You're finally doing another Hindi film after Rang De Basanti. What took you so long to select another film?
The fact that I took so long to start a film after Rang De Basanti seems to surprise everyone but me. I specifically said after Rang De Basanti that I would not do anything unless I am completely excited by it. It has taken me 2 years to find a Hindi film that I think I should do as opposed to having people tell me what they want to see me doing. Now all that is left to do is to stand by that decision and to give it its worth, and that's the really exciting part.
Whether it's the South or in Mumbai, you've acquired the reputation of being extra-picky. Are you just being cautious about your career?
People often tell me I take myself too seriously. I think I could still do more. If I don't take myself seriously, no one else is going to either. I want to look back at my career and see hunger for excellence and conviction as being the root cause for selecting each of my films. I think my filmography reads as sensible, and that's pretty good for a 6 year old career. Be it Telugu cinema or Hindi, I am here to stay, and I would rather achieve that with one good film at a time, as opposed to a barrage of mediocrity just to stay in circulation.
Now finally there is Striker in Hindi. What made you choose this assignment among all the ones that came to you?
I was waiting to find a director whose voice and vision excited me as much as I believed it would excite an audience. Hindi cinema is in a place where nobody knows where the next sea change is going to come from. Chandan Arora's script made me think that Striker has a fantastic chance of being a very important film. His integrity impressed me. It's a beautiful film. I am really looking forward to the challenge of complementing such a compelling script with my performance.
Are you a carom player in real life? Chandan tells me, you've been mastering the game, lingo and the real-life character's personality. Do you think non-fictional characters should be replicated or should they be played according to the actor and director's independent interpretation?
I think it is inappropriate to get into details of the performance at such an early stage. To address it very briefly, I think that real life characters that the people haven't observed closely makes it possible for huge liberties to be taken while depicting them on screen. That is both a convenient and a challenging prospect at the same time. It's convenient because you 'can' make it up, and challenging because you 'have' to make it up.
Whether it's the South or the North, you're known for selected screen appearances. Isn't there a danger of being under-exposed?
I believe any exposure is exposure. The words 'under' and 'over' are used in the future when looking back. My career span isn't long enough just yet to make that analysis. As of now, I think I am getting my exposure, and that is a relief. It's better than doing no work at all.
How is your Southern career doing? Are you getting the roles that satisfy your aesthetics?
I have achieved critical and mass acceptance in Telugu. It is hugely satisfying because I have done it my way, and have done so in an industry considered to be very hostile to male actors from outside the state. However, my fans there have never once let me feel like a Tamilian. I am and always will be their very own Telugu boy. I have commissioned my own films and been part of everything from writing to crew selection from my very first film. My identity as a thinking Telugu actor gives me great joy.
What about in Mumbai. What after Striker? Any other Hindi assignments?
I worked with Vishal Bhardwaj on a short film Blood Brothers on the subject of AIDS. It was more important for me to associate myself with that film based on what it wanted to achieve, than with the myriad other offers that might have been big commercial studio success stories. I mention this to give myself a fair idea of how to go about selecting work. I am accountable both to myself and to the people who see my work. I will start a new film as soon as I know that I won't be letting that faith down.
What prompted you to accept Vishal's Blood Brothers as your follow-up to Rang De Basanti in Hindi?
In the year following Rang De Basanti, I went back to Hyderabad and did two hugely successful Telugu films. I decided to take a break for six months and travel. That's when Vishal called. I worked on the film because of the cause it stood for and because I was excited about working with Vishal Bhardwaj and the Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro.
Do you feel like a fish out of water in Mumbai? How do you intend to divide your time between Chennai and Mumbai? Or will Chennai continue to be home?
I have no emotional attachment with any city. I have been living out of a suitcase for over 4 years now. Home for me is where I am working at any given point of time. When I am unemployed, I go to my parents for shelter. I see this ritual continuing for a while to come.