Hear the name Emraan Hashmi and there are two things that come to your mind- the tag of Bollywood's 'serial kisser' and chart buster music generally associated with his films. But there is a lot more to this man who is all set to portray the life story of one of India's most controversial cricketer, Mohammad Azharuddin.
As 'Azhar' is slated to hit the big screens this Friday, we caught up with the actor at a suburban restaurant where he got candid about how he got into the skin of his role, his way of dealing with failures, why he considers the tag of 'serial kisser' as amusing and much more.
Excerpts from the conversation-
Q. What was producer Ekta Kapoor’s expectations from you while you were playing the character of Mohammad Azharuddin?
A. She expected the world from me. She wanted me to portray the character as accurately as I could. At that time when she approached me they didn't have a script. They knew that they wanted to make a film on Azharbhai's life. But there was no script draft available. Later the script was written and we did a lot of research. Azharbhai came on board. Initially he had rejected the script once because he didn't want a film to be made on his life. But then finally he said yes and that really helped us because once he came on board, he shared a lot of his personal moments of his life that were incorporated in the script.
Q. So what was his inputs in the entire scripting and story-writing?
A. He just added a certain colour to the film because it's his life and there are a lot of things he knows that hasn't been incorporated in the media stories, personal experiences that only he knew about. So if we were inaccurate about something in the film it was corrected by him. That really helped us.
Q. How was it emulating his body language and other traits on screen?
A. He is very stoic if you see his interviews. We had to take some creative liberty in the film. But his life was colorful. He has had this romance with cricket. He is a great batsman and has a very different kind of swagger, charm and charisma on the field, which I have followed through the 80s and 90s and that really helped me. But I had to approach the movie in a very different way as I was working as an actor who is trying to imitate him on screen. So, it required me to watch all his matches again and see the small nuances of how he did things on the field.
Q. Can you tell us how you adopted the physical attributes of Azharuddin?
A. Overcoming the height difference is easy, you just wear in-soles and that does it, but playing cricket was tough (laughs). It was taxing on my back so that was one difficult thing. I had to lose weight because when he was 21 and he came into the team, he was very thin. It took me a while to completely adapt to an athletic lifestyle. I had to play a lot of cricket; we used to have some 100 to 150 throw-balls everyday which went on for three months. There was a talented team that made me look like the character through the hair and costume, but overall it was physically grilling to look a certain way in each phase of his life. As far as the performance goes, there are a lot of things coming together in parts – his body language, the way he spoke, the way he walks and a lot of things. We have taken some creative liberty in the way he used to talk as there are certain dialogues that are said in a certain way. The cricketing shots were the most difficult because that could have garnered the most criticism as people have seen him play cricket very closely, so we had to be as accurate as possible.
Q. How did you personally gel with him?
A. We got along great. I think he is a very down-to-earth and grounded person. He is very chilled out as a person. We got along from the first day itself.
Q. What was the one aspect of portraying Azhar that you loved?
A. My personal favorite was also the thing that I was worst at, and that is cricket. I had to learn it for three months, but it was great fun because the man himself was training me. He was very forthcoming and I think that it was his dedication that really helped me to learn the sport much faster. I had to incorporate and try to imitate almost 30 years of his experience in three months.
Q. Emraan, in one of your interviews you had said that you never wanted to be an actor. It was the acting profession that chose you. Do you still believe in this?
A. That was exactly what had happened to me. I was never a star kid. Generally there are these kids who want to be actors and have always dreamt about it. But for me acting just happened. It just chose me. It was like an accident that happened. But it was also great because I started realizing that this is also a passion and I enjoyed doing it.
Q. In your last couple of films you have gone away from the tag of 'serial kisser'. Is that a conscious move?
A. Yaar I have always stayed away from it. The media has been constantly labelling me as that. So I don't know. It's just something that has been following me for the past 10-12 years. I don't think it's going to leave me. I get amused by it more than getting irritated. The reason it's amusing is because everybody is doing it now. But for some reasons it becomes a headline if I do it. In fact there was a shock element when I started this off. But I don't know still why people haven't got over it.
Q. Were you a fan of Azharuddin before doing the film?
A. Yes, I have followed his game very closely in the 80s and 90s.
Q. How was it playing a character that was so negatively thought of by some section of people?
A. We had to give a neutral view of it. We couldn't in any way be judgemental on things played out. It's quite unfair when people feel he is still guilty because the court has acquitted him and he was given a clean chit in 2012. But people still decide and conclude in their head and say that he had taken money when actually the court said that he hasn't. So that helped us in a way. Although the film is just not a white-washing exercise and showing him as an inspirational hero throughout. There are portions which show him as a flawed hero as well.
Q. Jannat also touched upon cricket and match-fixing. Do you think people will draw parallels between the two films?
A. There are shades of 'Jannat' in this, but 'Azhar' is a more complex film, 'Jannat' was primarily a love story with match-fixing as a sub plot. This film takes match-fixing head-on and in detail. It shows cricket in its darkest phase along with the inspirational phase. But yes, I guess one of the reasons why they came to me is because 'Jannat' was a film where I had touched upon that issue.
Q. How difficult was it for you to get out of your character after completing the film?
A. I think that I carried it along to the next film set that I went to. (laughs) But I was told that I was still shaking my head like how Azhar does. It took some time to adjust.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. I have just finished 'Raaz 4' and it is releasing in September. The other films have not really started off but they will soon.
Q. Your last few films didn't do well at the box office. So how do you deal with such low points and what keeps you motivated at such times?
A. As an actor it is very important for me to approach every film honestly. There are a lot of variables that play when the film releases, some films do well and some films don’t. But I don’t get deterred. Box-office wise it may have not done well but I don’t regret the fact that I did the film because it’s all a learning experience. The only way to avoid a flop film is to not do a film. It is very important to just dust yourself after that weekend and then move on to the next one.
Q. In 2016 there were a lot of films which deal with real-life stories. Do you feel any pressure about how the audience will perceive 'Azhar'?
A. No, I think the pressure is with any film. I know that currently there is a trend of biopics and real life stories which is a good thing. As far as Azharuddin’s story is concerned, people have followed it for years. His story was something the entire nation was lapping up when the controversy came up.
Q. Films on Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni are also coming up soon. So there will be some comparisons between your film and the rest two films. How are you planning to deal with such comparisons?
A. It would be unfair to compare these films because each life is unique in its own way. Azhar bhai's life is very different from Sachin and Dhoni's life.
Q. Looking at your cricketer avatar did your son Ayaan too say that he wants to be one?
A. He wants to be an actor. He likes cricket too. But at the moment I am not going to push him towards any particular one career. Let's see whatever he takes up.
Q. What do you take back from the film?
A. I guess the fact that the man really had a lot of inner strength and patience to go through what he went through. His career was snatched away from him when he was at his peak and that is a very tough spot to be in.