What was your first reaction when ‘Om’ was pitched to you?
It was Om’s story that excited me the most. I’ve always believed that every movie should have its foundation and it felt like Om had a lot going for it. I only heard 20-30 minutes of the film during the first narration and I was instantly hooked because of the emotionality of the subject. I believe that action movies that are not anchored by a particular emotion and a character’s need are just action movies for the sake of it. The fact that Om’s story has a lot of proverbial meat on the bone made me excited. The fact that Ahmed Khan and our director Kapil Verma have taken a lot of action in their careers also made me excited.
In previous interviews, you have said that you have always looked up to the action genre and now you finally have the chance to be an action hero. Which action heroes did you idolize growing up?
Actually, I never grew up wanting to be an actor, I wanted to do the action in real life. As a kid in school I would imagine you fighting in real life and not on screen. There I spent my time daydreaming. I was a crazy boy who wanted to fight everyone. I went for karate lessons. I did the whole action buff thing. But my idols were Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. These were the four. I’ve seen all their movies from the first to the last. I used to watch these movies with my dad. They used to be broadcast on our cable TV too. These four were my favorites.
A movie sequence you dreamed of doing for the big screen?
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is my all-time favorite movie. Be it drama, suspense or any movie related rating and it has to be Terminator 2 because that is the movie you can watch over and over again. When I was a kid, I was the same age as the kid in the movie (John Connor played by Edward Furlong), so maybe I could imagine myself in the story. But yeah, the order Arnold is in with the gatling gun in front of the window is iconic. The helicopter sequence and also the one on the bike, where a large truck is behind Arnold and he loads his gun with one hand. I wish I could.
Many comments on Om’s trailer said it showed too much of the story. Do you agree?
It’s really not the case. The film has a lot more to it than what appears from the trailer. There was a lot of discussion before the trailer came out about whether we should show it or not. But I think people will really be in for a surprise when they go to the theaters. They will realize that the story is actually much more than what they made out from the trailer. I understand where the audience is coming from. It’s like, ‘Okay, this person is going to save that man, it’s pretty easy’. But it really isn’t. There are many twists and turns in the scenario that you don’t see coming. I think there is a reason for our team to be optimistic, because I have a feeling that we will live up to our story in the cinema.
Ahmed Khan has worked on the Baaghi and Heropanti franchises, so comparisons to those films will be inevitable. Are you prepared for that?
It is inevitable and absolutely fine as long as we are compared to things that are good, right? And they are. I take it as a compliment when we are compared to films that are successful and I see nothing wrong with that.
You have had a varied career. You’ve been a VJ, even in your movies you’ve learned to sing. You’ve done a lot. Now you take action, which is completely new territory. How have these experiences changed you as a person and as an actor?
I think there is a certain amount of luck involved. I have been offered several things. I was lucky enough to have different kinds of movies and genres come to me, directors who wanted different things from me. But it’s also been a conscious decision not to insist on the same thing just because it’s been a success. That’s something I don’t want to do in the future either. I think getting complacent and being repetitive are my biggest fears. I don’t want to get to a place where ‘this works now so let’s keep doing it’. The audience will be bored and I will be bored if I do it. I want to push myself to places I haven’t been and reach a little further than I think I can.
It has been a satisfying journey because it has had its share of trials and tribulations, its ups and downs and you learn a lot from that. Of course, the benefits of working as an actor are that you learn new skills, you learn from the best and it is a privileged position to be in. I don’t take it lightly, I consider myself lucky to have found something I enjoy doing. I enjoy waking up for work every day and it was a nice trip. It was unpredictable, but that’s the nature of the beast. You just have to keep going and do your best every day.
You deal with a lot of weapons in Om. What kind of training did you have and were the challenges firing some weapons?
Actually, I did some weapons training. One of my co-stars, Rohit, is an expert, so I spent a few days with him understanding how to walk, pick up a few cues, how to hold the gun, and how to load it. He put me to the test. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to train with the weapons, but I was able to focus on the most important aspects. It was very helpful because I think it adds authenticity. You need to be able to look like you know what you’re doing, especially when you’re playing a commando.
You make a huge transition from the heartthrob of romantic movies to an all-encompassing action hero. How much did you have to change as an actor in your process?
I think every role requires a different kind of preparation and I approach every film that way. I think the script and the role determine what the preparation for that role will be. Ahmed Sir and Kapil wanted me to do all the action and stunts and for that I had to put in the time. So I did three and a half or four months of action training. I trained with experts every morning and just repeated the exercises to make sure the body language is right. It is to make sure that your expressions are correct. I think fighting on camera is very different from fighting in real life, there’s a whole science involved. I think my biggest challenge in this movie was understanding the character, the scenes and his psyche.
Your director Kapil and producer Ahmed Khan confessed that it was your stunning physique in Malang that convinced them that you were the right man for Om. Usually these questions are asked of actresses, but do you feel the pressure to always look good?
I don’t feel the pressure, but it sure is a task and a challenge to be in constant shape for movie after movie. If you’re going to play roles that require physicality, then definitely give it a try because, as they say, abs are made in the kitchen. So that’s a 24 hour job to make sure you keep an eye on everything that goes into your mouth. It can become quite difficult to maintain that lifestyle for long. I tend to go off track every now and then, which is important to me. I cannot live such a moderate life for too long. There will be a malfunction in the matrix. That’s what keeps me going. You know, if I don’t have that cheating day or two, I can’t be there 365 days a year. What I used to do was yo-yo with my weight. I would gain 20 pounds, then lose 20 pounds, then gain 20 pounds and lose weight again. I don’t do that anymore. Now I’m keeping myself on a baseline, which is pretty close to where I need to be. You must lead a moderate life.
How much of that physical discipline helps you in your craft as an actor?
I think it skips and you don’t realize it, but when you’re deep in preparation and you’re on this frugal diet, you train for two hours and four hours a day, you’re in the zone and you start to feel like a monk. You start to feel more attuned, more focused, more centered and that sensation lasts as long as you keep yourself in that hyper heightened, focused frame of mind. But at least I can hold it for a short time. I can’t be in that intense state for too long. Coming back to your question, it helps me stay more focused on everything.
In movies like Aashiqui 2, Fitoor and Malang you really took advantage of the female gaze. So many women look up to you. How do you feel about that?
It’s flattering and it’s great that they support me. But I don’t think much of it. I won’t let it get to me. It’s amazing as an actor, the support and admiration we get from people. Ultimately, that love is what we work for. It definitely means the world to me. I rarely comment and I’m not very active with my involvement, but every time I interact with my fans I make it a point to show them that their support means a lot. It is certainly gratifying.