You have acted for the first time with a filmmaker like Shyam Benegal!
When out of the blue, I received a call from Shyam Benegal himself and he narrated to me the story, I asked him which role he wanted to cast me in his film. I was charged when he told me that he was interested in casting me in the role of Abba. I play the office driver of the executive Rahul Singh in the film. I was pleasantly surprised and to tell you the truth, I was charged and literally on cloud nine.
You seem to be in every camp in the film industry, whether it"s that of Shahrukh Khan, Karan Johar or for that matter Vipul Shah or Rajkumar Hirani!
I do not believe in being in any one particular camp. I like to work with Shahrukh Khan as well as Karan Johar. I like to work with Vipul Shah as well as Yash Chopra, because the moment I owe allegiance to any one particular camp, I automatically narrow down my own work.
How would you describe the character that you have played in Well Done Abba?
To me, the character of Armaan Ali that I am playing in Shyam Benegal"s Well Done Abba is a very special one. He is not so bright but at the same time he is so respectful. The biggest challenge for me as an actor was to make the character that I set out to play interesting and exciting, because he sets out to tackle all events with the same honesty and demeanor. Though he is an optimist, he is also ready to accept defeat sometimes.
How tough was it to play the role of Armaan Ali in Well Done Abba?
It was easy as well as tough to essay the character of Armaan Ali, who is Minissha Lamba"s father. A boy-girl relationship has a lot of importance in films but rarely does a director set out to tackle the relationship between a father and a daughter with justice. I feel that sometimes even the relationship between a mother and her daughter does not come so true like that between a father and his daughter. It is not very easy to rehearse a relationship, for the simple reason that respect and interest in the other person is very important in any relationship.
How would you describe Shyam as a director?
The best thing about Shyam Benegal is that he actually sets out to direct you without even letting you know that you are actually being directed. I adapt very fast as an actor. Pardon my arrogance, but the fact is that I feel that I can adapt to any situation.
To what extent, could you relate to the character of Armaan Ali?
Though I may not be able to do in Munnabhai what I did in Little Zizou, I always make it a point to get into the palette of the character once I get to know the tonality. In many ways, I could easily relate to the character of Abba that I have played in Well Done Abba. I feel happy when I get to do a character in which I am not at all at home. It was a big challenge for me as an actor to play a khaatha peetha Gandhi in a play. In fact, I remember even today that a lot of people wondered why Dibakar Bannerjee cast me in Khosla Ka Ghosla as Mr. Khurana.
How did you prepare for your character in Well Done Abba?
As far as my character in Well Done Abba is concerned, all that I can say is that it was long after I tried to understand the script and what the director wanted to say, that I decided on the externals of the character. As a parent, as a person who is tossed around by the system, I could identify with the character that I have played in Well Done Abba, because I have been through all that.
You seem to fit the bill whether you play a father to Priyanka, Gracy, Dia or for that matter Minissha in Well Done Abba!
If you feel that I fit the bill as the father of the heroine in every film that I set out to act, whether it was as father of Priyanka Chopra in Waqt or the father of Dia Mirza in Lage Raho Munnabhai or for that matter the father of Gracy Singh in Munnabhai M.B.B.S, the main reason is that I do not have any vested interest in all the heroines with whom I act!
Can you elucidate?
To tell you the truth, Dia Mirza or for that matter Minsisha Lamba do not look like my daughter at all from any angle whatsoever. Though I was skeptical when Shyam told me that Minissha was slated to play my daughter in his film, Minissha surprised me by essaying the character with aplomb.
What is your mantra as an actor?
As an actor, I have always believed in the fact that acting is nothing but listening. I do not believe in overshadowing any actor with whom I set out to act because I believe that there should be no competition among actors. Lalit Tiwari envelops you as an actor when he emotes. It is my belief that you perform better only when you overcome your own insecurity as an actor.
How do you approach your role as an actor?
I feel that performance comes across automatically by the way you set out to play a character. What is important is that you should have the right body language and the rhythm of speech. Language does just add to it. Lisp was an addition to add to the flavor of the character of Virus that I played in 3 Idiots. It is the sharpness with which Virus says his lines that actually defines his character literally with aplomb.
How was your experience working with a taskmaster like Shyam?
The best thing about Shyam as a director is that he lets you improvise, within the frame work of the character. Would you believe it, I used to look at his face for approval after every shot, instead of rushing to the monitor. I would say that it is indeed very difficult to please a man at his level. You should know the mindset of the director and what he expects out of you, even when he just looks at you. Sometimes you need retakes, as an actor in certain scenes just to warm you up.
Which are the films which you have up your sleeves as of now?
Among the films which I am having up my sleeves are Arshad Warsi"s Hum Tum Aur Ghost which is being directed by Kabeer Kaushuik, Sajid Nadiadwala"s Housefull which is being directed by Sajid Khan, Ravi Chopra"s Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai, Tarun Mansukhani"s sequel to Dostana, sequel of Don called Don, Crooked, Vinay Shukla"s Mirch in which I am playing a Sindhi character and last but not the least an animation film called Ab Dilli Door Nahin.
How do you manage to defy type casting as an actor?
You learn sometimes from a non special experience too. 3 Idiots was a special experience for me. I learnt from it too. I am basically non confrontational. I am a big fighter. I feel that the comfort zone is the most uncomfortable zone because fire in your belly tends to get extinguished in that case. It can ruin you. I do not want to do a tailor- made role because I feel that in that case there is no challenge for me as an actor. It will be a big challenge for a Punjabi to play a Bawaji and vice versa.
Do you nurse any ambition to be a director?
I know for a fact that I will direct a film one day, though as of now I do not nurse any such ambition to direct any film. When the time is right, it will definitely happen.
Boman Irani tells this correspondent over a cup of green sugar free tea that though he was skeptical when Shyam Benegal told him that Minissha Lamba was to play his daughter in his film; she surprised him by essaying the character with aplomb.