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‘B.O. numbers are not as important as having soul’

He’s back playing a character he’s successfully essayed in the past. In his upcoming outing, Emraan Hashmi is back as Raja Natwarlal. In a free-wheeling chat the actor talks about roles that excite him and his priorities as an actor. Here are excerpts...

Why did you choose to do this film?
I found the script very appealing. It was a very inspiring story about a con guy. His name is Raja, he lives on the streets and is a small-time scamster, like a local 420. Every profession has a ‘godfather’ or role model, and there is only one for a scamster. That’s a man called Mithilesh Shrivastav, also known as Natwarlal, who in real life had sold the Taj Mahal twice! So, essentially, this is the story of a small-time chaar so bees (420), who is very boyish and does small-time scams. It starts with his tendency to satiate his need for money, keep his life and his girl afloat and then he loses someone very close to him. The story goes on to show how this incident drives him on his quest for vendetta and revenge, to bring down the man who did it and avenge his friend’s death.

And the man he is taking a panga with is worth Rs 2,000 crore. He is respectable but is no less a criminal. He achieves this. Not by shooting him but by using his wits and learning about his fraudulent deals. He learns that from his zen master, who is a burnt-out scamster himself, played by Pareshji. He pleads with him to become his teacher.

This is your fourth outing with Kunal. Have you done so many films together because share a special rapport?
Definitely! But you have to keep in mind that you are not just friends but professionals, so you can’t let your friendship get in the way of the film. You have to be professional on the sets while making the film. The good thing is that we understand each other, like, I know what he needs from me as an actor. He knows when I need my space as an actor and when I need to do my own thing. It’s like we are in sync with our thoughts but ultimately it’s all about the script. He has gotten me a good script, he has given it fantastic treatment in the film and it’s a mass film with its heart in the right place. We have worked on films like this in the past too. Jannat 1 and 2 had that and now Raja Natwarlal. It’s not necessarily a scam film; it’s a David vs Goliath kind of film and is thoroughly enjoyable.

You wanted to move out of the Bhatt camp and you tried out new roles. They got you critical appreciation but those films didn’t do too well at the box office. Do you think your audience wants to watch you only in a certain kind of role?
The reason I did those roles was I wanted to grow creatively. When I did Ghanchakkar, I loved the script and I wanted to be a part of a film like that. I wanted to do a really radical film. You have to do clichéd roles if you want to do mainstream cinema. There are some roles where you have to work with the clichés which play to the gallery. Ghanchakkar was a film where the guy I played gets slapped around in the entire film and doesn’t even get the money in the end.

For a Hindi film hero, it doesn’t get more radical than that. I understood that and it’s not fair for the trade to say that the last film that this pair (Emraan Hashmi-Vidya Balan) did, The Dirty Picture, ended up making Rs 80 crore and this film did Rs 30-35 crore. This was a film for the niche multiplex audience.

The Dirty Picture catered to a wider audience, with sex, dialogue-baazi and popular music. Ghanchakkar was in stark contrast. I did not have too much dialogue-baazi in terms of my character and it had dark humour, which is not popular among the single-screen audience. But it was a film I wanted to do.

Shanghai and Ek Thi Daayan also didn’t match up to the previous box-office records which you had set.

They wouldn’t, right? Some types of cinema offer the audience the escapism they want.

But Shanghai hurls them into a nation of problems, and most people want to turn a blind eye to that.

But these are socially relevant issues. And I don’t chase box-office numbers. As an actor, it is very essential with a film like Raja Natwarlal, to bring back a new understanding by doing a film like Ghanchakkar or Shanghai. Otherwise, my performance in Raja Natwarlal would be very similar to a Murder or a Jannat. It is very essential to do a film that challenges me, that breaks new ground, that tests me as an actor and makes people think, ‘Oh, he probably can’t do it.’ That’s why the film has a different kind of edge.

As an actor, how important is the box  office for you?
Like I said, it’s not about chasing box-office numbers. I think we should all stop doing that. How do you explain a Rs 100-crore film, which earns Rs 100 crore but evaporates from the consciousness of the audience in less than a week? Critics pan it as a bad film and yet it does that kind of business. What is that yardstick of success? Sometimes, a film earns Rs 200 crore but is it the kind of film you would want your children to watch after 30 years? What is your denominator of success? It’s both, right? I want to be a bit of both. I want to do a film which can stand the test of time. I will, hopefully, never do a film which has earned Rs 100 crore but is soul-less. I want to do films which do well business-wise but also have soul.

Is that the reason you did an international film like White Lies at this point?
Exactly! I cannot give you details right now but it’s a very ballsy film. The way the parts have been written, the ideation, is very gutsy. So we required a lot of external factors to come into play, which are as gutsy as us. It took a while to get this film done because when you have something as explosive as this film, we didn’t want to include people who make cinema for money. We wanted to make the film with passionate people because this is a subject that touches our lives and is very controversial.

Your next film Hamaari Adhuri Kahaani is also with Vidya Balan. Also, Bhatt saab has written a film after a very long time.

(Cuts in) That’s the high point of the film. It’s a beautiful, mature, love story and it will expose to me to a whole audience. A whole new bunch of people will wake up to the film and me as well, in a very different avatar. It’s a very emotional and sensitive film.

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