New heroes on the block
T he lead pair of Salman Khan Films’ Hero – Athiya Shetty and Sooraj Pancholi – in conversation with Team Box Office India. Excerpts:
It’s the first film for both of you, so here’s the obvious question… how does it feel?
Athiya Shetty (AS): Completing my first film feels like a dream but now I am extremely nervous. I am excited but also nervous as the film’s release date is approaching. It’s a mixed feeling.
Sooraj Pancholi (SP): I am excited but not nervous because I think the time to be nervous is over. I was nervous on the sets but what’s done is done. Now I am just waiting to watch what happens.
At the trailer launch, you were crying, Sooraj while Athiya, you appeared very confident.
AS: (Laughs) I was acting. Actually, I was more nervous than he was and he had to calm me.
SP: Before the event began and we went on stage, she was very nervous. I was not nervous on the stage, I was overwhelmed.
AS: You were emotional.
SP: Yes, those were tears of joy. I couldn’t have been happier. It was a dream come true. So much had happened with me, up until then, and this was a break from all that. I felt like a winner that day.
So those were the tears of a winner.
SP: I had never shed tears of joy before that. I had no control over that experience.
How similar or different are your characters from those in the original film?
AS: Essentially, our characters are the same. The soul and the spirit are the same. My character Radha is extremely positive and has this driving force within her. She has the ability to go for the things she believes in. She wants to be independent and is very stubborn. What I love about my character is that Radha has growth in the film. You will see how she grows as a person, from being naïve in the first half, to becoming more practical in the second half. My character’s name is Radha as was Meenakshi Sheshadri <g data-gr-id="373">maam’s</g> name in the original. But we have adapted the film to today’s times like my character’s clothes and how she behaves with her friends. Back in the ‘80s, parents were not like friends to their kids like they are nowadays. So the relationship my character has with her father has changed in the film. We are more like friends. I bully him and wrap him around my little finger.
SP: My character is called Sooraj because Jackie (Shroff) sir’s was ‘Jackie’ in the original. He is a bad boy who turns over a new leaf after he meets Radha and falls in love with her. The script is the same and the blueprint of the film is the same. But that was a three-hour film while this film is two-hours long. There are fewer characters in this one and there is <g data-gr-id="334">greater</g> focus is on me and Athiya.
AS: We have made a film that people would like to watch today, in terms of music, locations and relationships in the film, whether the one between Radha and Sooraj or between the lead pair and their friends and parents.
SP: Even the relationship between Sooraj and Pasha, who is played by my father.
Any childhood memories of watching Hero?
AS: I had watched the film when I was very young. I enjoyed the music and it stuck with me. It is a beautiful film and a classic that has a special place in Indian cinema. But after signing this film, I didn’t revisit the original as I didn’t want any references and wanted to create my own character. It is obvious that we will be <g data-gr-id="344">compared</g> but I didn’t want to get into that zone.
SP: I had seen the film in bits and pieces when it used to air on television. I had never watched the film in its entirety because of its length. But I watched it at least four or five times after Salman (Khan) sir told me I was doing this film, Hero. It is a great film but it would not be fair to compare us with Jackie sir and Meenakshi <g data-gr-id="312">maam</g> because Jackie sir is such a cool person, even in real life, and I think Jaggu dada is the only ‘dada’ in the industry. No one else can be like him, both on and off the screen.
Isn’t this a blessing in disguise as both of you had wanted to become actors for a long time? Then Hero came along and Salman Khan was producing it. Earlier nothing seemed to materialise and then, all of a sudden, you get this huge opportunity.
AS: I look back at all the heartbreak I experienced due to the projects that didn’t happen. There are times when you are stuck in a <g data-gr-id="342">rut,</g> when nothing seems to be happening, and then suddenly you get something like this. Times like this make you think that whatever happens, happens for a reason. Sooraj knew about this before anyone else got to know about Hero.
You knew you were going to do Hero?
SP: Only Salman sir and I knew that.
AS: Only two of them knew. They were everything, from the production house to everything else for the film initially. (Laughs)
SP: Even Subhash Ghai sir didn’t know about it. (laughs)
AS: He didn’t know that these guys were making a remake! (laughs)
SP: Yes, only Salman sir and I knew. We bonded on the sets of Ek Tha Tiger, where I was an assistant director. It was the last schedule and he gifted me a film on my 21st birthday. He wished me ‘happy birthday’ and then he congratulated me. I asked him why he was congratulating me and he said, Tumne film sign ki hai <g data-gr-id="350">na</g>. I was flabbergasted and I said ‘no’. But, again, he said, Main <g data-gr-id="353">bol</g> <g data-gr-id="351">raha</g> hoon <g data-gr-id="352">tumne</g> sign ki hai.’ I asked him which film he was referring to, and he replied, Meri. He said he was launching a production house called Salman Khan Films and wanted me to do his film. Then he asked me, Karoge I said ‘yes’. He told me he didn’t have a script as yet and that once I returned to Mumbai, I should start training for this film.
After a year and a half, he called me and said, Hero <g data-gr-id="318">dekhi</g> hai kya’ I told him I had watched the film but not properly. He asked me to get the DVD and watch it. After I did, I called him back. That’s when he said he wanted to get the remake rights to the film. He swore me to secrecy and he assured me that we would make this film. After that, he told Subhashji, and that’s how it all happened.
Who recommended Athiya?
AS: Salman sir’s sister Alvira (Agnihotri) saw me at the gym. She told Salman sir about me as they were already looking for an actress for the film. And I was the perfect fit. (laughs)
As industry kids, your debut film is very important. What is it about Hero that makes it a good launching pad for you, apart from Salman Khan producing it?
AS: It has a well-rounded script, and, for a first film, it has everything. It has passion, it has romance and it is an intense love story. Lately, we haven’t had an intense love story released here.
SP: I agree. It is not a rom-com; it is a pure romantic film.
AS: Yes, and it has action. Sooraj is extremely talented when it comes to action, and he is able to pull off the ‘hero’ part. So it has everything like romance, action and good songs. It’s a film that everyone will watch and, as our first film, we want everyone to watch it too.
SP: It’s very simple, I couldn’t have asked for a better title other than Hero for my first film because people automatically start calling you a ‘hero’. Of course, with a title like Hero, you have to work doubly hard to measure up to it. I have tried my best and it is a great script. We have modernised it.
Do you think Hero is like a show reel for both of you?
SP: It is a show reel!
AS: I don’t think it is a show reel. It is not like they added action to the film because Sooraj is good at it.
SP: I was never good at <g data-gr-id="282">dancing</g> but I had to dance in the film.
AS: He is very good at dancing now. It is not a show <g data-gr-id="316">reel</g> but we have been able to showcase our talent.
SP: In a way, it is a perfect platform for a launch because it has everything.
What kind of preparations went into the role?
AS: We did a lot of workshops with Mukesh Chhabra.
SP: We did a lot of workshops with Nikhil sir as well.
AS: Yes, we did workshops with Nikhil sir and he recorded them on tape. Then he came in with the tape and asked us how we would rate ourselves as actors. I said 1.
SP: No! You said 3!
AS: I offered a very modest number. So, yes, I guess I said 3 and Sooraj gave himself a 6! Then he (Nikhil Advani) angrily replied, ‘NO ZERO’. (Laughs)
SP: We were both shocked and got such a yelling.
AS: Now I guess I am a 3.
Do you think Sooraj has become ‘zero’ <g data-gr-id="263">se</g> ‘hero’ today?
AS: So we did a lot of workshops and a lot of character building, character analysis, and took many lessons on how to let go of our inhibitions.
SP: I don’t think it was the workshops that helped Athiya and me. Let me be very honest. I think the time we spent together to build chemistry on screen really helped.
AS: I had fun and I learnt a lot.
SP: I had fun because I got to be friends with you, Athiya.
AS: How sweet!
Sooraj, you worked with your father in your first film. What was that like?
SP: It was a good experience. Haan, after everything Sooraj mil <g data-gr-id="325">gaya</g>, Radha mil <g data-gr-id="326">gayi</g>, director mil <g data-gr-id="327">gaya</g> <g data-gr-id="328">phir</g> villain <g data-gr-id="329">dhund</g> <g data-gr-id="330">rahe</g> <g data-gr-id="331">thhe</g>. Pasha <g data-gr-id="332">kaun</g> play <g data-gr-id="333">karega</g>? (laughs)
AS: He joined us after we completed half the film.
SP: Yes, after 60 <g data-gr-id="370">per cent</g> of the film was over. Nikhil sir told me that dad was going to play Pasha’s role. I thought I would be very nervous to act with him but on the first day of the shoot, I thought he was a little nervous too, to work with me in my first film. It was a very awkward situation because, I am very quiet at home in front of him and here I had to do all this <g data-gr-id="372">dialoguebaazi</g>. But I think he underplayed himself on the first day he was shooting with me, to put me at ease. I realised how good an actor my father is even though I hadn’t really seen a lot of his work. I don’t know all the films he has done but I think he is an amazing actor and it was great working with him.
Sooraj says he has watched three to four films of his father. <g data-gr-id="265">Athiya</g>, how many films of your father have you watched?
AS: I remember watching Border when I was five and he suddenly dies in the film. I kept crying for my father, saying, Papa <g data-gr-id="301">chahiye</g> papa <g data-gr-id="302">chahiye</g>, Then suddenly he walked into the room and I hugged him and I was, like, Mere <g data-gr-id="338">do do</g> <g data-gr-id="303">baap</g>. (laughs).
I was very small and every time someone used to hit him in a film, I used to get very upset. I avoided watching his action films and I only started watching his comedy films such as Hera Pheri, Awara Paagal Deewana and Dhadkan.
Since both of your dads were actors, did you ever talk with them at home about acting.
AS: I never did. It is only recently that we have started talking about cinema, acting and actors. While growing up, we did not really talk about films. Whether a hit film or a flop on Friday, we were not exposed to these things and it never affected our family. I have been very blessed.
SP: We never discussed films at home. Our house is very ordinary… my mom is very simple, there are no film posters, no awards, nothing.
Now that Hero is done, what next? Have you given it any thought?
AS: I am reading <g data-gr-id="273">scripts</g> but I haven’t decided on anything.
SP: I want to do a romantic film where I don’t have to fight or attach a cable to my body.
AS: I want to work with directors who help me grow as an actor and from whom I can learn.
SP: You can say you want to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali! He might read this interview!
AS: No, not like that. I love Nikhil sir!
Now that your film is set to release on September 11, what are your expectations?
AS: I want to be accepted and I want the film to be accepted. I don’t know about numbers and I don’t even want to get into that space because I am new to this.
SP: I think we have to do a lot of promotions. <g data-gr-id="255">BOx</g> office <g data-gr-id="256">india</g>
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