He has done the romantic hero, played the sad scenes, the action stunts and has danced to the beat for some fabulous films including his first Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and I Hate Luv Storys. He has even done an indie adult comedy, a little film called Delhi Belly, which was a huge hit. Now with Yash Raj Films’ Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Imran Khan adds a flare for full on comedic situations to his list of his accomplishments on screen. Imran says that this role in MBKD shows a completely different side to him as an actor. He has done funny before, but this made him reach and find out that he can do the loud, broad, flamboyant comedy scenes too. Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, and also starring Katrina Kaif and Ali Zafar, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan is a musical com-rom, which takes you on a fun-filled ride of humour and romance, where Imran falls in love with his brother’s dulhan! In an in-depth interview the actor talks not liking the script at first, why he eventually said yes, working with Katrina, all those dance numbers, all those people on location and so much more!
First Reaction and then a laugh and a yes!
When you heard about the script the first time, what was your reaction?
I think I was shooting for an ad or something and Adi (Aditya Chopra) called me and he said I have this script that I think you would like and I think you would be very interested in it. It’s a new director, a guy called Ali Abbas Zafar. I think this boy has a lot of promise and has a lot of potential and he has written a great script. I would like you to meet him. So I was like, ‘Sure I would love to.’ I met Ali like a day or two later, he came to my house and we sat down and he said, ‘Well Imran I have written this script and it’s called Mere Brother ki Dulhan…and right there I was like…eeeww…Anyway he went on and he told me a basic outline. I don’t like to do narrations because I always tend to fall asleep in narrations. I like to read a script- that’s how I understand them. So he gave me a two-minute/three-minute outline of the film. This is the story and this is the shaadi and they are in this house and this that. I was listening and I was like, ‘Dude! Mere brother ki dulhan and this shaadi stuff – it sounds terrible’. So I said ‘Okay, thanks man. Great to meet you. Very good. I’ll read the script and I’ll call you’ and I sent him off (chuckles). I met my mom and Avantika that evening and they said, ‘So how was it?’ I said, ‘Dude it’s terrible! What a horrible idea…Mere Brother ki Dulhan sounds terrible…I am not doing it.’ They said, ‘Acha really’? I said, ‘Yeah, yeah. No chance’. I left the script with my mom and she happened to read it that evening. She called me the next morning and said, ‘Imran, this script is hilarious. You have to read it. You have to do this film’. So, I said, ‘Really, are you sure?’ She said, ‘Yeah, it’s damn funny. It’s the funniest thing I’ve read.’ So then I collected the script and went home and sat down and thought, ‘Chalo now, let me give this a chance. I started reading and literally 5-10 pages in I was laughing. 15-20 pages in, I was laughing even more and that sustained. It’s very rare for a film to be funny all the way through. Very often, films start off funny and then they get emotional and all of this heavy drama and stuff starts coming in and in the second half you get bored. But this film managed to keep the humor and hold on to it all the way through, right till the end. All the way through you are laughing and you are having fun. I thought that was great. I called Ali that evening and I said, ‘Listen dude, I had some reservations but I love your script. I think it’s great and I am on board.’ From then on it was incredible how quickly everything fell into place. I think literally a month after I read the script we were doing rehearsals, we were doing pre-production and after about 1.5-2 months after our first meeting, we were shooting.
What was the special thing about the character of Kush Agnihotri that got you excited?
I have always been somehow drawn to characters who are close to life. I don’t know for whatever reason I don’t like to play larger-than-life characters. I like to play characters that I can relate to; that I feel other people can relate to, that anyone can look at and say, ‘yeah, that’s me.’ You know, any guy on the street would be able to look at the character and say, either that I am like this guy or I know a guy like this…my brother is like this…my friend is like this. I like my characters to be relatable and that’s what I found in this situation because the situation these characters are in is ridiculous – it’s crazy. But the way that they are dealing with it and what they are actually doing and their emotional reaction to it is very real. It’s very genuine and it’s very authentic. That’s what I like; that you can still have a normal guy put into this crazy situation. I found that interesting. I found that it gave it grounding.
Tell us who is Kush Agnihotri.
Kush Agnihotri is a very simple, standard, average kind of a guy. He is a boy from a small town; he is from Dehradun. Actually, Ali, our director is from Dehradun and he has put a lot of himself into this character – where the character comes from, the way he dresses; overall his outlook on life is very similar to Ali’s. So my character Kush is from Dehradun, he’s grown up there and since then he’s moved to Bombay and is working in films. He’s become an AD in films, which is actually just a backdrop. The majority of the story takes place in North India – in Dehradun, in Delhi, in Agra. It’s how this normal guy gets stuck in a situation that he doesn’t entirely know how to deal with and he finally has to resort to his wit and his intelligence. I found it very nice that Ali wrote a character who never resorts to doing anything wrong or anything bad. Whatever situation comes up, he feels that he can deal with it in a correct way and that he can deal with it in an intelligent and witty way. That’s also actually where most of the humour comes from, the way that these characters deal with the situation; but to me that was appealing, that it’s a guy who never loses sight of what is correct and what is the right thing to do.
Pre-Production and working with Ali-the director
What was the kind of preparation that was done during pre-production
I have always liked to work a lot with the director before I start a film because I feel the director and the writer, in this case they are one and the same person, has the best idea of who this character is and really the easiest thing that you can do is to just sit and talk to the director and he will tell you everything. Because he has lived with it for so long, he has written the various drafts of the script, he has worked out everything – on the look, on the way the character will speak, on who is who – the director has all of this material with him, so you just have to sit there and he will give it to you. That makes an actor’s job so much easier. In this case, since Ali has based so much of the character on himself, a lot of my preparation was just sitting and talking to Ali and seeing how he is – how does he speak, how does he dress – simple things. When I was working with the stylist, I would notice what kind of a watch Ali is wearing, what kind of shoes does he wear every day. So I would see consistently, every 3-4 days, acha does he change shoes, what kind of shoes does he wear, what kind of watch does he wear, how does he dress… I would try to take pieces of that and put it into the character. I’d try and listen to the way that he speaks because people from North India there’s a very fluid way that they speak Hindi. That has always been a major weakness of mine so this is something that I tried to pick up. I would listen to the way that Ali speaks and I would make a conscious effort to speak more Hindi so that I could kind pick up his flow. I think I have done an okay job with it.
You had a serious session of script-reading with your other cast members, the two guys who play your friends in the film. How did that go?
I feel that a major part of the chemistry on-screen depends on off-screen chemistry. You know, unfortunately I have been in situations in life where I have had to turn up sometimes and you have to shoot with people who you have not met before and you are supposed to be friends or this one is supposed to be your girlfriend or your mother and the first day you meet is the day that you are shooting and that always, I feel, never comes out as well as it could. I mean sure, you might both be very good actors, you might work very hard and you might get something good but it’s not great. I feel that it’s not as good as it could be. Here, I was fortunate that all of us got to sit together and we got to do rehearsals, we got to do readings and we got to kind of play off each other and figure out at least a little bit of each other’s style and we managed to get a little bit of rhythm going between all of us – all of us figured out what each other’s zone is. I figured out how Tariq (Vasudeva) speaks, what is his pattern; I figured out Zeeshan’s (Mohd. Zeeshan) style and I kind of fit into that which I guess is the case with all friends; everyone has a space that they are in.
Did you get a chance to read with Katrina before the shoot?
Unfortunately, Katrina and I never actually got to read together before I arrived on set because I started shooting before she did, she had some earlier commitments and came in a few days later. Once she came in, before we started shooting, in the evenings we would sit together and we would rehearse. I was very glad that at least we got the chance to do that. Perhaps not as much as we should have done and, as I would have liked, but it’s better than nothing.
This is the first time you will be seen with Katrina. There have been occasions before when you were supposed to do films together but things didn’t work out…
Katrina and I have almost worked together a couple of times in the past. At one point, I think, both of us had even come on board together for a film and unfortunately there were various problems and the film never took off. It was always these near misses and I had always really looked forward to working with her. I thought there was something very interesting and very exciting about her as an actor and she was someone that I wanted to work with but somehow that “correct” thing never came up. So I was surprised by how quickly and easily this fell into place. Because as I said, I read the script and two months after I read the script, I was on the sets and I was shooting. It was a very quick process. I found, you know, she is quite a mystery this girl (laughs) because the first time I met her, she was very, very sweet, very polite; ‘Hi. How are you?’ and then that was it. I think it took a couple of weeks of being around her, interacting with her, talking with her before these barriers would kind of open up. Once I got to know her, I realized she is actually a very, very chilled out person. She is very non-actor like. She is very non-starry – she doesn’t have that vibe around her. She is just someone who is reserved and takes a little bit of time to open up and some time to warm up to people but once that happens, she is great.
How was it working on sets with her?
I think Katrina and I approached scenes very differently. I mean that’s fine; every actor has a style of working. Katrina will spend the entire night as far as I know, she doesn’t sleep – she will spend the entire night, sitting and working on the dialogues, memorizing it and figuring it out, how she is going to do it. She’ll come on sets in the morning and again she’ll be ‘tak-tak-tak’. I mean it works tremendously for her. She’s incredible on-screen, you watch her on-screen and it looks sparkly, alive, and spontaneous. The fact is that she works very hard; she puts a lot of rehearsals into it. With me, I sit and I memorize the lines, but I don’t work out the way that I am going to do it. I have the dialogues in my head, but then based on what my co-actor’s doing, what my director is telling me, I figure out how I am going to play that just as we are doing it. The two of us would approach it very differently but I think it works out well. Also in this case, she is playing a much louder character than me. She is playing a character that is very exuberant, who speaks very fast, who speaks very loudly and very often my character is very taken aback by her and he is caught off-guard. You know, she is saying something weird and I have to be caught unawares. So it worked out well, that she would do something and I could actually react to that.
Let’s talk about a particular scene where the director wanted her to slap you and it turns out that you were slapped more than the required number of takes…
There’s this scene just before interval, it’s the pre-interval scene. It’s actually a very good scene and I am very happy with the way that it has turned out. It’s a very emotionally charged scene and at the end of the scene she is supposed to give me one tight slap. It was actually a very simple shot because we’d done the rest of the scene and it was just this one insert of this slap. And for reasons that I never quite understood, we ended up doing about 16/17 takes of that. I have never done that many takes of anything in my life. I am not quite sure why it happened because I didn’t really have much to do…I had to say a line and then get slapped and she didn’t have a line…( thinks) why did it take so many takes for that? (Smiles). Anyway, so we’ve done about 16/17 takes of this and each time Katrina’s slapping me…like full ghoom ke…like from here-to-here…it’s not even like a half-slap. Phatt! All the way across, from ear to jaw. And finally we got this thing done…I’ve partially lost hearing in this ear (pointing towards his left ear) and we pack up for the night. It was a night shoot and the next evening we came in and I’m told that we have to shoot this part of it again because Katrina’s not happy with it. As you can imagine, I was thrilled (sarcastically). I was looking forward to more…so we went into it yet again with even more slaps!
There was a rifle in contention…
I was entirely innocent in that incident. I think that shot is actually in the trailer where Katrina has a gun and she slams me against the wall. So I am against the wall and (gesturing)… I am holding the gun like this and saying, ‘where have you got this gun from?’ Now it’s quite a straightforward shot. She is holding the gun and I am holding it and she pushes me against the wall and I stop like this. So she has pushed me back and I have hit the wall, then the gun has come and stopped over here (gesturing near his neck); now any sane, logical, reasonable person would also stop like this but Imran hits the wall, the gun stops and Katrina Kaif going into the gun, face first! I thought it was hilarious but she didn’t think it was that funny (smiles). Anyways, shooting stopped, her nose swelled up, it became roughly the size of a peach which is a small fruit but is big for a nose.
Now the other fantastic actor that co-stars in this movie happens to be Ali Zafar.
You know after I read the script and I went in to have my first meeting with Adi and director Ali to say that I am on board, I want to do the film, a very serious thing that I’d said was ’listen the character of my brother Luv – Bhaisaab is a very, very important character. He is a very good character and it’s a very well-written character.’ I was afraid that we should not end up with an actor who does not suit it, an actor who will not do the role well. Very often there’s a tendency in films ke once hero-heroine mil gaye then people don’t really care about the rest of the casting. Like their friends…this one…that one…anyone gets cast. I feel that damages the film very badly. So, I spoke to both of them saying ‘listen we have to have someone very, very good for this part because it’s a very funny role – he’s got very, very funny lines. He’s my elder brother and he’s a guy who is more stylish than me, cooler than me and he’s more suave than me. You know, he’s got a way with the ladies. He is very charming. Somewhere, you have to have that sense that this is the older brother and this is the guy who is somewhere, in some sense, he is the guy you cannot be.’ I brought it up that we have to get someone damn good for this… who are we thinking of? And Ali, director, said I am thinking of Ali Zafar, actor. Probably, I’ll clarify that we have Ali Abbas Zafar, who is our director and Ali Zafar, who is playing my brother in the film. This led to a lot of confusion on the sets; sometime you would call Ali and two guys would turn up. So, for purpose of clarity, I will say Ali – director or Ali – actor. So, Ali – director says he is thinking about Ali Zafar. Now, I had not actually seen Ali’s film, Tere Bin Laden, but I had heard great stuff. Avantika had seen the film and had said that this guy is great. He’s a damn good actor so I was really hoping that Ali would agree to do the film. As I understand it, Ali – director narrated the script to Ali – actor over Skype because Ali – actor was abroad and Ali – director was in Bombay and for whatever reasons they couldn’t meet face-to-face. So they sat and they’ve done a videoconference on Skype and Ali- director has narrated to him and Ali’s (actor) agreed to do the film over Skype. True story (smiles). Luv’s character in the film has some of the best and some of the funniest lines in the film because he’s a slightly flighty character. He’s a guy who treats every situation with this kind of deadpan humor, which I love; I think it’s hilarious.
How was it performing scenes with him? He is someone who is not a traditional actor, he is a musician first and then took to acting. So how was it working with him?
You know, Ali himself says that he is primarily not an actor that he is a singer; he is a musician and who has kind of moved into acting and now become an actor. But I don’t know. I never saw any hint of that. I never saw even the slightest indication that he was uncomfortable in any way. I found him to be very, very comfortable, very easy, very effortless actor who just kind of breezed through it (snaps his fingers). I thought that he was hilarious in the film. I think he’s done a spectacular job and he is going to get a lot of accolades and a lot of recognition for the work that he has done in the film.
Do you remember any scene where he cracked up while shooting?
Ali and I were unable to somehow work with each other without cracking up or without laughing. For the record, it was always his fault and not mine because something would happen and he would start laughing and he would point the finger at me and say, ‘you’re making me laugh’ and everyone knows I’m not funny and it couldn’t have been me that was making him laugh, yet somehow he would just keep cracking up. And this always happened late at night, it would always happen around 3 o’clock – 4 o’clock in the morning. We’ve been shooting, everyone’s tired, everyone is sleepy, it’s the last 2-3 hours and you have until 6 o’clock. 6.30 is when the sun begins to come up and that is when you have to stop shooting and invariably at around 3-4 o’clock Ali would start cracking up and point at me saying, ‘Imran’s making me laugh’ and then of course I would also start laughing. In fact, I am sure there must have been lots and lots of takes that we are not able to use in the film because somewhere in the middle of it one of us has started laughing, generally him because he always started laughing… not me.
The film is based in North India and was shot in many real locations. Let’s talk about some of the locations.
The film is kind of spread out over a lot of north India. We’ve shot in so many locations: We started off shooting in Pataudi, we’ve shot in Dehradun, Mussoorie, Chandigarh, Delhi, and in Agra. The entire heartland of North India and we’ve shot in some of the most incredible locations. I think a major part of the fun that I’ve had while shooting was just getting to travel to these places where perhaps I would not have gotten to go before. We’ve shot in Nabha, which is near Patiala, everyone knows Patiala but nobody knows about Nabha. There’s a very, very beautiful haveli over there that we’ve actually pretended was in Agra. I got to meet great people and the food…I think everyone probably knows this about me, I am a great foodie – I love food, I love to eat. Particularly travelling through North India and travelling through Punjab, the food that we were getting to eat in these places was unreal. I am very fortunate that I don’t put on weight, don’t have that problem. I ate everything that I could get my hands on. With the kinds of dals, rotis, tandoor stuff – it was just unbelievable. I think we should go back.
The Scooter and the crowds
Let us talk about the experience of riding a scooter for that one scene through Delhi’s streets
Riding the scooter in this film was easily one of the worst experiences of my life. Firstly, I do not know how to ride a scooter, at all. This didn’t seem to be a problem to anyone; for whatever reason, it was not felt that I needed to train or something. They were like, ‘don’t worry. You’ll be fine – you’ll learn’. So, I arrived on sets and it was explained to me that ‘this is one brake here, this is the clutch, you have to turn this…ye woh hai…’ So, I think for reasons of authenticity or whatever they had got one of the original scooter models – one of the first few models that were made when they invented the scooter. As you can imagine, it’s not held up well over time. There were no indications, no markings: you cannot tell what gear you are in. You have to actually remember what gear you are in, that’s the only way. Incidentally, you also have to remember your dialogues and your…kya kehte hai use…your acting thing. I feel a major part of the movie was based on the scooter for every second day I used to go on the sets and they would be like ‘Sir aapka scooter…’ Never again. From now on I shall do films where I have Ferraris!
So while you were driving a scooter with Katrina bouncing around all the time, there were also thousands and thousands of people that kept shouting and following you. How does an actor maintain concentration?
You know there’s always a trade-off. I feel that when you shoot a film in a real location and not on a set, you actually shoot on a street or in a real house, it adds a lot to the film. It looks better. It gives it more believability. You know people can always tell when something is a set, it looks like a set and I never really liked the look of that. So, when you shoot on the streets and you are actually driving a bike, driving a scooter, driving a car down the street and you have natural sunlight and real buildings in the background, it looks great. The trade-off is that you will get a lot of people who will come and stand and watch the shooting and unfortunately we can never ask people to be quiet. So everyone who stands over there will be like, ‘Ay Katrina!’ Imran Khan, hey!’ and you’re turning around and saying, ‘Sssh! We’re trying to do a dialogue, trying to do a scene…film ka climax hai’ How do you explain to 300 people that we are shooting the climax of the film, it’s a very emotional moment and I need to get my concentration right so can you please stop screaming? Somehow you can’t get that message across – it’s damn tricky man! Particularly when you are shooting the climax part of the film, it’s the last scene, we are driving in this convertible car and we are driving down the road and without exaggeration, by no means am I exaggerating, there were at least 500 people who had turned up over there. Everyone came on bikes and they were driving their bikes alongside our car, they were screaming and they were honking; so you have the sounds of a 100-200 motorcycles, the engine; you have two people sitting on the bike, all are screaming and saying, ‘Katrina! Katrina Kaif!’ and honking (laughs) and in the middle of all of this you have to try and remember your lines. It’s very difficult.
Dehradun Station and again the crowds!
There was another occasion when you were shooting in Dehradun on the station… The Dehradun train station was mental. The song ‘Mere Brother ki Dulhan’ traces Kush’s journey from Bombay to Dehradun and the song ends on the train to Dehradun and it finally ends with him pulling up on to Dehradun station. The shot where I arrive at the station and I am walking out of the station and getting into the car, we’ve shot actually at Dehradun station. That day was possibly a National Holiday or something happened but all of Dehradun, every human being who lives in Dehradun turned up at the train station. They gathered around the street, they blocked the street and no cars could go. They climbed up and they covered the entire roof of Dehradun station and it’s a very old station – the building is very old and I was looking up and I was just praying that that roof doesn’t collapse for if it were to collapse, easily around 50-100 people would have fallen. I got the mike and I was like ‘please…please behnon, bhaiyon…please neeche aa jaiye…please do not climb up there…bahut khatarnak ho sakta hai’. ‘Arey Imran bhai kya khatra hai…kuch nahi hai…this…that…’ nobody was listening. Before each shot, because everyone is cheering, we have to stand up and wave at everyone, ‘hi…hi…’ and go ‘sssh!’ to ask them to be quiet and quickly roll camera and do the shot and the second he called ‘cut’, everyone would clap ‘very good…very good’… hala ki kuch khas kaam kiya nahi…the shot is me walking and getting to the car, ‘very good shot…very good shot’ and everyone is cheering. It’s damn funny!
Cinematographer and Choreographers
Let’s talk about the crew members that you were working with. On this film you had Sudeep Chatterjee and Bosco and Caesar as part of the team. You know what audiences don’t really realize and what they don’t pay much attention to is that filmmaking is entirely a team effort. People watch the film and they say, ‘haan ye hero hai…ye heroine hai’…somehow it doesn’t really go beyond that for most people and for those who work in the industry know how little we do and how much other people do. Ultimately, if I am acting, I am saying lines that someone else has written; I am doing it in a way that my director is telling me to do; the way that I look is because of the people that are styling me, the kind of clothes that are given to me, it is the work of the cinematographer, the cameraman who will light me correctly and make sure that I look good. It is very important that you have these people and that these people are good because if you have a bad cinematographer, the most beautiful person in the world will look bad; if you have a bad costume designer, you will look like a cartoon, you will look like an idiot. On this film, fortunately we had a very strong team of technicians who have supported u and who have kind of elevated the film. They’ve taken it from (gesturing with hands from bottom to top) here to here.
Sudeep Chatterjee is a very, very accomplished cinematographer; funnily enough I have come close to working with him too a couple of times before. I think on two of my previous films, he was approached to work on those films and for whatever reason, I think, he had other commitments or date problems and he couldn’t be on the film. I had spoken with him and I met him and we had a discussion at that point, so finally when he signed on for this film, I called him up and said, ‘Sir I am so happy to be working with you.’ He got damn embarrassed. I think we have actually become very close friends while making this film. I found him to be a person who is tremendously funny, He is someone who I like a lot and he’s become a good friend. Apart from that, in the past, I have done a fair amount of work with Bosco and Caesar and I credit Bosco tremendously with actually showing me and teaching me how to dance. I am not naturally much of a dancer. I am not very good at it. I don’t have that skill naturally and I worked with Bosco a lot on I Hate Luv Storys and particularly the title song of ‘I Hate Luv Storys’ and I think that is the song that got me to figure out how do you do a song, how do you dance. I was always very grateful to Bosco for that. On this film we’ve taken it from (gesturing with hands from bottom to top) here to there. This film has eight songs, out of which, I think at least five or six of them are lip-sync songs, which means we had to rehearse them, we had to work out the dance. It was nuts! It was madness. And with each song, Bosco would come up with these new things saying, ‘Imran now we’ll try something new’ and every time I would tell him, ‘Bosco I can’t do it…I can’t do it…I can’t do it’ and he would say, ‘No you can. You can!’ Finally it turns out that I could do it, but yeah a lot of work had to go into it. I think that is something I will always be grateful to Bosco for getting me to do that.
Imran we’ll go over the songs, music and picturization very briefly. Let’s start with the song ‘Choomantar’. It’s a song that I heard in a very rough, very kacha version and in that rough version it had seemed a little odd to me. I heard it and I was like, ‘I don’t know. I can’t see it’. Ali saw it and he said it is going to be a damn cool song and this is what I am going to do with it. I said ‘okay fine that’s your space’. When I heard the entire thing come together, that’s when I saw it and that’s when I realized that Ali-director was on the right track. I love the title of the song. I love the ‘Choomantar’ and I am amazed that nobody has come with such a song before. The song comes at a point in the film where Katrina’s character Dimple is starting to feel a little overwhelmed you know with all the shaadi ki tayariyan, preparations and all of the stuff that’s happening. She is starting to feel as though she is going to say goodbye to her life and that her life is going to change now once she is married. We kind of make an agreement that we will disappear…’Choomantar’ and we will live life exactly the way that she used to live life in college. We’ll go out, we’ll have fun, we’ll party and we’ll generally be free from this entire marriage thing for a while. The song goes into that… ‘Choomantar… ho aaja chal gum ho jane’… let us disappear…l et us stay far away from the world. The lyrics kind of convey that and it’s a very smooth and a very freewheeling song. It’s a song with very little lip-sync in it. I think there are just one or two parts where it’s lip-sync. It’s more kind of a montage treatment song where you see the story progressing. You see these two characters having fun; you see them bonding a little more and you start to get little bit of a sense of the relationship that they share and of what is developing between the two of them.
The shooting of the song, ‘Choomantar’ was spread out over so many different places because since it’s a montage song you don’t have to just shoot it one place and get it over with. We’ve actually shot parts of it in Dehradun, parts of it in Pataudi, parts of it in Chandigarh, parts of it in Delhi, we’ve shot parts of it in Bombay. So, it was crazy. This is a song that is like the soundtrack of the film. It is running all the way through our shooting. We’d shoot one day in Delhi for Choomantar and then we’d go with the film, shoot other stuff and then we’d be in Chandigarh and then again we’d shoot one day of Choomantar and then again you move on. Then you’re in Agra and you’d shoot one day. It was like wherever we turned up we’d take few shots for Choomantar. So every couple of days we are back to shooting ‘Choomantar’ which is weird… it was hard to maintain continuity.
Let’s briefly talk about ‘Isq Risk’
‘Isq Risk’, funnily enough was my first day of shooting for the film. The first shot that I’ve done for the film was for Isq Risk. It’s a brilliant song. I mean firstly, what the song is talking about – it comes at the moment in the film where my character Kush has realized that he is in love with Dimple. Now mostly the film is a comedy, it’s a funny film all the way through but there’s just a short moment in the film where it gets a little emotional. This song comes at that moment. I am a sucker for songs like this. I mean these are the songs that I love. I love songs that have emotions in them. That make you feel something. In the kind of picturisation that Ali has given it, you get that sense; you get the feeling that this is also a real situation. We are treating with humor, we are doing it in a funny way but there’s real emotion here. What Rahat has done with the singing, with the vocalization of it, is that he has brought in that sense of struggle…that sense of dard…that sense of pain. Rahat is just a phenomenal singer. He manages to bring feeling into his singing and for an actor it just makes your job so much easier. If you’re playing a scene and you can hear the song and you can hear the emotions in and you can hear the feeling then the singer has done half your work for you. It’s a great blessing to have such a strong backing.
There is this one particular sequence in ‘Isq Risk’ where you are dressed as Prince Salim and Katrina as Anarkali and you have shot in front of the Taj Mahal with around 5000 people present…
In the middle of this entire emotional, sad song there’s this one moment where Ali has to bring his standard, signature touch, which is that little flourish of humor. As a person, Ali is a very funny guy who is kind of ruled by his sense of humor and he has to put that in, here and there. So, this one little moment in this song which we have shot on the banks of the Yamuna, right in front of the Taj is where we are dressed up in this Mughal attire; I am decked as Salim, Katrina is dressed as Anarkali. If you’ve seen the video, you know the moments that I am talking about but these are moments that are actually damn funny. While we are shooting in Agra, suddenly half the population in Agra has turned up to watch. Everyone was over there and they are watching and you can hear what people are talking about. People were confused as to ki kya ho raha hai…kaisi picture ban rahi hai because they’ve heard a little bit about the film and they know we are shooting some stuff in normal, modern-day clothes and they’ve seen photos of that in the newspaper. Suddenly here we are in this Mughal get-up so people are talking and they are confused, ki acha kya hai ye…period ka hai ki nahi flashback sequence rahega…pichle janam ka this kind of background. People are all speculating and trying to figure out what is going on. It was the funniest thing.
‘Madhubala’ and the dancing
Let’s move on to one of the more fun songs of the film where you and Ali have to dance your hearts out on ‘Madhubala’…
I think ‘Madhubala’ is a spectacular song. It’s one of those songs that you know I heard just 30-40 seconds of and I said, ‘Arey this is a super-hit song’. It’s incredible. Then came the dance rehearsals. As everyone knows, I am not a natural dancer. I have to work very hard. Ali – the actor is worse than me it turns out. Katrina is a dream. You can show Katrina one step and she’ll do the entire thing better than the choreographer and on the side you have me and Ali, two of us idiots who are not able to remember one step. So they had a separate team training us and they had a separate team training Katrina. Katrina’s rehearsals would be 30 – 45 minutes and she’d be done and she would go, perfect, done. Ali and I would rehearse for 4-5 hours, trying to get the steps and making utter fools of ourselves. It was very embarrassing and it was very painful because two of us would be dancing with Katrina and she would just be doing it so well and we’re looking at her and we’re looking at each other and we’re going, ‘Yaar, we are losers!’ Still it’s a fun song. The picturisation is great – it’s hilarious. It’s a situation where the entire family gets very high on bhang. It’s a very popular thing in North India, particularly UP. So we stop at this roadside dhaba, everyone drinks bhang and everyone starts dancing wildly. It’s meant to be high energy, high excitement and we are shooting in this dusty, hot dhaba, dying of heat and dehydration but I love the picturisation. I think the song looks like so much fun and Ali and I look…not bad huh… we look okay (smiles).
In this film you also have many senior actors such as Mr. Parikshit and Mr. Kanwaljeet and even you are even seen in the get up of a senior citizen. Would you like to elaborate on that?
I have always believed that when you work with very good actors, it makes you work better. Firstly, it improves you as an actor; secondly, it also makes the scene look better. If you’re working with a very bad actor as sometimes I have, it drags the scene down. When you’re working with a damn good actor; it adds so much more, it gives you so much to play with. I had a fair amount of scenes with Parikshit saab (Parikshit Sahni), who is playing my father in the film. He is a very senior, experienced and a very accomplished actor. He brought a sense of ease and gravity to it because you can tell that he knows what he is doing. He can just walk on the set and he knows what to do and he knows what he is doing. Since he knew that we are doing a comedy, he tweaked his performance in that way and he came up with some hilarious reactions, some hilarious moments. There’s this one sequence in particular, where I am in disguise – I am dressed up as a maulvi so I have this long white hair, white beard and I have a pillow stuffed down to give me a pot-belly and he and I come face-to-face with one another. He is feeling that there’s something off about this character. He is my father so he obviously has a very good chance of recognizing me so I have to avoid being recognized. So I had to catch him and say, ‘aadab!’ and he says ‘aadab’. I have to do one more aadab and he does another aadab and the way that he was racking the tension in that was hilarious. Because he would start with a little surprise, then suspicion that this guy looks familiar but at the same time getting flustered because the guy keeps saying aadab. The way he built that graph up was just hilarious. It was again one of those moments where I would look at him during a scene and I would feel like cracking up. I had to kind of hold that back.
How did you feel under that get-up? How difficult was it?
I hate wearing stuff you know, it adds so many layers on you that suddenly you feel like you are hidden under it and you are not sure how much you can emote, how much stuff you can put out. At the same time, it adds something visually and that entire get up looks very funny. So even if you’re not doing something, someone can look at it and just visually find it funny. So that is a trade-off. But invariably, I was wearing this heavy wig, heavy moustache and beard, and this fat suit underneath to show all this weight and it was always in the hottest locations. You know, 1 o’clock in the afternoon, hot sunlight and you have to wear this and you are sweating and you are sweating so much that the moustache is coming off… so you have to keep pressing it on and holding it on…it was crazy. But ultimately, the way that sequence has come out, it’s worth every bit of it. I watched it and I think it’s genuinely funny.
What was the whole experience of this film? Why is it special to you?
This film is I think a major step in my career and in my working process. I am a quiet person and I am a person who likes to underplay and am generally much more reserved. And Ali as a director, his style and his taste is much more flamboyant. I feel that what Ali has managed to pull out of me in this film is perhaps something that I didn’t think I could do – that I didn’t think I had in me. The style of it is much louder, overplayed, the volume is turned up, the style of the dialogues, treatment, and the way everything is done is much louder and I honestly didn’t think that I had that in me. I am amazed that I had that in me. Somehow Ali has brought it out of me and I am amazed how Ali found those correct buttons, correct switches and correct triggers to bring that out of me – I mean really that is what makes a director. You bring something out of an actor. If the director‘s not bringing something new out of an actor then why is he there? I might as well do work without a director. So that is what you are looking for a guy to open you up. I am tremendously grateful to Ali for opening that side of me. Let’s see how much further that goes… what more I can do but it is a major step for me.
Mere Brother Ki Dulhan is in theaters now and early reviews are very, very positive! Stay tuned for our review and our full report from the London Premiere!