cricket for Delhi under 19. In fact, I was in the same batch as Virat Kohli and Ishaan. I've also played for J&K. But somewhere down the line I realized it wasn’t my calling. I knew I was good, but I’d be fooling myself to think I could get too far with it. I helped my father for a bit in his restaurant business in Delhi, and did a few fashion shows alongside, on my girlfriend’s insistence initially. She moved to Bombay sometime later and one-night told me “The long-distance thing isn’t working anymore” over the phone. Me being myself, I moved to Bombay. I didn’t want to break up. I told my father to give me a year and sort my life out. Moving to Bombay, though, didn't help. We broke up two months later. At that point, I had auditioned for an ad (Tata DoCoMo). It was my first and I made it. I didn’t really have a plan (about acting) even then. I knew I’d come back to Delhi after a year. I never believed people would pay to watch me on the screen. That, I too could be there some day. I went with the flow anyhow. Around that time my friend and fashion designer Varun Bahl introduced me to Shanoo Sharma, casting director of YRF films. The meeting didn’t go too well. I had taken it way too casually then. “I don’t know if I want to act,” I had told her. She was obviously piqued and it had visibly ended up as an unpleasant first meeting.

I continued doing ads meanwhile. By then, I had realized who Shanoo Sharma was and what I had done (smiles). By then I had also realized I wanted to act. I tried getting back in touch with her but didn't hear back. I later did an ad for Pepsi with Ranbir Kapoor, which was directed by Ayan Mukherji, who happens to be Shanoo’s close friend. He went on to recommend me to Shanoo. Out of the blue one day I received a call from Shanoo, asking me to come over to her office.

First Break…
I left everything and went to meet her. She told me they were auditioning for a film called Virus Diwan. I auditioned for it. They really liked my tests but told me they'd get back to me. They never did. Two months later, they got in touch with me for another role, a negative one (in Luv ka The End). Thankfully, that too didn't materialize. I was not looking to do a negative role. Three months later it was another call for another film. But they weren't sure I’d fit the bill. By then, I had spent nearly a year in Mumbai and was beginning to lose hope. It was time to go back home. This call was for Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (grab the DVD over a weekend while you could order something from Foodpanda to munch on. Or try their mobile app). It was a half-hearted audition. I wasn't too happy with the way it went. I went back home. 

My father was visiting me back then. He brought up the topic of moving back to Delhi. I knew it was coming. We were discussing this while I was driving with him one day and I saw this YRF hoarding on my left. I don’t know what got into me. I looked at my father, looked at the logo... and went all filmy. "... pehli picture karunga toh yrf ke saath (my first film has to be with yrf)” I said and I kept driving. Ten minutes later, I got a call from Shanoo Sharma saying they wanted to sign me for three films. I was dumbstruck. And I started crying over the phone (laughs).

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