It won't be wrong to call him the new 'crush' of the town! With drool-worthy looks and a magnetic personality, Tony Luke has already wooed us over with his Hindi film debut in Amitabh Bachchan-Taapsee Pannu starrer Badla. From setting new records on the ramp globally as a model to acting in films, the latest Malayali import in Bollywood has already got his priorities set right.
In an exclusive conversation with Filmibeat, Tony Luke gets candid about the success of Badla, his first meeting with Amitabh Bachchan, choices of films and much more. Excerpts from the interview.
Q. Badla received some rave reviews from the critics and is having an impressive run at the box office. Were you anticipating this sort of a response?
A. Honestly, yes. I remember texting Sujoy on New Year to wish him. He told me, 'Bro, I need to show you our movie.' Two days later, he showed me the pre-edit. Sujoy told me he was happy with my performance. Even my producers said the same.
All the strategies performed and I knew that once the promotions were in the hands of Red Chillies and it's under Shahrukh Khan, it would be marketed well. They are very smart and intelligent to tap into the right market. They promoted the film beautifully; not too much and not too less.
After the first show, my friends called me from Mumbai to tell me that cinema halls there were almost full. The more I heard that, combined with I had seen and heard, I knew that people would like the film.
Q. What was your reaction when you watched yourself in Badla on the big screen?
A. I watched the film alone in a dark room. Sujoy refused to join me saying that I would keep talking to him instead. (laughs) I sat all alone and from start to end, I was totally hooked. The first time I saw it, I didn't pay attention towards me and my performance because everything felt so perfect. I was just watching the movie even though I knew what the script was.
I got to see myself as an actor trying to judge his performance when I watched the movie at the special screening. I feel blessed because being in a film with Amitabh Bachchan was amazing.
I come from a middle-class background. One fine day, I find myself with the great Bachchan Sir. The minute I saw the film rolling and him walking through the bridge, I said a quiet prayer to God thanking him that I was a part of this project. When the project was over, I was stunned. There's a certain sense of happiness that comes from deep within. It's not like you jump and scream and all that you see in chocolate commercials.
Q. Sharing screen-space with Mr Bachchan is every actor's dream-come true moment. Did he give you some acting tips? What's your favourite memory of him from the sets?
A. I was suppose to begin shooting from June 14 though the film hit the floors a few days earlier. Bachchan Sir was already on the sets doing his scenes. All his scenes with Taapsee were shot then. I arrived in Scotland around June 7. Around June 9-10th, Sujoy Sir asked me to come to the sets and watch Mr. Bachchan perform on the sets.
The first time I met him face-to-face, I was with Sunil Kheterpal whom I fondly call 'Big Boss'. He was the one who actually found my photo and suggested my name to Sujoy. I was standing with him and talking while I was watching Bachchan Sir. I could see him discussing with Sujoy Sir and joke with the stylist. I was standing there watching him for half hour with Sunil Sir by my side.
Then, I was looking at my shoes for around two seconds. When I looked up, I found Bachchan Sir standing right in front of him. (laughs)
With a smile on his face in his baritone voice, he wished me, 'Hello'. I replied back, 'Hello Sir'. To that, he said, 'Welcome to Badla'. (laughs) He wished me luck. He was very kind. That's one moment which I would cherish throughout my life.
We didn't exchange any acting tips as such. I believe acting is all about observation. You don't have to tell anything. By just watching Bachchan Sir perform, I learnt some of the things. So, it was all about warmth, kindness and fun on the sets.
Q. Considering you played a layered character, was it easy or difficult for you to let go out of it?
A. Once the character is finished, I don't carry anything with myself too much. There's a certain amount of material in ourselves that we identify with, with our characters. We just put that forth.
The moment the film gets over, I do not feel the change. Ya, maybe it could happen for a day or two. You are in a kind of hangover. But then, it's back to being normal.
Q. It was through Malayalam filmmaker Jeethu Joseph that you landed your Bollywood debut. Initially, he wanted to cast you for his Bollywood project 'Body', but then 'Badla' happened. Now when you look in retrospect, are you happy with the decision that you took back then?
A. (laughs) I never had a choice in any of this. Everything was destined. All those discussions about me being a part of 'Body' happened between Sunil and Jeethu. The only offer which I was given was at the end.
It was Jeethu who thought Badla was a bigger and better movie for me. Sunil too agreed with him. It was both of them who decided that I should try for Badla. So, I had no choice. I just accepted my destiny.
Q. Before you, a lot of Malayalam actors like Mamoothy, Prithiviraj Sukaran and others too starred in Bollywood films. However, they couldn't create a bigger impact here like how they did down the south. However, times are changing now and the audience is embracing regional actors and cinema with open arms. Do you believe you have an upper hand now?
A. Mostly definitely. I think Karan Johar is doing a great job of bringing this nation under one. He is distributing movies and collaborating with great filmmakers down the south. He's trying to bring the nation together.
It's not about north-south anymore. Instead it's between us, the Indians and the rest of the world. There is a huge market out there and today with Netflix and web-series, people are ready to watch different languages.
I believe by the blessing of God, I am at a very good time today because most of the people prefer to view films as Indian cinema and not according to the regional divide. What matters is great performance and great content.
Q. Your choice of films down the south have been very interesting. You played an antagonist, a scientist. There are some quite brave choices for an actor to make at the early stage of his career. Are you planning to follow a similar template when it comes to Hindi films as well or your focus is going to be solo projects?
A. Down the south, I was offered these roles. I think I was blessed to get the chance to work with some great directors. Jeethu Joseph launched me. My second film was with a two time National-Award winning director and in that film, I was the only newcomer. I feel blessed to have got these roles immediately because good directors always noticed my performance.
So, I was always dependent on my performances to get my next role. I am a new boy without any experience. I belong to a middle class family minus any filmi connections. So, everything depends on my working talent and my performances in my films. So, I have to wait for my films to release and then I get the next offer. That's why I tend to take some time to sign films.
Finger crossed, I have always managed to land up with great characters. I always depend upon one film to release and then I choose from the offers that I get.
People like me who ain't star kids and want to be actors, in my opinion, if you cannot do a character role in a film starring some of the best actors and still stand out, then you don't deserve to be a lead actor because it's going to be tough for you. That's the reason why I took up character roles early in my career. It teaches you pain, suffering and at the same time teach you how to act.
Now after doing Badla, I can say that I have almost covered all the emotions and essence of a character. I have done comedy, played an antagonist, a casanova, a smart guy and now a layered character in Badla. This fulfills me as an actor.
About the future, now after Badla, I will wait for a nice film to be offered to me. It doesn't matter if it's a solo lead or not. As long as it has great scenes and I have something to offer as an actor and improve as one.
Q. Do you have a specific list of Bollywood actors and directors with whom you wish to work with?
A. (laughs) Till last year, I had no clue that I would do a Bollywood film. Nobody even thought that I would make my Bollywood debut. So, the question of wish-list of actors and directors does not arise at all.
I will feel blessed if anyone wants to work with me and offers me a good script. I am an actor and not a star material.
Sujoy told me that he wasn't going to launch me as a star with glitzy promotions. He said he is going to place me as an actor and I believe that's the future.
Today with content being the king, there will be a lot of demand for good actors. There are going to be great roles and you need to be fluent actors to get them. I am open to working with anyone as long as they were happy to work with me. I believe everyone who has made it in this industry wants just that. I will be happy to do good work and collaborate with good directors.
Q. Your journey has been an interesting one. You are an engineer who took up modelling and is now an actor. When you look back, how would you define it?
A.It's been an excellent and grand journey. I became an engineer because I wanted to make my parents happy. Everyone in my family wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer. Those days, you had very few career options.
I kept my family before me and did my engineering for my dad. I was a good student but I found engineering boring. Then modelling happened and it just picked up. I don't know how. One fine day, I found myself in Milan working for some of the big shows. I traveled half the world. So, it's been a long wonderful ride.
Like they say, 'do not count your lives by the number of breaths that you take but by the moments which that take your breath away'. I had my few moments which took my breath away. Badla is one of them.