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You were quoted as saying you'd never do a historical again.
Not true. I might've said that in a specific context. But I'd definitely not do another one for a long time. It's such a momentous opportunity. Doing it again would make it less sublime. When you think of period you think of a grandeur that's hard to replicate. I don't think I'd want to get into that space for a long time.
Has Jodhaa Akbar been especially taxing?
None of my films has been easy. Krissh and Dhoom 2 have been as physically and emotionally taxing as Jodhaa Akbar. I've enjoyed it so much. And I wouldn't do a historical for the same reasons that I wouldn't do a Dhoom for a long time. Dhoom and Jodhaa Akbar covered two genres exhaustively. Now it's time to move on.
But playing Akbar would be radically different from playing Buddha? Apparently Shyam Benegal offered you Buddha?
I'm sure Buddha would be a great subject and wonderful characters to explore. But again, playing Siddharth is about amours and horses. And I've been there, done that. The ambience, the country and the language would require a similar discipline for me. I wouldn't mind doing a period-fantasy like Pirates of the Caribbean. It's always fun to bounce off into the other extreme. Dhoom helped me to get excited and challenged about Jodhaa Akbar. It was a challenge for both Ash and me. Now I want to do something entirely contemporary.
That brings me to the question of how open the audience is to watching Aishwarya and you do a costume drama after the fiercely contemporary Dhoom 2.
It's always a challenge for any actor to make the audiences forget not just the outside world, but everything that they've seen before on screen, to suck you completely into the magic of the moment and to make the audience exhilarated. You are asking me if Jodhaa Akbar does that or not. Only the audience can answer that. For me the film is already a success. The Box-Office is only going to be a bonus, hopefully.
This is your first collaboration with Ashutosh Gowariker…
Yes. My primary motivation for doing Jodhaa Akbar was to mingle with a mind that'd be as alert and innovative as Ashutosh's. I knew he'd help me explore a different facet of my acting. He helped me go to places in my psyche I had never gone to before. It's been great fun. Ashutosh is a damn good combination of intelligent preparation and spontaneity. He comes fully prepared. But has the guts to throw it out of the window, if he so wishes. He has the power to turn the scenes around in your head. Sometimes he'd whisper a thought in my ear. And my entire being would be reverberating with that emotion, and with the desire to express it in front of the camera. Then you look back on the shot and you whistle in admiration and pride. Different films offer me different tunings with the director. Jodhaa Akbar has benefited me immensely as an actor.
You're doing a lot of ads. Do they provide the same creative substance as feature films?
I give the same level of commitment to whatever I do. Otherwise, I can't do it. It's not a matter in which I've a choice. Giving my best is the only option I have. I'd say working in ads and feature films are different, and, also yet the same. Ads give you a chance to explore areas that perhaps feature films do not. The dimensions are smaller. It's quickly in and out. One is able to experiment without having to shoulder the responsibility. An ad doesn't really affect your career. So it's more fun. As an actor it's my responsibility to put myself in spaces I'm not comfortable with all the time.
Is it a challenge to say the whole story on just 90 seconds?
That's the director's challenge. Sometimes it's restrictive for the actor. I don't think an actor should be asked to accommodate his discipline to the duration of the film. So, ads do cramp you. They don't allow the thorough process to flow that freely. It becomes a little artificial at times. And that's something I try to avoid at any cost.
Would you like to be a slip-in-slip-out actor?
I'd want that. I think acting is about developing your skills to such an extent that you can command it at your will. That confidence when you have the experience and the body of work. Hopefully, some day, I'll be slipping in slipping out and forgetting my roles once I'm done.
I don't look forward to that day….
I do. Believe me, I do. That's why I enjoy doing ads. Like I said the responsibility lessens. I shoulder less responsibility and have more fun in ads.
Having to dance in all your ad…is that an irritant?
It might become annoying for viewers. I mean you may enjoy eating mangoes. But you can't keep eating them all the time. I think it's better to get cautious about the dancing before it gets excessively in-your-face. Now some of the ad-makers agree with me on this.
You like to work only with like-minded people?
Yeah. There's no point being okay with mediocrity. And you can only be heading towards mediocrity if the effort isn't collaborative enough.
Do you feel you've so far achieved what you set out to?
One of life's greatest lessons is that you never reach the summit. I've seen my dad achieve more success than anyone else. Mine pales in comparison. I still see him tensed, fearful, anxious, unsure and ready to fight every time he starts a new film. I don't want to reach that summit where I say, 'Ah, I've arrived' Right now, that place doesn't even exist in my head.