What was your first reaction when ‘Om’ was pitched to you?
It was the story of Om that excited me the most. I always believe that every movie should have its fundamentals in place and it felt like Om had a lot going for it. I heard just 20-30 minutes of the film during the first narration and I was hooked instantly because of the emotionality of the subject. I believe action films that are not anchored by a certain emotion and a character’s want, are just action films for the sake of it. That the story of Om, has a lot of proverbial meat on the bone, got me excited. The fact that Ahmed Khan and our director Kapil Verma have done an extensive amount of action in their careers also got me excited.
In past interviews you’ve said that you always looked up to the action genre and now you’ve finally got the chance to be an action hero. While you were growing up, which action heroes did you idolise?
I actually never grew up wanting to become an actor, I wanted to do the action in real life. As a kid in school, I would imagine fighting in real life and not on screen. That is what I spent my time daydreaming about. I was a mad kid who wanted to fight with everyone. I went for Karate classes. I did all 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 have seen all their films from their first to last. I used to sit and watch these films with my dad. They used to air on our cable TV as well. These four were my favorites.
Any movie sequence that you dreamt of doing for the big screen?
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is my favourite movie of all time. Be it drama, suspense, any movie related classification and it has to be Terminator 2, because that’s the film you can keep watching over and over. When I was a kid I was the same age as the kid in the film (John Connor played by Edward Furlong), so I could imagine myself in the story maybe. But yeah the sequence where Arnold is with the gatling gun at the window is iconic. The sequence with the chopper and also the one on the bike, where there is a big truck behind Arnold and he loads his gun with one hand. I wish I could do that.
A lot of comments on the trailer of Om stated that it showed too much of the story. Do you agree?
It’s really not the case. The film has a lot more than what’s apparent in the trailer. There was a lot of debate about it before the trailer came out whether we should show it or not. But I think people are really going to be in for a surprise when they go into the theatres. They will realise that there’s actually a lot more to the story than what they were making out from the trailer. I can understand where the audiences are coming from. It seems like, ‘Okay this person is going to save that guy, it’s fairly simple’. But it’s actually not. There’s a lot of twists and turns to the screenplay that you won’t see coming. I think there’s a reason for our team to be optimistic because I feel like we’ll over deliver on our story in theatres.
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 getting compared with things that are good, right? And they are. I take it as a compliment if we’re being compared with films that are successful and I don’t see anything wrong with it.
You’ve had a varied career arc. You’ve been a VJ, even in your films, you’ve learnt singing. There’s a lot that you’ve done. Now you’re doing action, which is a completely new territory. How have these experiences changed you as a person and as an actor?
I think there’s a certain amount of luck involved. I’ve been offered things that are varied. I’ve been lucky enough to have different types of films and genres come to me, directors that have wanted different things from me. But it has been a conscious decision as well to not hammer at the same thing just because it’s been a success. That’s something that I don’t want to do going forward as well. I think getting complacent and being repetitive are my biggest fears. I don’t want to get into a place where, ‘this is working now so let’s keep doing it’. The audience will get bored and I will get bored doing it. I want to be pushing myself into places where I haven’t been and reach a little further than I think I can.
It has been a gratifying journey because it has had its share of trials and tribulations, its ups and downs and one learns a lot from those. Of course, the perks of the job as an actor is you get to learn new skills, you get to learn from the best and it’s a privileged position to be in. I don’t take it lightly, I consider myself lucky to have found something that I enjoy doing. I enjoy waking up for my work everyday and it’s been a fun journey. It’s been unpredictable, but that’s the nature of the beast. You just have to keep going and giving your best everyday.
You’re dealing with a lot of guns in Om. What sort of training did you go through and were the challenges in firing some many weapons?
Actually, I did some gun training. One of my co-stars, Rohit, is an expert so I spent a few days with him just understanding how to walk, picking up a few signals, how to hold the gun and how to load it. He put me through my paces. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked training with the guns but I was able to zero in on key 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 if you’re playing a commando.
You’re making a huge transition, from the heartthrob of romantic films to an all-out action hero. How much did you have to change in your process as an actor?
I think every role demands a different kind of preparation and I approach every film like that. I think the script and role decides 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 needed to put in time. So I did three and a half or four months of action training. I was training with experts every morning just repeating the exercises to make sure the body language is right. It is to make sure your expressions are right. I think fighting for the camera is very different from fighting in real life, there’s a whole science that goes into it. I think my main challenge in this film was understanding the character, the scenes and his psyche.
Your director Kapil and producer Ahmed Khan have confessed that it was your stunning physique in Malang that convinced them you were the right man for Om. Usually these questions are posed to actresses, but do you feel the pressure of looking good all the time?
I don’t feel the pressure, but it’s definitely a task and a challenge to constantly be in shape for film after film. If you are going to do roles that require physicality then it’s definitely trying because, as they say, the abs are made in the kitchen. So that’s a 24 hour job to make sure that you monitor everything that goes into your mouth. It can get pretty tough to maintain that lifestyle for long durations. I do tend to go off the rails every now and then, which is important for me. I can’t live that life of moderation for too long. There will be a glitch in the matrix. That’s what keeps me going. You know, if I don’t have that day or two of cheating, I can’t be there 365 days of the year. What I used to do earlier was yo-yo a lot with my weight. I would put on 20 kilos then lose 20, then put on 20 and lose them again. I don’t do that anymore. Now I keep myself at a baseline, which is fairly close to where I need to be. You need to live a life of moderation.
How much of that physical discipline helps you in your craft as an actor?
I think it does spill over and you don’t realize it but when you’re deep into preparation and you’re on this frugal diet, you’re working out two hours and four hours a day, you’re in the zone and you start feeling like a monk. You start feeling more tuned in, more focused, more centered and that sensation lasts as long as you keep yourself in that hyper heightened, focused state of mind. But at least I can maintain it for a short amount of time. I can’t be in that intense state for too long. Going back to your question, it does help me stay more focused on everything.
In films like Aashiqui 2, Fitoor and Malang, you’ve really benefited from the female gaze. So many women look up to you. How do you feel about that?
It’s flattering and it’s wonderful that they support me. But I don’t think much of it. I don’t let it get to me. It’s a wonderful thing as an actor, the support and adulation we get from people. At the end of the day, that love is what we work for. It definitely means the world to me. I rarely reciprocate and I am not very active with my engagement, but every time I engage with my fans I make it a point to show them that their support means a lot. It is definitely gratifying.