MUMBAI — The young pair is in a flurry of promotional activities. A session at a well-known gym has just happened, and a chat is to follow — for all of 30 minutes. In between, at the Salman Khan Films’ office in Bandra (Khan produces their debut film “Hero,” the remake of the 1983 blockbuster), India-West gets 15 minutes of precious time with both co-stars together. And we try and make the most of it by getting the reel love-birds together. Athiya Shetty walks in first, and we begin right away.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How does it feel to be in this madness of promotions? Is that more exhausting than the film itself?
Athiya Shetty: Actually, it’s a different kind of high. I enjoy this, and, anyway, it’s a part and parcel of promotions.
Q: What was all that we read about you being scared of telling your father (Suniel Shetty) that you wanted to be in films?
AS: Not scared, I was just unsure of his reaction. But he was totally supportive. Actually, I am sure he must have realized that I wanted to act before I first told him. I would do musicals and other theater productions while in college like “Grease,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and so on. In “Batboy,” I even worked with Tiger Shroff. But, in our house, there was little talk of cinema.
(Sooraj Pancholi walks in.)
Q: So when did the acting bug bite you two?
AS: Though it sounds like a cliché, yes, I did my acting, singing and dancing behind closed doors in front of a mirror. I don’t think I am anywhere near a professional singer, but I would sing just as I did in my plays.
Sooraj Pancholi: We never discussed films at home. In fact, I watched a few very select films of my parents: My mother (Zarina Wahab)’s “Chitchor” and “Gharaonda” and, say, about 10 films of Dad (Aditya Pancholi)’s, of which my favorites were “Aatish” and “Saathi.” But maybe they knew that I would act as well. I must have been about 11 when I watched “Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai,” which made me really decide on this career. So after my 12th standard, I became an assistant to Sanjay (Leela Bhansali)-sir on “Guzaarish” and later with Kabir Khan-sir on “Ek Tha Tiger.” That’s where I first met Salman (Khan)-sir.
AS: I went to New York Film School, where they teach you everything from acting to directing and other aspects of filmmaking. But I had to come here and unlearn a lot and re-learn! There were books there, whereas it is more practical here. The AD (assistant director) system and job profiles, for example, are all completely different here.
Q: Athiya, how many films of your dad’s have you watched?
A: All his initial films were action dramas that I as a kid never watched. Later, I watched and enjoyed “Gopi-Kishen,” but I enjoyed his films since he shifted to comedies like “Hera Pheri,” “Awara Pagal Deewana” and so on.
Q: Which of you was signed first?
AS: It was Sooraj. I got the film much later when Salman-sir’s sister Alvira saw me and recommended me. In fact, I was shocked when I got the film! Topping it all, the director was Nikhil Advani, who made the one film I am completely obsessed with — “Kal Ho Naa Ho!”
SP: (Smiles) I was not shocked! I was damn happy, because I got the film when we were shooting in Turkey for “Ek Tha Tiger” on my 21st birthday. That was the best moment of my life — getting this film from the biggest star in the country as a birthday present.
Q: Jackie Shroff was the original “Hero.” What does he have to say about this remake?
SP: He is going to watch the film tomorrow. (Smiles) I have watched the original “Hero” four times.
AS: I have watched it maybe twice, and I love the film, especially the music. But, after I signed the film, I never watched it, as I did not want to be influenced. Krishna, Jackie-sir’s daughter, and I have been such best friends since childhood that we would be in each other’s houses all the time, and he has seen me grow up!
Q: Coming from a close-knit film circle, how do you look at your stardom?
AS: I think we have both benefited from the goodwill of our families, and that shows in the support and love we are getting. Many of the journalists and photographers we meet have had a great equation with our parents.
SP: But, on the sets, we were just two actors. At that time, there is no special treatment!
Q: What would you like to say about Salman Khan, as your mentor and producer?
AS: He’s the biggest superstar in the country and the most amazing human being. When you spend a lot of time with him, you realize how humble he is, how respectful he is with his staff and how, even if he is exhausted, he will never leave without a smile and without bringing one to our faces. He’s so larger-than-life, and I hope that when I am a big star, I will be somewhat like what he is!
SP: I think Athiya has said everything, but I call Salman-sir my savior: He’s been my biggest support with heart and mind. In fact, he is the epitome of ‘Being Human’!
Q: How would you like to proceed with your careers?
SP: In commercial films for sure. After a few films, I would not mind trying the “Badlapur”-“Highway” kind of film. I dream of working with Rajkumar Hirani and Kabir Khan, as “Munna Bhai MBBS” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” are my most favorite movies.
AS: For me, it would be Bhansali-sir. I love his cinema, the way he presents his actors, portrays love and relationships, his sets, his costumes — everything about his films. I also like Imtiaz Ali. And I am a director’s actor. The director gives life to a script, and I must have faith and trust in him, and he has to help me with my craft!
Q: Athiya, you are into music. A lot of your generation does not relish the song-and-dance part of our cinema.
AS: Oh, I do not think that way! To me, a movie is incomplete without song and dance, which is how I started acting too — at home! I think that shooting a song is just about having fun and showing the right emotions! As for lip-sync, I have being doing it at home since my childhood, so it’s not tough at all.
SP: I find doing romantic songs easy, but it’s the dancing part that’s difficult. (Grins)
Q: Is that a reflection on your real life, Sooraj?
SP: Yeah! Who dances while romancing in real life? (Grins)
Q: Sooraj, has your name always been spelled that way? Or is it because Sooraj Barjatya has been special in Salman’s life?
SP: It’s on my birth certificate!
Q: After Abhishek Bachchan-Kareena Kapoor in “Refugee” and Ranbir Kapoor-Sonam Kapoor in “Saawariya,” this is the first time that two star-kids are being launched simultaneously. Do you think either of you will be compared favorably with the other?
AS: There will always be opinions. But he will always be the “Hero,” right?
SP: But Athiya will be seen for longer than me in the film. This was the case also with Meenakshi (Seshadri) ma’am in the earlier film.
Q: One final question: method acting or spontaneous emoting?
AS: We did a three-month workshop with Mukesh Chhabra, which was not about this script but generally understanding moods, reactions and so on and losing out on inhibitions and building up our confidence. We enjoyed and sung and danced a lot too.
SP: Yes, for newcomers I think that workshops are good to know our co-actors and our own strengths and weaknesses. But overall, it’s spontaneous acting for me.