MUMBAI — His Hindi debut, “Karwaan” (2018), was a delightfully quirky tale that found its niche audience, did not get big collections, but won him more pan-Indian fans. Dulquer Salmaan is now releasing “The Zoya Factor,” his second adventure in Hindi. In a rapid-fire chat on the eve of its release, he is candid and cool, the smile never leaving his face when we catch up at Hotel J.W. Marriott.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: You have been at it, answering the media and facing cameras since morning. Do you do this back home?
A (Laughs): I think I have the luxury of refusing such things back home, though this trend is slowly coming there! In fact, I am quite embarrassed to say that I don’t do these things at all there!
Q: Your first Hindi film, “Karwaan,” did not exactly draw in the crowds, and this is your first mainstream film.
A: I agree that “The Zoya Factor” is a mainstream film with a big actress in Sonam Kapoor, but in my head, “Karwaan” worked. The film was not meant for all. It was pitched right and according to its appeal, it performed well. I have done similar kinds of films in Malayalam, too, and historically, many of these films have worked later. So I do not know if they are ahead of their time!
The other great takeaway from “Karwaan” was that even down South, they did not find me speaking Hindi with an accent. That was a nice compliment, and is also one thing I want to challenge myself about. I don’t want you to place me as coming from a particular region, and I don’t want to play South Indian characters in my Hindi films. And if I do a Tamil film, I should sound like a Tamilian.
Q: How will you select your Hindi films?
A: Back home, I have done every kind of film: mainstream, non-mainstream, with an established star like Sonam Kapoor or with a newcomer, so I am familiar with all the dynamics. I was sold quite quickly on the quirky “Karwaan,” and when I found that I had a strong role in “The Zoya Factor” and that good people were behind it, I signed it.
Look, even back home, I have always had the luxury of being “choosy,” maybe because I come from a film family. I was never a complete newcomer, who has to take up all work that comes his way for financial reasons. I could really focus on quality, and that will remain so even in Hindi. I would like every film of mine to surprise you, and make you see a different character.
Finally, if I sign a film for the right reasons, like the script, my role and the people behind it, and do my work honestly, I am not even worried about hits and flops, as they are not in our hands. And except maybe for Aamir Khan or Salman Khan, no one has the algorithm or recipe to figure out what will work with the audience! (Laughs)
Q: From that arises a question: would you do a Hindi film with them or any other big male star?
A: Of course, if everything else is right. In fact, in my head, I did that with “Karwaan” itself. It was Irrfan Khan’s film and I had a distinct role in it. For that matter, even in “The Zoya Factor,” it is Sonam who is doing the title-role.
Q: The film is about cricket, luck and superstition. How interested are you in cricket, and how much do you believe in the other two?
A: In India, I don’t think you can stay away from cricket—I would not have so many of my good friends if I was not interested in cricket! But I watch only the important matches, not just anything on cricket! And just like my character in the film, I am not superstitious at all! My character is like me, self-made, someone who does not believe in these things, but the whole team is against me!
Look, I am a slightly obsessive personality, who, if I like something, will obsessively get into it! So if I had started getting superstitious, there would have been no end to it! I will tell you a story of when I almost got into that zone: I always listen to script narrations in the lobby of a hotel near my house in Chennai. Once, I liked two scripts sitting on the same table. I like to leave gaps between my films for the chance that an extraordinary film might come my way and I will have to fit it in. So after signing those two films, I decided not to sit on that particular table as I might sign too many films and not have room left for it!
Q: What about religion? Are you religious?
A: Religion is a big part of my family, even my extended family like my in-laws. And my wife is more religious than anyone! But it’s all very personal. My parents are progressive and not people who say that if I don’t do something, Hell will await me! They just lead by example. And I like the beauty of India where all my friends are home for our Eid lunch, and we are at their house for their festivals. We all know each other’s culture and we are one in thinking.
Q: There is a lot of interaction happening now between cinemas of diverse regions in actors and technicians.
A: But there have always been crossovers, like there are DOPs from Malayalam cinema that are never available for our films because they are busy doing Hindi or Telugu films! What is happening now is that Indians in general are getting around! Like Malayalis are marrying everywhere! I have surprise fans of mine from all over because someone’s girlfriend, spouse, roommate or friend there is a Malayali and has thus been exposed to my films!