It's been a long and tiring search for Madhur Bhandarkar to find one of the principal male leads, modeled on a real-life character, to play a gay dress designer. "It wasn't an aggressive in-your-face kind of homosexual character. I needed someone tall, fair handsome suave and outwardly a ladies' man. The hunt was killing me because I start shooting with this character in just a few days. But now I've found my actor. Samir Soni fits the bill completely. He's sensitive and yet not delicate, soft-spoken but not effeminate. I needed that," enthused Madhur Bhandarkar on Thursday afternoon minutes after finalizing Samir Soni.
For Samir, who started as Mamta Kulkarni's leading man in Raj Kumar Santoshi's China Gate, it's been a long and troubled journey. "But I've finally wrangled a role that has got my creative juices running again," says Samir. "When I heard the role I knew I immediately wanted to do it. And so what if he's gay? It's about time that we as a country and in the entertainment business stop looking at homosexuality as a peculiarity. I was a model, so I know a lot of gays. My character in Fashion being gay is not the issue. Some directors make the mistake of making a character's homosexuality his identity badge. Madhur is a director who handles all his characters with finesse and sensitivity. I'm positive he'll make sure the gay community accepts my character wholeheartedly."
Samir says he has several very close gay friends. "So the lack of time to prepare for the part-we start shooting next week-doesn't bother me. I know the community from up close. I've often discussed the question of sexual orientation with my gay friends, how it affects their personality and their day-to-day dealings with people. What fascinates me is the closeted existence of the gay who doesn't or can't come out in the open. The torment of keeping the secret is just so gut-wrenching. Yeah, I'm looking forward to playing the gay as a gray dark character."
Samir has only one other film, Sanjay Gupta's Alibaug in hand. "Yes, I've done less work. And I'm not going to pretend it's because I chose to do so. I also did television for the lack of choice. But let's not undermine the reach of the home medium. The roles have been hard to come by. Maybe I wasn't pushy enough. Maybe I wasn't good enough," Samir chuckles self-dismissively.
The thought of sharing screen space in Fashion with so many seasoned troupers doesn't intimidate this soft-spoken actor. "I had 11 actors, many of them stalwarts like Amrish Puriji, Om Puriji and Naseer in my very first film. In Raj Santoshiji's Lajja, I was paired with Madhuri Dixit. Now in Alibaug, I'm again in an ensemble cast. I'm not at all scared of sharing screen space with other actors in Fashion. Whether I'm alone in a 30-second ad or with 12 other actors in a big film like Fashion, I do my best. The rest I leave to destiny."