Ruslaan Mumtaz left the girls swooning all over him with his calm demeanour, puppy eyes and cute looks when he made his modest debut with Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar (MP3) in 2007. Over the years, the actor had more 'misses' than 'hits'. In an industry that doesn't forgive you easily for your flops, Ruslaan managed to carve a niche for himself and proved everyone wrong by taking every failure in his stride with his optimistic outlook.
Filmibeat caught up with Ruslaan Mumtaz for an exclusive tête-à-tête at his swanky pad in Juhu, where the actor bared his heart about his struggles in his career, surviving ten years in the industry, why it would have been difficult for him to debut in today's times, dealing with criticism and much more.
'I & My Mother Look At The Profession Of Acting Very Differently'
Q. Not many people know that you hold a degree in finance. Did you always aspire to be an actor or it just happened to you?
A. Honestly, I wasn't involved in any of the cultural activities all through my college. I wasn't ever going to become an actor. That was something which wasn't in the scheme of things for me at all. I was always into academics. I wanted to pursue finance because that's been an area of interest for me like forever. But then, once I and my group of friends had gone for a mock test for a CAT exam where I ended up doing very badly in it. That time, I was really worried thinking what will I do next in my life. My friends suggested that I should try my hand at acting since it was quite a lucrative career. That's it. That moment, I decided I wanted to be an actor. I started doing theatre in Mumbai. For three years, I did plays and worked hard on my acting skills. Somebody saw my play and approached for an ad. I auditioned and bagged that commercial. Like that, I bagged seven ads even before I got my portfolio done. As soon as I got my portfolio made, I auditioned for Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar Hai and bagged that role. That's exactly how acting happened to me. I wasn't ever creative or inclined towards acting. It was a very practical decision.
Q. Your mother Anjana Mumtaz is known to be quite a versatile actress. Was she aware about what was going on in your mind back then? Also, do you discuss your work with her?
A. I and my mother look at the profession of acting very differently. Maybe she is an actor because she's passionate about it and loves acting. I wasn't like that. I chose acting because I thought it would give me a career as well as if I was doing my MBA. That's why I chose it, thinking that apart from money, it has its other perks like the luxury of being an actor where you are famous, liked and loved. I chose acting for a different reason than she had chosen.
'I Have Survived Ten Years In The Industry Just On People Appreciating My Work'
Q. You made a sensational debut in Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar Hain. However after that, your career didn't pan out as imagined. What exactly happened? In one of your interviews with a leading magazine in 2013, you said that you were denied a place in Hindi cinema's new young club and blamed it on luck..
A. People look at MP3 and think of it as something which can change an actor's life. But honestly, that film was made on a small budget. It's just that it got noticed. But then, it did not get the box office collections that it needed for me as an actor to sustain. I have survived ten years in the industry just on reviews and people appreciating my work. It's never been on box office collections or TRPs. MP3 didn't make money. Even Tere Sang failed to do well. But people liked my work and thought I was good enough and deserved better. That's how I have survived in this industry for ten years. People think I am good, but whatever work I have done has not clicked at box office. Let me tell you, you can be an atrociously bad actor and still survive in the business if your movie makes money. But if your film doesn't make money then your talent and good looks will eventually become secondary. I still got opportunities after that which is a big thing. In my case, somewhere people saw beyond the box office numbers for some reason and that's why I am still around working.
The fact is without having a box office success or a super-hit TV show, I am still getting a lead actor's job, which I think is commendable.
'I Never Got A Film Because I Was Anjana Mumtaz's Son'
Q. Do you believe things would have shaped up differently if you had made your debut in today's times?
A. No, I don't think so. In today's times, I would never have got an opportunity. At that time because of the multiplex boom and so many films being made, I got a chance. In today's times, many of the films have the big budgets or content is being made for platform like Netflix. I hardly see any movie being made with an outsider actor and a new setup. If a big company is launching two newcomers then there's still a chance. But then those two are also not ranked newcomers. They are either star kids or maybe they could be a TV star who is making his/her debut. Back then, I was just a ranked newcomer from an ad film. I never got a film because I was Anjana Mumtaz's son. People with whom I was working with didn't even know her. She wasn't as popular as the likes of say, a Hema Malini. My mother had fame but it wasn't enough to make a movie for that person. Whatever I have done has happened because it just happened at that point of time. That same thing to happen in today's times is very difficult. Today to be in the same position where I was 10 years back is close to impossible.
Q. You had even auditioned for Slumdog Millionaire but lost the role to Dev Patel because you were shooting for some other film. Do you regret taking that decision?
A. I didn't refuse Slumdog Millionaire. That would be a very big statement to make. I did four rounds of auditions for that film which used to happen every month. Also, I had my career going in Bollywood. During that period of four months, I was playing a superstar in a film called Jahan Kahan Se Aayi Hain which starred Riteish Deshmukh and Jacqueline Fernandez. For that, I needed to have a good physique and look fit since I was playing a star. Simultaneously, the auditions for Slumdog Millionaire were going on. The first time I gave my audition, I really looked like a Slumdog. But four months past and by the time I reached my last audition, I had a good physique and didn't look like a Slumdog anymore.
Q. You had previously mentioned that television was like an acting workshop for you for which you get paid. Today, a lot of people from Gen X look down upon this medium for its content. Do you think it's right for them to do that?
A. Honestly as a person, I do not watch TV. But given that, I have not even watched my own films. Maybe if MP3 was made with some other guy, I would not have watched it. So, I do not know. Maybe it's not my kind of cinema. I like to watch action and larger-than-life films. So, even my own films wouldn't be my kind of cinema. Television is not my area of interest when it comes to viewing. But as an actor, I enjoy doing television because there's a lot that you can do there. Your character in a TV show has a graph unlike in films. You get to do so many things in that span of, maybe a year if you are doing a TV soap. You get to portray so many emotions which a human being goes through, which is fun. So, I really enjoy doing television for these reasons. I enjoy living a fake life of somebody who is either successful or going through romance, hatred or being or getting fooled. I just enjoy those emotions because in real life, I will never have them.
'Sanjay Dutt Had A Very Big Impact On Me'
Q. What kind of films were a part of your growing years?
A. I watched films of Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan. These three actors' films had a lot to do with my childhood because they were the stars back then. They were a part of films which we could relate to. Apart from them, Sanjay Dutt had a very big impact on me. Maybe because for my generation, he was our first action star with his long hair and beefed up body. He was like our Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. As a kid, I remember I had seen his film called Aatish and would enact a dialogue with my friends. That was actually the first acting which I ever did in my life.
Q. You recently did a web series called Zakhmi. How did that fall in place?
A. Zakhmi happened because of Vikram Bhatt. He is a very practical person in the film industry. An actor who is struggling with his career should meet him. The kind of advice what he gave really helped me. He told me that there are two kind of actors- one who is a working actor and the other is a non-working one and asked me to decide which one I wanted to be. That made sense to me. Because of that, I started taking up things which maybe I would not take under normal circumstances. But because I went and took up different things but had to maintain that I am still a hero, I did them differently. When he offered me a role in Zakhmi, it got me thinking that why was I not getting the lead role. But then, I realized in sometime, that I agreed to take up the part because I couldn't say a No to him and also because I couldn't come up with a logical reason to turn down the negative role. Now, I needed to play my part well.
Q. Your character in Zakhmi, Rohan is something which you have never attempted before. Was it difficult for you to get out of that character? Also, do you have a process as an actor?
A. My approach has always been that whatever character I am playing, he is in me. So, if my character Rohan could betray his wife and eventually want to kill her, Ruslaan Mumtaz can also have that quality in him. Whatever role that is offered to me, I just find him within myself. So technically, the emotion which I am portraying is real for that moment. I do really feel like that for that moment and that's the way I approach my acting. I don't know if that's right or wrong. Maybe that's a convenient way of approaching it wherein you internalize the character. That's what I even did in my films and every role which I have ever done. I just put myself where if I was born in this situation or if I was this guy, how would I react to it.
Q. Like you said, you internalize your emotions, have there been instances when these things get spilled into your real life as well?
A. Maybe there are not of long enough duration for that to happen. (pauses and thinks for a moment) But yes, maybe you are right. Maybe it could, I am not denying that. If I am playing a character who could be a little abusive, like in Zakhmi, I need to have a little aggression in me to portray that. In my real life, that feeling might not exist. Maybe the day I am rehearsing that scene, I might be a little different. I get scared to let it go because I am still rehearsing. Since I am taking from within me, I am actually becoming the character. So yes, if there is something which is going for a long period of time, it could affect me.
'If You Already Know What You Want To Do, Then The Excitement Of The Job Is Over'
Q. What kind of roles are you looking forward to do? Is there something which you really want to explore?
A. There is nothing specific as such where I have seen the character and been like, 'Wow, I would like to do that.' I believe every actor has his own interpretation of the same thing. My goal so far has been that whatever I get offered, hopefully I do it convincingly. Also, if you already know what you want to do then the excitement of the job is over. That's why I like television because you can go to a set and be told a sudden change in your track. I am okay with that because now I have to sit and internalize the change and figure out how would I pull it off. I enjoy that process. That's why I love acting because I can have emotions which I can't have in my real life. You can do larger-than-life things on screen and get paid for it.
Q. If not an actor, what career would have you opted for?
A. I would have been in finance for sure. I would be doing something in the equity market, maybe working in a broker firm or something.
Q. When you look back at your journey today, how do you define it?
A. Honestly speaking, I have always struggled. It has never been easy for me. At points, the struggles were within me wherein I felt that I am not ready or good enough to be an actor. Then I reached a point where I thought I have become good enough but then, I wasn't getting good enough work. I realized that the struggle has always been there, to get the job and then to do it well. But today now after ten years in the industry, I sit back and think that the struggle would go on even if things were different assuming if my first film was a super hit. I sit back and think that this struggle must be true for even a Ranbir Kapoor or a Varun Dhawan who are in a different league. That's what an actor's life is. They have chosen a career who is so insecure. I feel somewhere that maybe my glass should have been totally full. But it is half full and not half empty. As long as I can act, there are avenues opening up every day. First we didn't have the web but now it's there. Tomorrow there might be more things that will be there to sustain me as an actor and I am thankful for that.
'Being A Social Media Sensation Doesn't Mean You Are An Actor'
Q. Today, visibility matters a lot for an actor. Almost everybody is on social media platform like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. But then, there was a time when there was no social media and the actors had a certain sense of mysterious aura around them. People used to be really curious to know what's happening in their favorite actor's life. Today, social media has shortened the gap between the actor and the audience. How do you see this change? Also, how much do you think visibility is important for an actor to get work?
A. I think you get work from your work. The whole of India watching you on a show like say, a Bigg Boss necessarily may not translate into work. Only your work which is your actual good work can get you more. Just being seen doesn't mean anything. You have to be also good at what you are doing. For example, if there's somebody on Bigg Boss and that person is good-looking, you will give them a job. But then that's it. In that one job, that person has to prove himself/herself. So, this may be applicable for a first-timer when you need to be seen. After that your work needs to be seen. Being an social media sensation doesn't mean you are an actor. To be actor, you have to act and also have a social media presence. In today's times, being on social media is very important for an actor because you get a lot of feedback and opinion to boost your confidence and also to realize if you need to work harder.
'I Have Stopped Taking Criticism From My Family'
Q. Who are your biggest critics?
A. Honestly speaking, my biggest critics have been my mother and maasi. They have been too critical at times. But then, I have realized that maybe criticizing somebody's work too much can also hamper their growth. Maybe you should let them do their work. In recent times, I have stopped taking criticism from anybody in my family because I have realized while their criticism is to get me to do better, they do not realize that maybe doing better is not always in my hands. As an actor, I am an instrument, so I am subject to the director and creative's vision. There are some things over which I may not have a control. My parents or my family won't understand that. So, I have stopped taking criticism from my family because now I am in the real world and the audience is my critics. My family cannot be my critics. In recent times, I have been closed to criticism because now I want to decide for myself.
Q. You mentioned that social media is very important for an actor. But the platform also brings with itself a large number of trolls these days. How do you react to such negativity?
A. I get worried for these people who are trollers. I feel scared that they could be the youth of my own country. I worry about whoever they are and their family and what goes on in their minds. They are so different from what I am. Rather, they they should see the good in a person which can inspire or motivate them. I do not understand these trollers. For me, they don't exist.
'After My Debut Film, There Was A Lull In My Career Because I Was Busy Pursuing People Who Were Doing Bigger Films'
Q. Are you okay with approaching directors for work?
A. I have done that. I had approached a lot of people with whom I wanted to work. But then, eventually I realized that it doesn't work like that. When a director is successful or good at his job, he wants to work with an actor who is more successful than him, so that his career would go up. He would not work with an actor who is less successful than him and needs him. I have realized that the people who you need are already pursuing somebody that they need. That's the way it works. But then it takes you time to understand that process. That's why after my debut film, there was a lull in my career because that's what I was busy doing. I was pursuing people who were doing bigger films. During that period, I did manage to pull off something like Tere Sang and Jaane Kahan Se Aaayi Hai. But I also refused many other films which were offered to me. The moment I stopped doing that, then I have been around working. Television also wanted me, but I used to refuse them. The moment I said yes to them, I was visible.
'It's Not The Industry Who Stereotyped Me; Instead I Did That For Myself'
Q. Actors tend to get easily stereotyped in the industry. Did that happen to you after MP3? Were you offered a lot of chocolate boy roles?
A. I was offered other roles as well. But my inclination was towards the chocolate boy roles because I was more comfortable doing them. Like I said, I play a part of myself in every role which I do, that time I was young so that was the part of myself which was more relatable to me. Maybe as an actor, I had not developed enough to play a different character. So, I was more comfortable playing those roles. It's not that the industry stereotyped me. Instead, I did that for myself for a very long time. Until a Zakhmi or a Lal Ishq happened.
Q. Do you feel that the kind of roles which you are inclined towards now has changed over the years?
A. That's also because it's been ten years. I cannot do those same roles today because there are younger actors who can do them. It would not make sense for me to do a Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar Hai because I am not 17 at this point of time. So, I have aged with the roles that are offered to me.
'You Do Not Have To Compromise Or Sleep With Somebody To Become A Star'
Q. What would you like to tell the newcomers who wish to make it big in the showbiz?
A. You do not have to compromise or sleep with somebody to become a star. It will not help you in any way. Instead, it will destroy and break you. People will misguide you because they are trying to take advantage of you. Do not fall for that. The only way you could make it in the industry is with your talent. That too, if you are really talented and not because of you thinking so. Not because if your personal mirror thinks you are talented.
Q. Last but not the least, one piece of advice which you would like to give your yourself?
A. I would just like to say one thing to my younger self. You should have said more 'Yes' than 'No'. As simple as that. (laughs)