- After doing Main Aur Charles, Rang Rasiya and Sarabjit, you are on your third biopic — Battle of Saragarhi…
I’m probably the only actor who has done maximum number of biopics in Bollywood. Battle of Saragarhi is an epic battle that took place in 1987 when 21 Sikhs from the British Indian contingent were attacked by 10,000 Afghans of the North-West Frontier Province. I play Havildar Ishar Singh who led the troops and fought till death.
- What made you take up this project?
The movie is an ode to Sikh armymen’s bravery and taking a stand for the Motherland. I’m a patriot. I’ve lost six mates from my boarding school who were in the Army. Our school has lost many more and there are so many people from my village who I have lost in the war. There is a history of my people who have been standing guard on the north-west frontier for centuries. If I get to bring a glimpse of their life struggles on celluloid, it will be a great honour. Since it’s such a big film, we’ve had delays but now we are on track.
- How is it to work with director Rajkumar Santoshi?
I’m looking forward to it. He’s done extensive research and written a wonderful script. With Santoshi at helm, I am sure this film will leave a lasting impression. He is a legend and one of the best directors India has had. His sense of cinema is huge. Nobody can forget his tareek pe tareek pe tareek from Damini.
- What preparation went into playing the role of Havaldar Ishar Singh?
I have been growing hair and beard and have read a lot of Sikh culture. They are very benevolent people and their sense of seva is immense. I went to Amritsar on my birthday last year and did seva. They are like sufi saints and I am quite taken in. The challenge is to present myself differently and paint a character which is different.
- With so many incidents of people criticising biopics and attacking sets, do you have any concerns?
I am sure we will not do anything to instigate people to attack us. But I believe different people will have different opinions. Violence is no way out. Also, filmmakers should be responsible when they are presenting history as it might means a lot to people. Artistic licence is not independent of responsibility towards society and country. People talk about artistes without borders. But the fact is when I as an artist travel abroad and show my passport to get access in other country, I am clearly told who I am and where I come from. In ideas and ideologies, artistes can’t have boundaries but there is a right that our country gives us to practise our art which we can’t disrespect.
- As an artist, do you carry a big responsibility on your shoulder, that of meaningful cinema?
I take all my films with a sense of responsibility and I have a lot of respect for what I do and for the characters I play. It comes inherently to me and it is very fruitful as you get to learn a lot about yourself and the world. There are a lot of people doing different kinds of movies like a girl falls in love with a guy and they live happily ever after. They go through conflict of whether to get married or just have fun. These kinds of films are also necessary as they reflect our times. But I have got my own taste and I enjoy what I do.
- Tell us about your recent collaboration with Godrej Interio?
My parents live in Faridabad and whenever I come to Delhi, I always stay in a hotel because of my busy schedule and long travel time. Everytime my mother used to say beta ghar aa jao, I used to tell her that one day I will come and they used to come and meet me at the hotel. Of late, to lure me to come home, she decided to redo the house and tied up with Godrej Interio. Even my father got involved in choosing wallpapers and curtains which is very surprising. When I visited my house, I was awestruck and wondered if I had entered somebody else’s house by mistake. It looks like a traditional yet contemporary house with beautiful pastel colours and the living room looks like a lounge. My room is also very nicely done with pictures of my horses. This has given me reason to go home more often.
(The article also got published in Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/backpack/artistic-licence-isnt-independent-of-responsibility.html)