'Mumbai is a very harsh, lonely place for newcomers'
Sidharth Malhotra gets candid. Bollywood's newest prince charming talks about his student years, his acting debut and more. Read on...
Tell us about Sidharth Malhotra the student. Were you anything like your character in Student of the Year?
Not at all. Nobody broke into a song when I entered, neither did I wear such cool clothes.
I went to Don Bosco School in Delhi and after that I went to Bhagat Singh College, where I studied BCom (Hons).
I wasn't really inclined towards studies. I think the only place my mum can call me 'Student of the Year' is in the film, nowhere else.
But I used to play sports, as I did in the film as well. In fact, I used to play rugby, not in college, but for a club in Delhi.
Do you still find time for sports?
You know, very sweetly Abhishek Bachchan called me recently and said a bunch of actors play football every Sunday for this charity, so I'm very excited to join them.
Hopefully I can go and try my hand at football. I think Ranbir, Abhishek, John and everybody else play together so I'm looking forward to that.
Did you have any difficulties adjusting to Mumbai when you first moved here?
Of course. Mumbai is a very harsh, lonely place when you come here for the first time.
I think being an outsider in the city is tough. Even if someone was going to Delhi from Mumbai it would be the same.
But luckily, Bollywood worked out for me and now I feel much calmer.
I've been in Mumbai for five years, but it took me four years to settle down here. It takes a while.
Did you always want to be an actor? What was your very first acting role?
No, actually I was mostly into sports and didn't participate in any plays or audition for any acting roles as a student.
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Image: Sidharth Malhotra
'It's how you act off-camera that makes or breaks your career'
How did you foray into modelling? Could you share with us what your journey in this field was like?
After school, when I entered college, I thought I would probably do an MBA like my brother did it, and get a job in finance.
But I got into modelling in college and after that the 'Bollywood bug' bit me, not before that.
How did the transition from modelling to acting happen?
That actually happened through the same agency I was modelling for. Anubhav Sinha was producing a film for newcomers and I was lucky that I auditioned and they liked me.
Then after a second audition, I signed the contract for the film. That's how it all started.
I wouldn't have come to Mumbai if I hadn't signed that contract.
Luckily, the film never got made. After that he took SRK (Ra One) and I took KJo.
It's funny if you think about it because he worked with SRK after four years and I worked with KJo after five years.
Coming from a non-film family, what where the biggest challenges you faced while trying to make it in the film industry?
If you are from the industry, you know people, you know how the industry functions, you know who to meet and it becomes much easier to get a meeting because your family knows them.
But the most important difference is awareness, even in how to conduct yourself off-camera. Because on-camera everybody tells you what to do, it's how you act off-camera that makes or breaks your career and that's what someone from a filmi background is really aware of.
Your first big break in the film industry was as Karan Johar's assistant director (AD) for My Name is Khan. How did that happen?
When the Anubhav Sinha film didn't happen, I was out of work and living at a friend's house and he had a lot of friends who were assistant directors. They used to come to the house and speak about their work as ADs.
And I felt that if you tell someone you want to be a Hindi film actor, you need to know something about the field instead of just saying I want to be an actor, because there are so many people like that.
That's when I realised I don't want to go for auditions and I decided to make a resume and start sending it out to people.
Because of my fashion background, I knew a lot of designers such as Manish Malhotra, and I think that's the reason people think I'm Manish's nephew. I got through Dharma because of Manish.
How was your experience as an assistant director? Do you sympathise with them now, having worked as one yourself?
I actually worked as an AD for Dostana first, but that was for a brief while towards the latter half of the film. My real experience as an assistant director was for My Name is Khan.
For me, it was the best acting school I could ever go to. You're working with the best people from the industry and Dharma productions takes good care of all its technicians, actors, everybody.
And yeah, the experience teaches you what not to do. Because you know if someone is asking you to come on time to the set or for a dubbing, you know how important their deadlines are.
We have sat in studios waiting for actors to come in at 1 am as everybody has their own timings and lifestyle.
So hopefully I'll remember this for a long time, because most actors tend to forget that.
Image: Sidharth with Alia Bhatt in Student Of The Year
'If you want to be an actor, enrol in a dance class'
Have you taken any acting lessons? How important do you think prior training is for debut actors?
No, I haven't done any formal acting training. I think more than acting, it is important to learn the technical aspect of filmmaking, because no one can really teach you how to act.
But I wish I had taken dancing classes prior to becoming an actor and my parents had encouraged me a little bit to learn naach-gaana.
So if you think you want to become an actor, you should enrol in a dance class and train 6-7 times a week.
Today in Bollywood, boys are dancing more than girls. And I have entered the industry at a time when they want men to do item songs.
It's sad, ten years ago heroes were not meant to dance, it was the girl's job to dance. But now, this is a phase when actors are supposed to dance, be it stage shows, television or movies.
What was your first meeting with Shah Rukh Khan like?
I was completely star struck. Our first real meeting was in LA and after four days of shoot, I realised that he knows my name when he said "Sidharth woh dena".
It feels cool when someone like him knows your name. And he does make a lot of effort; I remember he gave people from all the different departments (costume, art, assistant directors) a book each.
And he gave different people different books, he gave me a book on James Bond with Daniel Craig on it.
And he wrote that this reminds me (SRK) of a 'not-so-good-looking' version of you (Siddharth) and also I hope you become whatever you want to in the industry. I still have that book with me.
Did SRK share any acting tips with you?
During my stint as an AD I used to clap the slate when the shot was ready, so I was very close to the actor all the time.
Whenever we had time, SRK used to give me advice on his own. Once he told me, "Always keep looking at your props."
I was amazed at how sweet he was because one of the first times he spoke to me, he was giving me acting tips!
He told me to observe my surroundings because he does that. Gradually, since we shot for a long period, I gathered the courage to go up to him and ask him questions. He was very sweet and encouraging.
We have seen Shahrukh and Kajol do stuff in half an hour which we took hours to do because they understand continuity, camera angles, they know everything. And they were very sweet to share their knowledge with us, SRK I think more than Kajol.
Did you find it difficult to transition from modelling into acting?
Modelling has nothing to do with acting; they are two completely different professions. In acting, you are using all your senses; your are talking, hearing, expressing and reacting.
In modelling there is only one element -- you just have to pose for a picture, so it's comparatively easier.
Anybody who is a good model cannot think he is a good actor or even if he is a bad model, does not mean he will be a bad actor.
You cannot mix modelling and acting together.
Just because in the recent past good looking models such as John Abraham and Arjun Rampal have become actors, people think that transitioning from modelling to acting is easy, but that is not true.
Image: A still from the song Disco Deewane
'Farah ma'am screaming on the mic is not easy'
How did you manage to grab your big break with Student of the Year?
Both Varun and I were working as assistant directors for My Name is Khan. Both SRK and Karan knew that Varun and I wanted to be actors. After the film ended, we approached Karan and we were auditioned for the company.
Meanwhile, Karan started developing the script of SOTY with Tarun Mansukhani and we thought Tarun was going to make the film.
We were really excited that the director of Dostana would be directing us. But suddenly, I don't know why, Karan changed his mind.
Luckily for us, he said, "I want to make this film" because he had co-written the script and wanted to make a younger, cooler film instead of epic love stories. So we were just at the right place at the right time.
He didn't even audition any other boys for the film, he knew he wanted us.
Did acting come naturally to you? Do you remember the experience of your first scene?
Not at all, it was really tough. The shoot actually started with a song called Radha. Farah ma'am screaming on the mic is not the easiest person to work with.
It's tough to pretend to be a hero in the first song and hold the girl, twirl her around and then look into the camera.
The first five days were very torturous to understand what all needs to be done. It is a very overwhelming thing, firstly, because you are on a Karan Johar set with thousands of dancers and Farah Khan is screaming on the mike.
We were also pressurised because we were working with Karan Johar, who had never worked with newcomers before.
It is difficult to pretend to be confident when you walk onto the set on the first day, when your palms are actually sweating and you're forgetting steps and taking little breaks because you're just so nervous.
You have to control your nerves, it took me five days to do that.
Are there any scenes you find more difficult to enact than others?
For me it would be dancing, the only thing that scares me is dancing. I feel I have improved but I wish I would've learnt this two years ago.
I think Karan was really intelligent in using us in a way that was close to our real personalities. He never asked us to pretend to be someone else, he used to say, "How would you do it in real life? How would you and Varun fight?"
So he kept it very real. He made a 'filmi picture' real.
We found it difficult to do the fighting scene and the screaming, which you see in the climax of Student of the Year which was shot in Kashmir.
To hit somebody and then say dialogues and then topple over someone it's almost like a dance you have to do while saying lines.
I remember both Varun and I were stuttering and mumbling, also because it was really cold.
That was probably one of the most challenging scenes for both of us, but we were very happy that we managed to pull it off in our first film.
I think action and angry scenes are challenging, but for me dancing is probably the most difficult.
Did you ever think Student of the Year would be such a huge success? Were you prepared for the stardom that followed?
Not at all. We got a taste of it during the promotions; it was a big deal that. Karan Johar was launching a bunch of newcomers. Initially, we thought, who's going to want to see us give interviews, no one knows us.
But Karan and Dharma productions went all out; we went to 13 cities, including London and Dubai to promote our film.
It's not an easy task when you've not done any work and people question you on television about your views on things.
It is very tough to not come across over confident or arrogant or seem dumb. All three of us went through a phase of chatting with each other and discussing how the promotions were much tougher than the film itself.
Last year Bollywood saw the entry of a number of fresh faces such as Ayushmann Khurrana, Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Pulkit Samrat. How critical is the second movie choice for newcomers?
I think it's very tough. Your first film chooses you, you choose your second film. We were destined to be launched by Karan Johar, the film came to us.
For Varun and me, since we didn't do a solo film (unlike Arjun and Ayushman) which helps as a better barometer of your work, it is even more important.
People are watching and judging us. The ones who like us are looking forward to better work and the ones who don't, we need to convince them that we can do better.
Image: Sidharth and Varun started their careers as assistant directors
'I'm too young to figure out any friendships here'
It is difficult to top Karan Johar, but which other directors are you looking forward to working with?
I am a big Imtiaz Ali fan, Zoya Akhtar fan, Shimit Amin, even Tarun Mansukhani -- I loved Dostana. So there are a lot of directors... we've not even started as yet.
Hopefully, we will work with them in the future. But as you said, you cannot top Karan Johar in Bollywood, so I think our struggle begins now.
Do you have any advice for young people who come to Mumbai with dreams of being a film star?
You cannot just sit at home and wait for that phone call. That's very idiotic. If you want to become an actor, you will do anything that will help.
I have seen people, some of my friends also, who used to give auditions and then stay at home and hit the gym. It's best if you can find something that relates to films, even a part-time job, writing or shooting or any other aspect.
Also, everyone wants to do a solo main-lead. We didn't get a solo role in our first film, even though we got Karan Johar to launch us.
Everyone wants the role of the lead, but I think you need to be aware of what you are capable of.
For example, Aditya Roy Kapoor is doing a film, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, where he is playing Ranbir's friend.
It is really cool that he's doing this and also a solo film on the side.
He could easily say, "No, I don't want to play Ranbir's friend". Now it is more about performance and characters. So it's more important to break in rather than wait for that one solo lead for years.
It is a common belief that there is no place for friendships in Bollywood. Do you agree with this idea?
I'm too young to figure out any friendships here, but I do get that psyche. Maybe because Varun and I met as ADs and not as actors, we do share a bond.
But all the people I've met, I found them really cool and regular, especially the younger lot like Ranbir, Arjun Kapoor, etc.
I'm not friends with them because I am still new in the industry but I think there is the possibility of that friendship. But it cannot be beyond a certain point because it's tough.
The lifestyle of an actor is such that nobody has the priority of making friends, work comes first.
Even if I want to be friendly with somebody, even if I am friends with Imran, it is not possible that I can meet him everyday.
If I'm in the city, he might be shooting for something else. I won't say you can't be friends, but there's only a degree of friendships one can have in Bollywood because of our profession.
Who would you say are your closest friends from the film industry?
I am close to Varun. I've only been here for 3 months, so whatever interaction I've had... I think Ranbir's really cool, I've met him socially, I went to Imran's house recently.
So I think this is just the beginning. I've had a lot of firsts in the last three months, first time I went to Mr Bachchan's house for Diwali, so it'll happen gradually. Karan is very considerate about how he portrays us or introduces us to people.
Varun and Alia still had a lot of friends in the industry, I think for me it was more important.
Till now everyone has been nice and cool, I think I'll find out later if this lasts or not. I'll tell you after a year's time if I am friendly with anyone, because right now everybody is warm and encouraging.
Do you feel comfortable at the social gatherings in Bollywood?
At times I feel a little out of place, at large gatherings. Whoever I've met in the younger lot are cooler; with the senior actors, I am almost in awe of them and don't really know what to say.
What can we expect from Sidharth Malhotra in 2013?
There's going to be romance and there might be some action as well. It would be nice to do another genre, something very different from SOTY, but that's not confirmed as yet.
There is a film with Dharma and Phantom (Anurag Kashyap's company). It's like a light romantic comedy, starring me and Parineeti Chopra.
It is being directed by Vinil Matthew who is an ad filmmaker and first time film director.
Image: Sidharth attends Imran's Khan's housewarming with Karan Johar in Mumbai
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'I would love to do a film with Kajol'
Favourite memory from your student days
Eating chicken rolls in PVR Saket which is near Delhi University
The one actor you've always dremed of working with...
Party at a club or chilling at home?
I prefer chilling at home, probably calling some friends home.
Sachin Tendulkar or Lionel Messi?
I grew up with Sachin, but because of the football I played for SOTY, I'm leaning towards Messi now.
One place you can holiday year after year
I would like to say New York, but I can't afford it year after year, so it would probably be Goa. They're totally different cities, but I've been going to Goa recently, and it's the most convenient place to go.
If you were a drink, what would you be?
I was actually told by my stylist that I am like champagne -- sparkling, bubbly and not so over-the-top. It gives you a high much later, I thought that was a compliment.
Your fitness mantra
Eat home-cooked food as much as you can.
A film you wish you'd starred in
Agneepath. I'm a big Bachchan fan, I find the 'hero entries' and things like that quite cool.
The film demands a very intense hero and I like that. If I get a chance to do a film like Agneepath, I would love to do it.
With respect to Hollywood, I would love to do a superhero film. More than Batman, I think Superman because
they've still not figured it out. The last one didn't work out, so maybe I'll audition for the next one.
An actor whose body you admire
Katrina Kaif is hot. And I've seen recent photographs of Hrithik and I think he's at his fittest right now. So I would aspire to have a body like his.
Your most sinful indulgence
I like jalebis. But it's too much sugar so I haven't had one in a while.
The one actress you secretly wish you could romance on-screen
Lots. I haven't romanced any of them. Kareena Kapoor, even Kajol.
I would love to do a film with Kajol, I don't know if I can romance her, but it would be an interesting script, something like a younger boy-older woman story.
Another dimension of Siddharth few people know about:
I like copying cartoons actually, instead of sketching from scratch.
What songs would be on your recently played list?
I'm a Bollywood buff so I was listening to Hookah Bar right now because my cousin really likes it. I also like progressive house, a friend of mine introduced me to it.
Your ideal woman
Fun, sexy, fit.
Image: Sidharth Malhotra