From “Footpath” to “Shanghai”, Emraan Hashmi has come a long way. As he returns to his bread and butter with “Raaz 3”, he shares some candid thoughts with Anuj Kumar
There was a time when people used to fear actors who donned dark shades. Pran, Prem Chopra, Ranjeet all have instances to share where somebody failed to distinguish real from reel. In the last decade or so with more exposure to cinema, we thought the audience would no longer get carried away with the on-screen persona of bad boys. But then came Emraan Hashmi. He showed such conviction in enacting greed and lust that once again the classes lost their sense of the celluloid divide and dismissed him as some sort of pervert, while the masses found a new antihero who kisses and abuses with gay abandon. And unlike many he didn’t do it just as a stair to reach the comforting environs of heroism. Instead he made playing antihero a cool career move. “That’s what acting is all about. It is very easy to play what you are but it is very tough to play what you are not,” says Emraan, in Delhi to promote Raaz 3, where he says he is once again doing what he does best.
Putting his rise in perspective, the soft spoken actor says, “What people respected was that I was not trying to be somebody else. I was not trying to be another Bollywood hero. Every shot of mine in the film is heart-felt and believable. Bollywood is predominantly theatrical. The characters I play are sometimes loud but they are true to the context.”
He concedes that every character he has played has a bit of Emraan. “Otherwise it will not look authentic. It will look like a mimicry artiste. For instance the character in Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai wants to get all the luxuries. I won’t step on other people’s feet as I have my moral codes, but yes like him I am very stubborn if I want to achieve something.”
Recently in Shanghai, where he played a rather sissy Rajput who loses his girl, he showed that there is more to him than just ‘kiss and yell’. And the industry is responding. From Vishal Bhardwaj to Karan Johar, he is on the radar of producers of every hue: “I want to test the waters.” The confidence is palpable in his voice.
Excerpts from an interview:
Slowly but surely you changed the way we looked at the bad boy.
People saw the bad boy’s side through me, otherwise the bad boy used to be a very one-dimensional character in our films. He is seen as somebody anti-establishment but you don’t feel for him. I give the bad boy a legitimate reason for what he is doing. Over the years I began to represent a certain middle class aspiration and angst. Like my character in Jannat. The lower middle class has this problem with the establishment — why can’t it get the luxuries of life. The characters I play go for them with a stubborn attitude.
But here Mahesh Bhatt also played a crucial role in shaping your on-screen persona
He wrote characters that suited my on-screen and off-screen persona. Also, when something works, you ponder why it worked and then you add something more to it and make it better. It started with bad boy, then he made it more believable, somebody you can empathise with.
You are perhaps the first Bollywood hero who brought an element of lust in love. Were you conscious about it?
I grew up watching a lot of western cinema. So when I was doing a Murder I was not aware that I am doing something blasphemous. I didn’t know that I was crossing a line but when I look back I can say the roles that I played were at a time when the society was changing and was getting unapologetic about certain things. My characters portrayed the changing needs of the society. But to say that I did it intentionally would be wrong.
From your first film Footpath you don’t mind playing supporting roles. You did it in The Dirty Picture again and it seems you are doing it again in Raaz 3 where the focus seems to be on Bipasha Basu?
In Footpath I was given a choice between hero and supporting actor. I picked the supporting actor’s role because I found it more interesting and substantial and the mass audience liked me. From then on I have avoided passive roles. In Raaz 3, Bipasha is the antagonist and I am the protagonist. He is a weak man in the context of the film. The problem with Bollywood stars is everybody wants to play a James Bond, everybody wants to be the macho guy. I am playing a director who is essentially spineless, and how he transforms into a hero through the course constitutes the crux.
Once you were accepted only as a rear stall star but now it seems you are finding favour in the balcony as well. Did Shanghai do the trick?
To an extent, yes. I am not very different from the character I played in Shanghai. He is a hero on his own terms. He believes in himself. I am a person with below average looks, I can’t dance but I became a hero. If someone can’t look a certain way, it doesn’t mean he can’t aspire in life. Now more people with better scripts want to work with me. The audiences associate me with certain things, but they have shown confidence that I can portray a lot many emotions. Perception changes when you get films which ‘balcony people’ go to. Word starts trickling in. The film industry works with an actor only when they gauge audience behaviour. Class is always undependable, because it goes with the profile of the product. Mass audience is easier to pull in. I am saying this because the profile of my films has largely been mass-oriented. It had to fade in. I couldn’t have become a class actor overnight.
Do you believe critics also go by the profile of the film?
It is true that sometimes a critic goes to hate the film. They don’t go by individual performances. Not that I performed badly in Murder, but the profile of the film was such that it was easier to ignore my performance. It is not the case with Shanghai because it is a Dibakar Banerjee film.
Is it true the so called A-grade heroines refused to work with you?
It again has to do with the profile of the product. They didn’t want to be seen with a kissing hero…It is very complicated to be a Bollywood heroine!
Did your image affect your personal life?
My family was not comfortable with it but it had to adjust to it because the plusses are more than the minuses. My wife was concerned with the ‘scenes’ but now she understands. The audience has become comfortable with a certain bold quotient in films. It is only going to move to the next level. I might not be uncomfortable with it. I don’t have the next generation in mind. I won’t push it over what I am doing now. But I have to do this because the audience expects it from me. I can’t suddenly play a saint.
There is much more variety on your platter now with Raj Kumar Gupta’s Ghanchakkar, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Ek Thi Dayan and even Karan Johar having signed you.
Ghanchakkar is a quirky comedy with black humour and also has an element of suspense. It is not the regular slapstick that Bollywood churns out where the characters seem to inhabit some other planet. I am playing a middle class man who specialises in breaking locks. He is on his last heist. The interesting part is it is his wife (played by Vidya Balan) who pushes him into it. She wants a bigger house, plasma TV and he cons to satisfy her ambitions.
And the Karan Johar production...
It is called Ungli. We are shooting from next month and I can’t share much about it but I can assure you it is not a candyfloss romance and you won’t find me running around trees. It is more in my territory than his.