In a conversation with Anuj Kumar, Arshad Warsi says he doesn’t want to work better than his co-actor

Jolly LLB has proved to be the first commercial success of the year and Arshad Warsi has finally delivered a solo hit. “This is the first time I played a lawyer’s character. I didn’t start with any reference point because the kind of courtrooms I had seen in films was not there in the script. I have never visited Meerut, the place Jolly comes from, but I like the colour and flavour of the North. So whenever I get a film which is based in North I like to give it something extra.”

Interestingly, while the critics keep noticing the nuances that he brings to the language of the characters he plays, Arshad says he doesn’t make a lot of effort. “I am a Mumbai boy and went to a boarding school. I used to come back home only twice a year and when you are coming home only twice a year you are not expected to travel anywhere else. My father was from Lahore. He and his sisters used to talk in Punjabi often. The second language that was used at home was Urdu. Toh zubaan saaf ho gayi.”

He says he just tries to grab the nuances. “Once you get it the other things fall in place. Like in Bhopal they will pronounce hai as he. I imbibed it before the shooting of Ishqiya began but I was hardly there when the dialogue coach was at work. In Jolly LLB I tried to bring in the feel of Delhi.” He narrates the popular dialogue from the film “Aaj tak to tune mujhe kiss bhi nahi karne diya” in the way a Mumbai boy will say it and the way a guy from Western Uttar Pradesh will express it. “The words remain the same, the difference lies in the way you say them. There is a very fine line between the two but audience of the region recognise it.”

He calls it his natural flair but adds that he has got a great sense of observation. “Sometimes I just sit and observe people passing by and usually I carry the character I am playing in my subconscious mind.” But he is not always that connected. “I won’t care as much for a film like Zila Ghaziabad which I did because I wanted to play a villain for my satisfaction.”

Arshad’s career has been an undulating curve. Every now and then he gives an impression that he has arrived and then he vanishes from the scene. “I was not even aware that I had acting talent when I started. However, I believe I should have been far ahead of where I am today. Till date the films where the focus is on me I have done a good job. Some of them like Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II and Seher came before their time. Today quirky films are in fashion but when Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II released the market didn’t welcome it. Similarly, Seher was a small budget gripping film but it was not noticed the way it would have been now. So I can say my timing was wrong!” he laughs off the seriousness that is creeping in his voice.

Then Circuit, the character he played in Munnabhai series almost threatened to typecast him. “It got me the identity but after that people failed to decide where to place me. For six months after Munnabhai I didn’t get a single film. In fact I asked Raju once. Did I really work well or do people keep praising me to make me feel happy? He said ‘you really worked well. The problem is people are unable to decide where to put you. If they put you with the hero you will outweigh him in histrionics. They can’t make you the hero because with you they feel they can’t get the finances. And you are not a character artiste to fit in those side roles.’”

This brings us to the question of insecurity in Bollywood where stars don’t like to share significant space with actors. “I don’t think insecurity level is as high in any other film industry. There is always chemistry between two good actors. It is not there between two friends or even two brothers. You cast two complete strangers and if they know acting you will see chemistry on screen. When I worked with Naseer sahib in Ishqiya we felt like we knew each other from childhood. Now in Dedh Ishqiya we can say we have a connection. He is fond of me and has openly said that from his point of view there are only two good actors in the current generation: one is Irrfan and the other is Arshad.” Similarly, he says, he had no problem with Boman in Jolly LLB. “You could see the relationship between two secure actors. None of us wanted to outperform each other. I don’t want to work better than my co-actor. I don’t compete with him. We are all part of the team. Our competition is with the film that releases on the Friday when our film is opening.”

Over the years Arshad has almost made us forget that he started his career as a dancer and was very good at it. “The kind of roles I do don’t require me to flaunt my dancing talent. It will look odd if Jolly starts jiving properly. But yes people do ask if I am ignoring my skills on the dance floor. And one of them is the director of my next film Jo Bhi Karva Lo. Sameer Tiwari reminded me that I choreographed a Kellogs advertisement that he directed. So I agreed to choreograph a song in the film. It is my second song after the title track of Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja.” A slapstick comedy, Arshad says he is playing a bumbling detective Joe B. Carvalho in the film and hence the name.

Does he notice dance numbers? “Yes, I do. I liked the moves in ABCD but the one that really moved me was the Aiyya number by Vaibhavi Merchant. After a long time I saw such superb picturisation.”