Cool as ice

Why he keeps going:

I never thought that I would be working for so many years. I’m from Delhi and I only came to Mumbai because my parents had died when I was 25. I thought I’d give it one year and I remember when I started doing films; most people didn’t think I had the right kind of face or attitude.

But I was young, so I thought what the hell, give it a try, get some work, earn some money and then go home. It’s been many years now and I realise I have got much more than I deserve. You get a bigger car and a bigger house then you make a bigger movie, but I realised that’s really stupid because what really turns me on is when I walk into a place and people genuinely smile. Few people get that; usually only when you’re at a party with friends. Because I am in movies, though, people want to hug me and are just so nice to me. They’re nicer to me than my children are. This is a great way to live life.

When I get up in the morning and have to go to work and jump off things that may be quite dangerous, the payback isn’t the bigger car, but it’s that someone somewhere will smile a lot. I get very depressed when I don’t make people smile.

Best lesson learnt:

If you have fun, that’s the best way to be. If you keep waiting for the results of your movies, I find that quite redundant. A lot of actors do that. Making a movie has to be artistic. You have to look back and say, ‘I did this because I had fun.’ The first eight to 10 years I was very result orientated and desperate to get all the films right. But you learn, as the years go by, that not every story is going to be liked by everyone. So you have fun and more often than not, that’s what works.

Why him:

Honestly all my fellow actors and actresses, when they get to know me, I think they’re a little disappointed when they find out that I don’t have anything special. Most actresses I work with now were nine or 10 when some of my classic movies came out. They have this idea about me. They’re of course very respectful, they don’t say it, but I think when we work together they’re thinking ‘there’s nothing special about you.’ I’m completely ordinary.

People say ‘you’re very smart and have made wise movie choices;’ I have never done that. Nobody ever believes me! I don’t sit down with the scripts. As long as I like the people I’m working with that’s enough for me.

Being ordinary is the key I guess. I drive my kids to school although they don’t like that because they get very conscious. When I wake up my hair is a mess and they feel odd if I’m in my shorts and flip-flops.

Tuning his back on Hollywood:

I didn’t do Slumdog (Millionaire). Danny (Boyle, director) was very sweet and sat with me to pitch the part. I was hosting the real Who Wants to be a Millionaire at the time, which is why he came to me. I had read the book and disagreed with the character from there. The book said that the host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire was not honest. I know for a fact, though, that the host would never give the answers away or mislead the contestants in any way.

The game is a fantasy and it is nice that these people are winning more money than they could ever imagine. Being the real host and then playing a dishonest version may have destroyed the fantasy for a lot of people. I couldn’t bear that.

I would like to make an Indian film that transcends all boundaries. I’d like to make something like the Italian film Life is Beautiful. It would be locally made and the world would like it. It couldn’t be an art house film, it would have to be a regular Hindi movie. Don 2 for example is a two-hour film with one song and dance sequence in a club. Something like that could cross over. I don’t think Don will, but something along those lines.

If there’s a Hollywood film about a 46-year old guy, who’s brown, then I’d take a look. I’m not special. I don’t know kung fu, I don’t dance better than John Travolta, I don’t look nicer than Tom Cruise, so I don’t have any reason to be in California. I don’t aspire because I don’t want to, but I’ll be honest, I think I can’t. I am happy making the films I make and I would like the West to be impressed with what we do from India. Plus I can’t stay in LA; I’d miss my kids.

On rumoured new project, Xtreme City, alongside Leo DiCaprio:

I have to read it yet. I’ve been very busy with Ra.One and Don. It would require six to eight months of my time. I’ll read it and when I have fulfilled my other commitments I’ll get going. It’ll be half shot in India and half abroad, the money will be a lot more than a regular Hindi film – so I need to make sure I’ve set aside enough space because invariably I take on too much.

How his movies are received at home:

My kids are okay. I don’t really impress them. Actually another thing that keeps me going in the industry is trying to do a film that impresses them. As a matter of fact they reprimand me for my performances a lot of the time. My daughter is very sweet and kind, but my son won’t see anything until it’s completely finished. I think he likes Don 2.

It’s never been a big occasion in my house when a new film comes out. I don’t make my kids say I’m their favourite star. Sometimes I wish they’d like my work a little more because you want that appreciation from your children.

My wife, as we’re growing older, I feel she is getting a little more attached to the work. She sees how much it takes out of me, how it takes me away from them all, and I feel a little more compassion from her. My wife has also become involved in the industry more over the years. Farhan (Akhtar) and Ritesh Sidhwani (director and co-producer of Don 2) are her friends actually and she spends more time with them than I do.

Will the bell ever toll? When it’s time to stop playing the hero:

Hero is a misnomer. India is the only place left in the world where we call our stars heroes and heroines. I think protagonist is the right word.

In terms of a romantic hero, when I started at 25, I though if I was still dong this at 35 it would be a good career. Here I am at 46 and I’m starting my next romantic film with a girl who is less than half my age – Anushka Sharma. As long as the women I’m romancing are happy with me doing it then I’ll carry on. Even at 55 I’ll still do it. I tell my son when he’s older and goes partying he should take me because I still think the young girls like me.

Co-star crossed lovers?

Rumours come whenever I’m making a film. It makes people realise I’m not gay at least, because that’s been a rumour for many years. I get very awkward at times when I’m working with those people. But I find the younger girls these days are more professional about it. I have to ask them if they feel okay that these things come out when we go for lunch, a drink, or a movie because they may have a boyfriend, but they do tend to laugh it off.

I remember initially in my earlier days with Kajol it was awkward because she did have a boyfriend. We had to call him in and tell him it wasn’t true.

We Indians come from a conservative society, but the younger girls today usually come from the beauty pageants where they have travelled the world and experienced more. They are brought up differently and they actually take time to make me feel comfortable about it now. When I was younger I used to read things and think, ‘I hope this girl doesn’t think I’m saying these things!’

I had one journalist ask me if these rumours only come out to promote the film. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and don’t need to go to those lengths! It actually takes something away from the art. That’s the only thing that really irks me. The film is more important than anything.

Priyanka has been very sweet and the rumours will pass. With the next film it will be another girl.”

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