In his element

In his element

In his element

The journey from being termed a serial kisser to a consistent performer has seen Emraan Hashmi grow as an actor. RAjiv Vijayakar speaks to the actor about his trials and triumphs in the movie industry.

Look at any aspect of Emraan Hashmi — and he has evolved. He is leagues ahead of what he was as an actor, and the growth has been steady in the 11 years that have passed since his debut in Footpath in 2003. In The Dirty Picture, for example, he outranked Naseeruddin Shah and held his own against Vidya Balan. In Shanghai, he was spot-on in a nuanced role.

As a star, despite a recent lean run (Rush, Ek Thi Daayan, Ghanchakkar), his status has gone up, not least because of his all-engulfing reputation and branding as a “serial kisser” — having kissed almost all his heroines since his first hit, Murder (2004).

Finally, since January this year, when his son Ayaan (all of four years old) was diagnosed with cancer, Emraan has also proved to be an ideal father.

A tough parent

Looking positively fresh and happy, Emraan smiles and tells you, “Ayaan is fine, cured of his cancer, and has resumed school fully. Yes, it was a terrible time for us when he was diagnosed with cancer in January. We just could not believe that this could happen to us. But the shock for his mother and me lasted only for 20 minutes, because we knew that we had to keep a brave front and not let him realise that he was sick, even though four-year-olds do not really understand the gravity of the situation, unlike, say, teenagers.”

Emraan and his long-term girlfriend-turned-wife Parveen had to thus tell Ayaan a “story” about his illness, and the weekly treatment every month was called a “vacation”. “And he now feels that the vacation is over,” grins the actor.

He goes on, “It was physical pain for him and emotional trauma for us. The idea was to not break down, but pull away and fight. Our strength was hope — that he would come out of it. When you are knocked down and lying flat, you have to get up. It’s your only hope of survival and that of your people. Now everyone has come closer. So many people rallied around us. The new normal is better than the old one was.”

He says confidently, “Ayaan will grow up into a strong individual like all the children who suffer from cancer when they are so young. Actually, in the last three years, we have seen three deaths in the family, and the bad time is over.”

We move to the reason the actor is meeting the media — his next release, Raja Natwarlal, the story of a con man from the streets, Raja, who aims to be the king (Natwarlal) of con men. From simple things like cheating in cards to not paying his bill at a restaurant, he moves to offer a cricket team to a ruthless and rich businessman who is worth Rs 2,000 crore.

“Raja has an agenda — revenge on the man who caused a friend’s death,” says Emraan. “The con drama turns into a vendetta tale, and the con is also motivated by Raja’s desire to give his girlfriend, a bar dancer, a good life. So this is what I call a rom-con!”

Denying that he has ever been “non-mainstream”, Emraan admits that this is his first solo lead film that has all the mainstream masala, and a spicy guru-shishya angle with Paresh Rawal, with Kay Kay Menon as the villain. “It’s a ceetee (whistles) film, where people will whistle at the highlights. It ends on a high and you will come out with a smile and want to go watch the film again.”

Rapid growth

Emraan is also cool about the fact that he has a great bond with his director, Kunal Deshmukh, in all of whose films — Jannat, Tum Mile and Jannat 2 — he has acted. “Our sensibilities match, and he knows how to take a film to an emotional crescendo,” he says briefly.

The actor also found Pakistani actress Humaima Malik, his latest leading lady, a great co-star. As he puts it, “She has acted in films and on television in her home country, and time was not wasted on instructing her about basics. She knew her job.”

And so we tackle the aspect of his famous penchant — for kissing on-screen. We inform him, to his surprise, that Jackie Shroff kissed nine heroines in the 1980s. And he grins, “But I have gone past that record long ago. But frankly, despite the net practice I have got, I am nervous every single time.”

So, how does he see his reputation as the best “serial kisser”? “It’s unnerving,” he laughs. “I have tried to put an end to it, but I cannot, so I just have to amp up the levels.” A little more serious when we ask him if this novelty is not fading because of the quantity, he remarks, “No one looks at kissing as anything great anymore. And we are now looking at a generation that starts dating by the age of 13. What bothers me more is what my son’s generation will be shown doing on-screen. We, mere kissers, will be called prudes.”

Emraan’s cousin, Mohit Suri, has just directed Ek Villain, a 100-crore film now, as they are called. What does he think of this box-office benchmark? “Well, all I want to say is that I am not hankering after that figure and I don’t think that it is a real index of popularity. Many of these films that have collected 100 crore in India evaporate from memory, and there are films that have done only 20 crore business that stay with you and about which you will tell your kids even 30 years later. So, tell me, which do you think is more important?”

Unlike many other actors, Emraan never regrets his flops. “Some of them were experiments, subject-wise, and when that happens, you have to be prepared for lack of acceptance by the public,” he says sagely. “And in such films, whether they are hits or flops later, I do take a pay cut when I sign them.”

Now, that’s evolution in the business field too.