`I sold my car to buy a bike'

I think I am just myself. That's all — Asif

Life-size paintings of various Nawabs of the Carnatic in all their royal finery adorn the walls, while smaller photographs of political leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru sit silently on antique tables. Richly carved sofas and corner tables add to the opulent atmosphere. Amir Mahal: A perfect setting indeed when it is a Take Two between Nawabzada Mohammed Asif Ali, son of the Prince of Arcot, and his actor friend Abbas. Looking anything but a `prince' is Asif in a cool T and jeans, just like Abbas. "That's what I like best about him," says Abbas. "His simplicity." The two met for the first time at a Filmfare party in 1996. Asif just walked up to Abbas and introduced himself and wanted to know what he was drinking. "Coke," said Abbas. The next thing they knew, they were headed for the beach, and soon painting the city red. A friendship was struck up and it is still going strong, as Savitha Gautam found out during this Take Two.

Abbas: Let me start. When you met me for the first time that day in 1996, what was it about me that appealed to you?

Asif: I did not know who you were. There you were standing alone, looking completely lost. So I thought I could keep you company. That's all!

Abbas: Thanks a lot for that. I am glad you made that move.

Asif: When you came into the industry, you had this chocolate boy image and it has stuck. Don't you think you are a little too old for that now? [Abbas laughs] Why not play an action hero?

Abbas: I am getting to that. In fact, I have coloured my hair brown. [laughs] On a serious note, I am working on the action hero image. I am producing my first film in Tamil, where you can see an image makeover.

`I sold my car to buy a bike'

Asif: Tell me more about this film.

Abbas: I think it will be a trendsetter. I will not use the word `different', but I think people will sit up and take notice. It's to be directed by Socrates, with whom I've worked earlier. It will hopefully be released in April. It's the biggest gamble I am taking in my life today.

Asif: It's time you reinvented yourself...

Abbas: True. I've always been fascinated with Hollywood films. Their scripts are simply amazing. I want to try out something like that — entertaining, realistic and intelligent. What about you, Asif? What are you up to these days?

Asif: Making music, something I want to do all the time. I did about four songs for Lucky Ali in albums such as "Yaad." I have also composed the music for the film "Naalai," which was for the South African audience. It was received very well. I have a couple of Tamil projects. And of course, there's Abbas' next production.

Abbas: But why movies? Who inspired you to get into showbiz?

Asif: Myself. I wanted to become an actor! I also wanted to compose. I got offers for music. And here I am. After your first film "Kadhal Desam" was released, every ten minutes girls would knock on your door at Nilgiris Nest, where you were staying. You used to hide behind the bed and ask me to tell them it was not your room...

`I sold my car to buy a bike'

Abbas: [smiling] And you would call them in and tell them he's hiding behind the bed.

Asif [laughs]: Yes. Anyway, what was your reaction to all that adulation? And how is it that you've not changed and are still the same humble guy [in a whisper]. Just joking.

Abbas: I didn't realise what I was in for. I slept the night and woke up in the morning to a long queue of fans. I did not know how to react. I did not know what to say, especially since I did not know the language.

Asif: Were you prepared for all that fame?

Abbas: No, I was not. I thought I'd do one film, make some pocket money and go back to Mumbai. As for attitude, I think my close friends from school and the industry helped me retain that balance in life. They are my backbone, my strength.

Asif: Did you always want to be an actor?

Abbas: No. I wanted to be an Air Force pilot. I like heights and speed.

Asif: Me too, but I wanted to be a commercial pilot. Not a fighter like you [chuckles]. I still fly everyday... on my computer.

Abbas: [with a grin] He likes to fly on the ground.

Filmi background

Asif: Do you come from a filmi background?

Abbas: Yes, actually, Feroz and Sanjay Khan are my father's cousins and on my mom's side, we have producers and editors. So, I was used to the glam world. I ran away from home when I was about 17 to try my luck in Mumbai. Modelling happened, which eventually led to "Kadhal Desam." The "Mustafa" song did it for me. I think I am still surviving on that song. Also, I liked acting because I was a big liar in school, I could lie convincingly...

Asif: [interrupting, eyebrows raised] Only in school? Not now?

Abbas: Ok. Ok. Actually, I believe that I am a jester. I love to make people laugh. That gives me happiness. Asif, tell me. This tag of royalty. Does it weigh on your shoulders sometimes? How come you are so down-to-earth?

Asif: It's a title of honour, and I cherish it. Really, I don't have an answer for that. I think I am just myself. That's all. Now, you tell me about your passion for bikes. Do you really like to ride or just want to show off?

Passion for bikes

Abbas: I always dreamt of owning a bike. I could never get one while in school. Later, when I could afford one, everybody advised me to buy a car. Then my wife was against it. It took a lot of convincing to get the bike I now have. In fact, I sold my car and bought the bike, which has given me a new life. During weekends, my friends and I take off to Pondicherry. In fact, I came here on my bike. So, what do you think about your receding hairline? [with a glint in his eye]

Asif: I am acquiring more brains! [they laugh]

Abbas: What are your other interests?

Asif: Cricket and quizzing. Did you know that there are nearly 14,000 cricket teams in the city? We hold matches here at Amir Mahal. And I enjoying conducting quizzes. I cull out questions from books, magazines and the Net, and hold quizzes periodically. [At this point, Abbas' two kids come in and his face softens.] Abbas, do you consider yourself a good father?

Abbas: I am trying to be a good one. I want my children Emira and Aymaan to have a normal life.

Asif: In a nutshell, what has the industry taught you?

Abbas: Diplomacy, shrewdness and humility.

Asif: Finally. Describe yourself in one word.

Abbas: Tiger. People are fascinated with it at the same time fear it. And you?

Asif: Me. Just me.

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