He’s one actor who’s been busy through the pandemic with multiple releases and shoots. Yet, makes time for this Q-and-A as the festivities get underway. Excerpts:
What does the festival mean to you?
I was around six-years-old when my dad brought Bappa home for the first time. After a few years, I wanted my own Bappa. I got a small one. The idol grew as I grew, till we decided on a particular size and height so he’d be easy to bring home and say goodbye to.
During these five days, I sum up all that I’ve done in the past year—the aces and the mistakes—and start afresh. The pandemic has made people depressed, discouraged and demoralised. My advice would be that now, with Bappa bringing happiness and prosperity, don’t look back, move forward. If there is something you want to change or achieve, this is the time to start.
Anything special planned for this year?
Last year, I was out shooting, so, I’ll devote more time this year. (Laughs) Mom will try to feed me laddoos and modaks and I will try to avoid them. Since December, I’ve done four projects and in each I play a different character with the result that I’ve really abused my body. Gained weight, lost it, only to put on more. For my last Marathi film, I went up from 83 kgs to 95 kgs.
I’ve been eating a lot and since I’ve been shooting across the state and in Turkey, and gyms were closed, it was only work and no workouts. My biggest weakness is adrak chai (ginger tea) with milk and sugar and it’s fattening. Now, I have to shed all those kilos and get back to what I was a year-and-a-half ago.
You’ve had three big releases — Darbaan, Laxmii and Bhuj: The Pride of India — at a time when the film industry and the world at large had ground to halt…
These were shot earlier, with a little patchwork on Bhuj during the partial lockdown. I was lucky that with precautions, courage and a sense of responsibility, I started shooting for the Zee5 web series, Black Widows, towards August-end, last year. Since December, I’ve finished four films. (Laughs) My wife’s only complaint is that I’m either working or looking for work. But every actor wants to be on a set or the stage, to perform and entertain. It’s difficult sitting at home.
How difficult was it to shoot the death scene in Bhuj, which is getting you plenty of appreciation?
I always wanted to join the army. I even cleared the written exams. I have friends in the Force. So, the feeling of pride and patriotism that comes when you are dying for the country came from within. We shot the action sequence in a day, the dying scenes in two-three takes.
For any actor appreciation is important. After 19 years and countless films, people are finally watching me and offering their opinions. Without that, you’re demoralised and go with the flow. But after Tanhaji, Laxmi and Bhuj, I know people are expecting more from me. I have to take risks, I have to deliver.
Weren’t you apprehensive about playing Shivaji in Tanhaji?
I was shocked when Om Raut (writer-director) whom I’d never met, offered me the role. Going by history books, I didn’t think that our personalities matched, but he saw Shivaji Maharaj in me and his beautiful narration inspired me. Full credit to Ajay [Devgn] sir and him [Raut] for their decision. Looking back, it feels great to know I was accepted as Shivaji Maharaj.
After Baahubali, you have now lent your voice to Hanuman. How was that experience?
Yes, The Legend of Hanuman is an interesting series. Normally, they do the animation, then, you dub. Here I got to dub first, so could voice act. Disney+Hotstar is a great platform. Both seasons have been well-liked. I’m overwhelmed to have three shows in the top 10 — The Family Man 2, Special OPS and now Hanuman.
The Family Man has become iconic…
It’s a feather in my cap. Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s technique is unique, their writing very today and relatable. And Manoj [Bajpayee] sir is a phenomenal actor. What a range! Working with him is good for an actor.
All set for a Tamil debut now?
Yes, Ayalaan is R Ravikumar’s second directorial after the superhit Indru Netru Naalai. Another lavishly-mounted sci-fi comedy, with Sivakarthikayen and Rakul Preet Singh, and great music by AR Rahman. Shooting is complete, they’re working on the VFX. Hopefully, it should release in the first quarter of 2022 in the theatres, if all is okay by then.
And there’s an English film too, Déjà vu?
It’s a thriller, in Hindi and English, with a single character, in a single location. There’s also a huge historical drama in Marathi, Paavan Khind, and another Marathi action-romance, which has yet to be announced.
On Teachers’ Day you dedicated a post to the three women in your life. Tell us about them.
Yes, my mom, who has always supported me and never questioned my decision. It was difficult for her because dad passed away when I was only 17. When someone close to you has so much confidence it boosts your morale.
My wife [actress Keerti Gaekwad] is my friend and guide, openly critical and also fulsome in her praise. I memorise every script so I can narrate it to Keerti later and we take a combined call on whether I should do it. She’s an actress too, so her advice matters. I’m a majdoor aadmi and I give her full credit for looking after me, the house and raising our child so well. I want to tell all men that it’s not easy doing all this, so respect your wives and never take them for granted.
My daughter has made me responsible. I had anger issues earlier, now I’m sane. I love being a dad.
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