Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR

Emraan Hashmi is one of the most well-read, well-versed actors you’d come across – owing to his exposure to different kinds of cinema and a vast know-how about how the industry and trade functions. Of course, that’s a lesser known side to him which always gets eclipsed by his popular image. In recent times though, the actor is finally doing the kind of films which reflects his personal sensibility. His latest ‘Baadshaaho’ has just released and we catch up with the actor for a chat. He speaks about this film, the class and mass cinema and lots more…

How was it doing this sort of an action for the first time with ‘Baadshaho’?
I have done films where there is bit of action, but I have never done a film with such elaborate action sequences. I was a bit concerned about getting into the zone, I was a bit nervous and it didn’t really help because the first scene only Milan asked me to jump from one building to the other, of course there was a harness and stuff but I wasn’t given a shallow pool to learn, I was just thrown into the deep. Though, I realized that the action guy is very good and for him the safety comes first. And then, I was with people who are so good with action. Ajay, who has done action all his life, even Vidyut is so good at action. So, I learnt on the way. But there was nothing like, ‘oh I’m going to hurt myself.’ Because I knew the action guy has rehearsed it so many times.’ Before every scene, they used to show us the mock scene. So, it was very clear. I have never been a part of a film which was so clear as far as the action sequences are concerned.

How was it pairing up with Esha Gupta this time around and of course, the dynamics being very different from ‘Jannat 2’?
In this film, it’s a bit complex because these two characters are complete strangers and are from two different worlds. The guy I’m playing takes time to get used to, especially for women; he is constantly wearing his heart on his sleeve and is very flirtatious and that’s not probably taken very well by her in the beginning. We only have that many hours of mission in the film; it’s a 100-hour mission and probably a few days before. So, I kept on asking Milan that what are the dynamics here because they’re from two different worlds? It would be so convenient that ‘oh this is a film so these two characters have to be in love.’ So, over a period of the shoot, actually in the time of those 70 days, we discovered what would feel right organically for these characters. It wasn’t on the script; it evolved as we were shooting. Eventually we’ve hit a place which is interesting. The tension between them through the film is nice. He is constantly trying to woo her and he is nothing close to what she thought about the guy she would marry or be with. You will realize that the perception of someone towards the beginning of the film will be drastically opposite of what it is towards the end. My character has also evolved towards the end of the film.

You’ve done hardcore massy films and then also something as niche as ‘Shanghai’. At this point in time what’s your pick?
Each film has its own bonuses but definitely I would pick the one which goes out to the widest audiences. What Milan does beautifully is that he tries and hits the sweet spot. It’s a very clear divide in our country where you have your masses and classes. The mass audience wants escapist cinema, that in those two-three hours you go to the cinema hall and they forget the stress they’re going through and don’t want to be reminded of that. ‘Shanghai’ unfortunately is a reminder of stress and corruption. So, ‘Shanghai’ wasn’t eventually a mass film. Like I said, Milan hits that spot beautifully because ‘Baadshaho’ is also a mass film. It’s entertaining, it has masala. Classes like a more evolved cinema, and like logic in the film, they want visual aesthetics and that also is something Milan brings to his films. Obviously, not undermining the class films – ‘Shanghai’ is still one of my best performances, but ‘Once Upon A Time’ or ‘Baadshaho’ obviously take it to a much wider audience than ‘Shanghai’ does.

Do you think films like ‘Shanghai’ or ‘Ghanchakkar’ were ahead of their times? They might have done better, had they released now?

I guess so. Right now, with the advent of so many things, on your phone or web-series, also regional and Hollywood cinema, I think people have become much more cinema literate right now. They now would understand what dark humour is. Earlier only comedies like ‘Housefull’ were working. ‘Ghanchakkar’ I think was slightly more evolved but a different kind of comedy for our audience. Even ‘Shanghai’ for that matter – it has great performances and looked at corruption like no film has, so they were ahead of their time, but I don’t look at any good or right time to make a film. It was the right time back then and that probably, in a slow way kick-started the trend of making such films that are being made right now.

At this point do you believe, the industry is slowly going towards making films only for the multiplex audiences?
There are mass films being made also, but a certain perception of our industry is diminishing. There a certain kind of directors who made those mass films which made a good amount of business but the business diminished in those pockets. And then this kind of slightly evolved cinema is seen getting numbers as far as the box-office goes. But again, a film like ‘Baadshaho’ doesn’t just target the mass audience. It would be in a trouble zone if it only targeted the mass audience. Because let’s face it – there might be footfalls from mass centres, but the figures aren’t that much. The amount of money that comes from a multiplex from a single ticket is more than a single screen. So, a single screen will need double the audience to match up with the numbers from a multiplex, because the ticket price is more in case of the latter. If you want, you have to target a film to both the audiences, and very few people can do that. I think, RajkumarHirani can do it, Sanjay LeelaBhansali can do it and Milan probably has the knack of doing that as well.

“There is certain innocence in acting which is devoid of box-office numbers, which is when we had the most fun as actors”

Do you also believe that now films aren’t star-driven, but content-driven?
I don’t think it only depends on the content. Content comes first, I agree, but of course, there has to be a face value attached to it. For example, if you put a rank newcomer in a film like ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’, it would probably do 1/10th of the business that the film did. You can’t undermine the fact that someone like Shah Rukh Khan gets people in. But right now, it’s legit that an established star without content is not going to get people in. Right now the audience has so many options, so many choices so with all that; they don’t want to see anything mediocre. Mediocrity probably worked five years back but right now there’s no place for it. Earlier they didn’t have so many choices. I think now the audience is less tolerant to material that is not really evolved.

How much leverage do you give to the box-office numbers?
We work for box-office numbers. There’s nothing more important than our longevity as actors than box-office numbers. You put in an ‘x’ amount and if it doesn’t get you ‘x+1’ then it is called a dud at the box-office and then, after a while, people start questioning a certain viability and also it depends on how much the film loses. But you’re talking about an industry with 90 percent failure rate, so, in any creative process you have to be ready for that. So, it doesn’t deter me. As a creative person I feel I have to be slightly detached from box-office numbers and at the same time I have to accept it. So, it is a bit of both because if you constantly think about that, you lose the fun of film-making. We didn’t really think about it earlier, but slowly we came to know about box-office numbers and now it’s on everyone’s minds. There is certain innocence in acting which is devoid of box-office numbers, which is when we had the most fun as actors. Right now, it’s a bit irritating when constantly; we have people writing about it. I don’t think you can gauge a film only on box-office numbers. Some very critically acclaimed films are gems which I’ll show my kids even after ten years. ‘Shanghai’ is one of those films. It might have done only 25 crores at the box-office but I would want to show it to my kids. Because it’s not any less than any of my films which have done more money.

Amidst the fact that lately most films aren’t doing well, do you think an actor’s heavy fee further adds pressure to the budget?
It depends on what your range is and if you’re demanding more than you can recover at the box-office. For me as an actor, I have always realized that I never wanted to burden my films with a certain economics. I rather take a cut, after the film has done a certain business at the box-office. That puts less pressure on the makers and producers. But, I think everyone, all the smart actors have understood that if they ride on a high horse then probably they won’t last for too long. So, it has to be connected to box-office revenue in the end.

Why do you think the audience isn’t coming as much to the theatres? Even the biggest of films are facing an issue.
Now because of social media, the word of mouth spreads so fast that if it’s a mediocre film, the footfall in the night shows or for the next day drops. I think with every new paradigm shift, there are hurdles to every industry. Radio faced it with the advent of television; the web came in, so now we’re facing it. I don’t know what’s next. Maybe people will stop consuming media on a 2D screen. I don’t know but every industry survives. Like, radio is still surviving so we will survive too; it just depends on how much you can pull up your socks.

Because of your experience and exposure to all kinds of content, you have such a wide know-how about the audience and what’s new – does that add a lot while you’re choosing films?
In fact, sometimes I’ve had to unlearn. People have created a perception of me from the mass films that I used to do and when they met me, they realized there was no similarity between the films I did and the person that I was. It’s not like I did films that I didn’t want to see because the otherwise the masses would have never consumed them. It’s just that because of my fan following, I had to shift into a cinema mode that I didn’t know much about. I just went into it with the team and conviction of the writer-director. But again, right now is a great time for me to explore with films and material that I’ve always had a personal liking towards. Most of the films that I did, I found them a big disconnect to them as compared to what I wanted to do. I just did them because I knew there was consumption, the audience wanted to consume those films.

So were those films a bigger challenge for you?
They were definitely a bigger challenge. I had never seen mass films; I had just acted in them. I used to just read them on paper and went by the director’s conviction.

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