Emraan Hashmi talks films, family and the importance of taking risks

Not for Emraan Hashmi the safety net of the tried and tested. Led by a yearning for the unpredictable and the novel, he prefers the unchartered waters… and it has served him well!

By Nichola Marie 

Your role as a super fan-turned-nemesis in the recent comedy thriller ‘Selfiee’ drew applause. You were praised for your tight grip on your role, maintaining the middle-class, humble act even when pulling off heroic moves. How does the appreciation feel?
Well, it was a very different role for me to play. It was unlike the rakish characters that I have played in the past and the genres that I have done. So, it was great coming back with Dharma after a couple of years, and working with Akshay (Kumar) for the first time. I think the camaraderie in the film and just the way my character shaped up was appreciated widely by the audience. At the heart of the film, bringing to the forefront the father-son relationship, the tussle between a common man and the star… I wanted it to be real, but at the same time also dramatic to give the audience that entertaining feeling. So, I think from the reactions, it’s a win-win.

Your performance as the conman in the crime drama ‘Jannat: In Search of Heaven…’ (2008) had proved a turning point in your career. Thereafter, you gained recognition for portraying unconventional characters in several commercially successful films, including ‘Raaz: The Mystery Continues’ (2009), ‘The Dirty Picture’ (2011), ‘Murder 2’ (2011), ‘Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji’ (2011), ‘Raaz 3’ (2012) and more. Did you consciously attempt to embrace the unusual?

This is something that I had to hear at the very beginning of my career – that I looked very unconventional, I didn’t fit the ‘hero’ mould. So, I had to kind of build my own space and find my own characters that were heroic, but at the same time, had a dose of twists, and had something different and novel to engage the audience with. Therein came the characters, which were kind of endearing and good at heart but, at the same time, they did these devious things. They were grey, but they won the hearts of the audience. So, there was this dichotomy. And also a very interesting blend of the good and bad that I could bring to the table. It wasn’t ever the squeaky clean, righteous characters that I played in films. I think what worked was the blend of good and evil that lies within all of us. And that is what I portray through my characters in my films. At the same time, they become extremely endearing for the audience; the ride and the journey that the character embarks on. So I think that was a space that I found very early in my career. I was blessed to have found that space because of the writers and the films that I was offered. And that became part of my brand.

Your performances in the action thriller ‘Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai’ (2010) and the political thriller ‘Shanghai’ (2012) garnered you Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Filmfare Awards, while you were also commended for ‘Hamari Adhuri Kahani’ (2015). A decade or so later, what do you recall of those performances and what made them special?

Well, at that point, it was as simple as being offered good films and good characters, and I just felt blessed that I could, in a way, portray a certain range to these characters and films. ‘Once Upon A Time’ being a crime drama; ‘Hamari Adhuri Kahani’ being a coming of age, mature love story; ‘Shanghai’, a political thriller… For the first five – six years of my career in the industry, I was, in a way, typecast in films that were perceived as bold thrillers. Breaking away from that was a task. But there were a couple of turning points like ‘Jannat’, ‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘Hamari Adhuri Kahani’, which turned the tide around and made the audience realise that listen, he can also do this. He is not just a one-trick pony. And I think that has been my goal through and through. I mean, you can see right now that the films I’m doing are challenging what people perceive me to be. The RTO officer in ‘Selfiee’ – people wouldn’t imagine me doing this. But I was just blessed to have been offered the role. And I give it everything and then it’s ultimately up to the audience. But it has been my good fortune to have got so many different characters to play.

Do you continue to be fascinated with edgy, dark cinema? The genre has come of age as audience tastes have matured, and OTT also offers varied options…

That is my genre of choice as a viewer, as an audience member, first. And also, I like to believe that the audience likes to see me in that space. Having said that, you know, you can’t do just that because there is a saturation point. And the audience feels like, you know, what else is there to see? That’s why it’s always good to give a mixed bag to the audience. Yes, at the end of the day, some of them work, some of them don’t. But if you asked me my personal preference, I always steer towards the rakish, rebellious characters that are portrayed in a certain dark noir space. That’s my personal take on it.

You have stayed clear of industry cliques, and prefer for people to grow to like you for who you are rather than put your best foot forward and be someone you are not. Has this approach cost you films?

I think, for me, putting my best foot forward is to be something that I am – not something that I’m not. It’s just who I am as a person – I can’t fake it beyond a point. In the time and age we’re living in, if you fake it, it comes across. There is the old diktat that you fake it till you make it. But I think I’ve established myself through the love that I’ve got from the audience and because of my work and work ethos, that I don’t have to be anything apart from that. I always believe that it’s my work that will put me in the hearts of the audience and make them like me. Everything else, the peripheral stuff, at least in my experience, doesn’t stand. And the audience picks up on that kind of artifice and fake approach. So, I like to be just an honest version of who I am. And I’ve always said this, from the beginning of my career: If the audiences accept me for who I am, then I’m okay with that. But I don’t want to be something I’m not because I can’t play that act for very long. And in these times of social media and with the glare and everyone’s opinions, I think that glaring fake-ness comes across. And I don’t want to be that.

How different is the Emraan Hashmi of today from the actor who started off in the early 2000s?

There are a lot of things, life experiences… I can’t really define it and put it in words, but yeah, I mean, with age, there is maturity, and in the way you look at the world. Professional experiences build up and you evolve as an actor. Personal experiences, life hurdles, obstacles, those kind of stack up and bring out a new facet of you. For me, it’s always been this from the first day – to want to be the best version of myself. And I always take this approach. I don’t know how I change, but I feel every day I move forward in life, I just want to get better. It might be personally, it might be professionally. Every day, just kind of keep working on myself to get better and better as a professional, as an actor, as a father, as a husband, as a son.

You once mentioned that the industry wanted you to change, but you would not. Do you still feel this way?

Sometimes the industry wants to box you up. And it’s this constant battle of trying to veer from being labelled as something and trying your hand at something new. When you’re successful at something, people want to replicate that success. And they see that as a safety net. If something is successful, they want to repeat that. As an actor who strives to do something different, and to be good in the fine arts, it’s very important to take risks. So again, that’s a dichotomy. It’s how to bring in the commercial thing of making something different successful, because when you do something different, you stand the risk of failing even more. So, it’s kind of a blend. Yes, I have played safe at times in my career for commercial success. And then I’ve got fed up of that. And from that saturation, I tried something different and experimented, and I’ve failed at that also. So, it’s ever-evolving, it’s ever-changing. It’s not something that’s stagnant. You know, maybe tomorrow, if I find my groove in a genre, I might want to own that space and just play with that space for some time. And that might be seen as being repetitive. I had done that before my career; I did so many thrillers that were successful. So, it depends on the times.

What are some of the projects you are occupied with currently? After your spy thriller webseries ‘Bard Of Blood’ (2019), are you exploring any more webseries?

I’m doing ‘Showtime’, which is with Disney Hotstar and Dharmatic. It’s too early to say what the show is about because we have just finished shooting right now. Apart from that, there’s a film with Excel, titled ‘Ground Zero’. Yeah, that’s what I could talk about right now.

Are you a 24×7 work-mode kind of person? Tell us a little about your daily life.

For the longest time, I have loved travelling. I have loved fitness. I’ve liked the feel of fitness, wellness and health. I’m in Goa right now. So, whenever I have time off, like I was shooting three days back, and then took off with family and friends for the weekend. I spend time with family and keep myself engaged with work even when I’m not shooting, with scripts.

Your son Ayaan is a teenager now. What’s it like parenting a teen?

Well, most of the parenting, you know, is before that. He is slowly inching his way towards independence. And, yeah, I think it is a big change when your son becomes a teenager. He just turned 13 in February, so yeah, a lot of changes. I think as a parent it is very important to kind of not forcefully steer him in one direction in life, but to kind of facilitate and guide him through and give him opportunities like his education, and whatever is facilitating that. And finally, through his life, he will find his own path. I don’t want to steer him into anything. And, of course, being there, whenever he needs guidance for whatever it is, professionally – later on in the field he wants to get into –  and in his personal life. Just be there, just be someone who is a sounding board whom he can talk to; not just the father, but also a friend.

Your family has associations with cinema that go back several generations. Your grandmother Purnima was a leading star in the 1950s, and you are also the nephew of Mahesh Bhatt. Do you feel your fascination with film was a given?

I’ve grown up seeing Bhatt saab’s films, my grandmother’s films. There was always this background score going on… talk about films we used to watch at this theatre opposite my house – Ajanta Arts where most of Bhatt saab’s films used to screen. So there was always a kind of environment that we grew up in that probably had an effect on me and the other siblings in the house. But it was not like it was a given. I never had the dream of becoming an actor. I actually wanted to be something entirely different; I wanted to be a pilot, at one point. It was not like this star kid who’s always had a dream of being an actor, like ‘I’ll turn 20-25 and I’ll pursue my career in acting’. It was never that, although I was born and brought up in a film family. I think it just happened, things just steered and I went this way. But, in a way, I think the environment kind of facilitated that, took me in that direction.

Any goals, personal and professional, that you’re working on to achieve?

Like I said, I just want to get better as an actor with each film with whatever is offered to me with the scripts and characters. I like taking up challenges, doing something different, and that, I will pursue to my last day in this profession. So yeah, just keep evolving as an actor and constantly giving something to the audience that’s new, that’s novel, and to hopefully keep entertaining them.

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