I can't take my eyes off Audrey Hepburn as I flip through the pages of a big fat book titled 'The Star Makers' kept in front of me on his coffee table. Then I get my hands on The Beatles. For a second, I didn't care if Nikhil Dwivedi took another one hour in his shower. But that didn't happen. Anyway, it was Friday afternoon, 3:30pm to be precise. To do or not to do the interview was going to be my call. There is something about these 'one film old' actors that attract my attention towards them. For a moment, you wish to be Nikhil Dwivedi. Wheatish complexion, skin fit jeans, red shoes, a chequered half sleeve shirt with a glass of green tea, a richly decorated black and white house shimmering from floor to the ceiling and of course, a Mani Ratnam film. Isn't that enough?
"Please have something. Orange Juice will do you good", he said while offering me a drink. Ideally, I wouldn't mind sitting in his cosy cornered bar he has designed especially for his friends and guests. Nothing smoother than a nice single malt on the rocks. Back to reality. Nikhil likes mixing the rough with the smooth, which is why I presume he landed up a role in Mani Ratnam's Raavan. Is he bankable enough? We'll soon find out. Sometimes he comes across with a chameleon-like quality, making it hard to link the man behind the mask. Sometimes he comes across as Bollywood's favourite archetype, the hard man with the soft centre. Dwivedi is part chest-beater, part soul-searcher. He's tough and crazy but he also has this boy-man quality.
"I live alone and can take care of myself", he says with positivity flowing from his eyes. Have the Gods really smiled on him this time around? Will Raavan bring the success he is so looking forward to? Is he a God send to Bollywood? Answers to questions like these are still a year away. What he does realise is that his ticking career clock has started long time back. We for a change want to hear the alarm. UK's Harrow Observer columnist and We met the ever so awake aristocrat Nikhil Dwivedi and discussed the actors he grew up on, the relationship of cinema and the common man, Raavan, Mani Ratnam, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and his two idols - Big B and SRK. As he says, "No other world should exist between 'action' and 'cut'. Before and after that, you should just be yourself."
Actors I looked up to…
"When I was a four year old, I decided that I'll grow up to be an actor. The passion that has been evoked in me at an early age comes into you because you grow up on a certain kind of cinema. I've grown up on single screen theatres and wasn't a part of the multiplex audience back then. We are now catering to the latter and I am part of that catering business. I come from a very strict family and films for me were once in a blue moon, except when it was an Amitabh Bachchan film. That's the actor I grew up on. My other favourite came years later. He was Shah Rukh Khan. I know SRK as a person and my liking for him is more than the actor or the star that defines him."
"I am an actor today because of Amitabh Bachchan. I've grown up watching his films. My favourite Amitabh Bachchan film cannot be short listed as there are dozens of them. I personally like Satte Pe Satta because he looked the most handsome in it. Then there is always an Agneepath, Deewar and Kaala Patthar. Mili is one of the most under rated performances he has and will ever give to Hindi films. That was when he played the angry young man for the first time in his life. Whenever he has played the angry young man, he had a lot of vendetta and angst against a particular person in the film. There have been only three films that come to my mind where he had this bitterness against the whole wide world. It's a very difficult emotion to play but only he can pull it off. He did it in Mili, followed it in Deewar and then finally he did it in Agneepath."
"I will never forget what SRK once told me before I entered films. He said, "Films is not about bungalows, about cars, about fans chasing you for autographs. When you make a film, you should get the aroma from the negative print." Not many actors can have a five hour long conversation with you without making you feel bored. SRK is extremely intelligent, extremely articulate, very well read and highly successful. What's more, he isn't ashamed of his success, neither is he too pompous or flamboyant about it as many people perceive him to be. He likes the way it is. And despite all the above, there is a very middle class Delhi boy in him and that is something very endearing. You just want to sit with him and learn from him. He could be talking to you about micro-biology and he is an expert in it or he could talk to you about aeroplanes and submarines or world cinema. You come back and google what you've heard from him and learn that all that is true."
Cinema and the common man
"Today, the tickets range from hundred rupees to two hundred and fifty rupees. So the person who is buying those tickets is actually a person who is doing well in life. He is educated and urban. When he is that, he is a certain kind of a person expecting a certain kind of cinema. The kind of mass base cinema is on a decline. They want a fresher subject. Two years down the line, you will not find Bollywood's famous song and dance routine in our films, and I completely believe in it."
How Raavan happened…
"The working title of the film is still Raavan. The part I'm playing in Raavan is that of a police officer who is a subordinate to his senior police officer played by South Indian National Award winning actor Vikram. Mr. Mani Ratnam wants each and every actor of his to come and do a look test for him. One has to read for his part. I had to do the same. I read for my part and I am just very fortunate that he liked me in my part."
Mani Ratnam - A star maker?
"Mani Ratnam isn't a star maker. He is a director who makes a better actor. He isn't making a star. He is simply telling a story and making a film. 70% of the film is complete now and what I've noticed is that he doesn't try to make his film a star. I mean, his film into a super hit. His personality is over the top but his cinema is not. Mani Ratnam knows what he wants and his ambience is usually a league above what the others would envision. I don't know how much will Raavan benefit me, but I can tell you one thing for sure, I am going to carry a lot of this film to my future projects."
"This is the first time I had any sort of interaction with Abhishek. I had heard about this when I used to read interviews about his colleagues and friends talking about Abhishek that he is a very well brought up boy and he is very cultured, mannered, etc. I thought that a guy who is all this should be so perfect. Now I know why they say this about him. One of the finest qualities about Abhishek is that he makes the attempt to make you feel comfortable. That is a very rare quality that he possesses. He will not bother if that person has walked up to him or not. He will walk up to them and talk. He wins over people and he has won over me."
"Raavan isn't sync sound. I don't hear a sound on the sets of this Mani Ratnam film. That is almost impossible to achieve when you're shooting for a Hindi film. What you gather is that filming with Mani Ratnam isn't picnic. It is serious business. You are there for something big and everyone who works for a Mani Ratnam film, works with that kind of sincerity and discipline."
"She is right on time, I should say. A true professional. She is also there in the Tamil version of Raavan and is shooting simultaneously for both the parts. That is physically taxing. But these are just not actors; they are much more than just a celebrity."
"You might wonder what Govinda is doing in a Mani Ratnam film. Believe me, he is a true definition of versatility. He is mesmerising when he is acting. I've been in a couple of scenes with him and he is an actor who can make you forget your lines. He flows and that's beautiful. There are some actors who are just blessed and he is one of them."
Recalling the first day of Raavan
"It was 7th of January 2009 in Madhya Pradesh. The set was a little intimidating, for the simple fact that when you arrive on a Mani Ratnam set, there is a lot of preconceived baggage you bring along. But you are immediately proved wrong. When you step for your first shot, the mechanism is completely different. He will brief you in depth and then take it from there."
"My favourite Mani Ratnam film has to be Rojaand Bombay for the simple reason that the subject matter was very real. It had a lot of heart and soul to it. For once Mani Ratnam didn't dwell away from the emotional quotient in the film. He stuck to it and made films that are still remembered by all.
My favourite Abhishek Bachchan film is Bunty aur Babli and his first film Refugee. I hope I don't annoy Abhishek here but I saw a lot of Amitabh Bachchan in him in Refugee. I think if I don't see a lot of father in his own son, where else shall I see it?"