When you were shooting for Highway, did this occur to you that this film would put you on the highway to stardom?
I don’t think that you can become a star with one movie or two or disappear because of one film or two. You have to keep on working. You have to keep churning out work which hopefully interests the audience. I don’t dance around in films which I should change about myself. The other way I can keep filmmakers interested in me is by doing varied roles and picking up roles which probably other actor most probably won’t. There are a lot of actors here, who would pay Imtiaz Ali to cast them in a film. I would have too but I don’t have any money.
What was your first reaction when you got a call from Imtiaz to come aboard?
I got a call late in the night and I thought someone is playing a very bad prank on me. Then the next day I got a call from the casting director of the film that Imtiaz Ali wants to cast me in his film and in the lead. I was like…Oh! So I met him and of course I felt that I have won a lottery and why not. Not only is he successful, he also is a very soulful director and he makes movies with a lot of feelings. His films are very rich in feelings. I felt very excited about the fact that I am going to be working with him. He saw me in Monsoon Wedding, which was my first film and then he saw some of my plays which I was not aware of.
How difficult or easy is it to shoot for a road movie?
Apart from the food and the shitting … (Laughs). Infact it is less boring because you are not at the same place or the same set every time. Everyone is set to travel and everyone has this joy that comes with travelling and doing nothing but just looking outside the window. Everyone had this energy about them and I think that is in the movie. It is difficult to make a road film and only a man like Imtiaz can make it as his leadership is very nurturing. He was the director and the producer of the film so everyone moved on his command. He used to take care of everyone on the set and personally took interest in almost everything. It is not everyone’s cup of tea for sure. As actors we blend in our characters.
If some senior actress would have essayed Alia’s part in the film, would it have been the same?
I think it would have taken a lot of charm from the film.
On what parameters do you make a decision of being in a film?
In this case it was Imtiaz. The script was very good no doubt but even if it would have been a shitty script I would have done it because I know that the end product would have turned out great. In this case there was not much of a choice. It chose me and I am thrilled about it. I feel very lucky about it.
You’ll work with a good director even if the script isn’t that good?
You know its not about the script being bad. The script is in a process of being alive, in a process of change as it goes along and ya, I would do it, why not.
In this particular case Highway, obviously that was the case as I was very excited about being with Imtiaz in the first place. I felt very elated for the fact that he called me for this film as he works with a different set of actors and I do not believe that I have reached that point, and if I have then I am quite unaware of it. I was quite elated and then I read the script and the script was good anyway and he offered me one of the best parts I have ever done. This is a very quiet part and it also makes me play somebody from where I belong. He is a have not. He is from the lower strata of the society, lowest infact. It gave me an opportunity to look at the world from that side. Apart from my father being a doctor, my chachas and everyone have been drivers, farmers and stuff like that. I have always found that very interesting.
The characters you have portrayed have been very edgy and grey. Do they leave an impact on you?
Ya, they do. They do leave places disturbed and mostly the good part makes you grow as a person. Sometimes it so happens that you don’t know how to react to a situation so I react like one of the characters and I later go like, why did I do that (Laughs). So this kind of confusion is quite there and that’s why I don’t talk to the media much because I don’t know what I am going to say on a particular day.
You come from a non-filmy background. Has there been times that you have done some films only for the sake of survival and have regretted it later?
Yes, many times. I won't name the films because why should I involve the people who have been a part of that film. But of course I have done it. You cannot not do it.
Do you fear being stereotyped?
I have not been stereotyped yet. I don’t think I am doing similar roles. If I look at it with a close up view which I do, I don’t think my characters have similar traits at all. Yes, they are all somewhere fractured and that’s what I like to concentrate on more because all of us are fractured.