Fardeen Khan's rise to fame has been slow and steady. He was written off when his debut film -- the much-hyped Prem Aggan (1998, co-starring Meghna Kothari) helmed by father Feroz Khan -- sank at the box office.
A series of downers -- Ahathiyan's Hum Ho Gaye Aap Ke (Rima Sen), Mehul Kumar's Kitne Door Kitne Paas (Amrita Arora) and Ravi Shankar's Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein (Richa Pallod) -- followed. But Rajat Mukherjee's Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya (Urmila, Sonali Kulkarni) and E Niwas's Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega (Twinkle Khanna, Saif Ali Khan, Aftab Shivdasani, Sonali Bendre) were moderate successes; they kept him in circulation.
His last two releases, Anupam Kher's Om Jai Jagadish (Waheeda Rahman, Anil Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Mahima Chaudhary, Urmila, Tara Sharma) and Surya's Khushi (Kareena Kapoor), were expected to work miracles for Khan. But the films did not do well.
Khushi did, however, establish his credentials as a spontaneous performer. Besides, it made him popular with children. "I get a lot of fan mail from kids and teenagers," he smiles.
Khan, who is shooting non-stop for Govind Nihalani's Dev (Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, Kareena Kapoor) at Mumbai's Filmistan Studios, is fatigued. Exhaustion works for him, he says with a grin, as the scene requires him to look despondent.
He took time off during a snack break to speak to Sukanya Verma. Excerpts:
The promos of Bhoot show very little of you...
My character comes in the last 15-20 minutes of the film. I have grown a beard for this role because it goes with my character. I cannot talk too much about my role.
Do I believe in ghosts? I will reserve my comments until and unless I have an encounter. It is debatable because, if you believe in God, you also have to believe in the devil.
With so many actors in the film, did you feel insecure about getting lost?
No, not at all. It was great fun working with such a talented cast -- Ajay Devgan, Urmila Matondkar, Nana Patekar, Rekha, Tanuja and Victor Banerjee. There was so much to learn from them.
This is your third film with Ram Gopal Varma.
Ramu is a filmmaking machine. I call him RGV. He eats, sleeps and breathes movies. He is very practical. He cuts through all the bullshit and gets to the meat of the matter. He does not like anyone wishing him good morning because it's a habit. His reply is, 'What is so good about the morning? Please tell me that.'
Your performance in Khushi won good reviews. But the film didn't do well at the box office...
If a film does well, it means more people see your work. The appreciation is on a larger scale. When you work hard on a film and it doesn't work, it is disappointing.
Almost all recent releases have flopped at the box office. What do you attribute this to?
The audience has a variety of Hindi and English channels on television to choose from. Plus, there is piracy and many other factors.
Beyond that, we will just have to make better, more entertaining films.
International filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha, Roland Joffe and Florian Gallenberger are venturing into Bollywood. There is increasing foreign technical collaboration. Does this mean globalisation of cinema is around the corner?
Not as much as has been reported in the media. But globalisation is not a distant dream. We must not forget that their [the West's] level of sophistication and exposure to cinema is a lot higher. But we are getting there.
You entered the industry in 1998 and you have worked in only nine films so far. Are you very choosy?
No. I have worked in many films simultaneously. It has been quite testing and cumbersome at times. Last year, I was working on three-four films at the same time.
Soon after Jungle, I started Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya. I was working on Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, Hum Ho Gaye Aap Ke and Kitne Door Kitne Paas at the same time. Then Kitne Door... continued and I started with Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein and Khushi. Then came my father's film, Jaanasheen. In Bhoot, I had only had a week's work.
I don't want to do this anymore. I have become very selective about my films. I have two releases this year -- Bhoot and Jaanasheen. Dev will release next year.
Tell us about Jaanasheen.
It is an exciting drama. My character, Lucky, lives in Australia and is an amateur Super Bike racer. He wants to become a professional racer. This is one aspect of his life. The other aspect is that he cannot get along with his father [Harsh Chhaya]. It is an interesting story.
How was the experience of acting with your father, who plays a villain in the film?
It takes a bit of getting used to. You have grown up around a man who has been a father to you. Suddenly, you see him 'in character' and it is totally different.
The first couple of days were awkward. After that, we got used to it. We are very open with each other, so it was not difficult.
Tell us about your co-star Celina Jaitley, who debuts in Jaanasheen.
She has done well. She is extremely confident and a stunning-looking woman.
Like your dad, do you see yourself donning the director's cap in future?
I am very interested in production and direction. Yes, I plan to get into production very soon and, at a later stage, into direction. I am currently looking at a few subjects that I would love to be a part of as an actor and producer.
Tell us about Dev.
Dev is very different from what I have done in the past. It is a topical film with realistic characters. It has a strong message. It aims to discuss the communal disharmony that has existed in our country for several years.
We are shooting in sync sound. This is a first for me. I am working with my acting god Amitabh Bachchan! I haven't shot with him yet and I am very nervous. I don't want that day to come when we work together, especially since we are shooting in sync sound [laughs]. But I am sure it is going to be great.
What is working with Govind Nihalani like?
He is fantastic. Working with him is an education. I have seen his earlier film Ardh Satya. He is so detailed and precise about the nuances and the characters. You want to give him your 500 per cent. I enjoyed working with him. He explains everything. He holds your hand and takes you through the shot.
How do you unwind?
I read. Reading transports me to another place. I like to read all sorts of things -- fiction, non-fiction. When I am working, I prefer non-fiction. With fiction, I get lost in the story. Right now I am reading Stupid White Men by Michael Moore [Moore's film, Bowling for Columbine, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature].
How important, according to you, are good looks if one wants to become an actor?
Oh, very important! Good looks are a part and parcel of the general appeal. The characters in our films are generally larger-than-life and heroic. They give the impression that they should be looked up to as they always save the day! [laughs]
Tell us about your childhood.
I had a great childhood. I was a regular kid. I used to do the normal kidstuff and play pranks. I had this tendency to observe everything around me. I was a bit shy and reserved, still am.
I studied general business and film studies at the University of Massachusetts. The first year, I just partied! I was on probation after my first semester! During my sophomore and freshman years, I had a lot of fun. Then I got serious about studies in my junior and senior years, when it matters most.
Going to university in the US was an incredible experience. That was when I discovered myself. I was on my own. There is none of that [film] background -- none of the stuff I was exposed to here. I started from scratch.
During your growing up years, how conscious were you of the fact that you were a star son?
I was conscious only when I went out with my parents. I was made to feel extra special. That would really bug me because someone was fussing over me all the time. I was like, 'just leave me alone'. We [Fardeen and elder sister Laila] were never made to feel special at home. We had a normal upbringing.
In this industry, people are known to have double standards. How do you deal with it?
You just go with the gut [pauses] and then you find out. Time always reveals the truth between what is genuine and what is farce. You never know till someone reinforces your belief.
You tend to keep a low profile, unlike other actors who publicise themselves.
I don't like to be in the news. I am a very private person. I am reserved, but not an introvert. I like to lead my own life, without making it sound special or sharing it with anyone. I stay away from the media unless I need to promote my film.
Considering your reserved nature, acting must be a great change.
Yes, definitely! It can be quite bizarre. You find yourself in all these ridiculous, funny situations. Where else can you sing and dance the way we do?
Any dream role?
I don't know. I haven't discovered that as yet. But I would love to be part of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula.