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June 21, 2000


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'I'll do everything'

Milind Soman He truly is the Indian Adonis. Easily the country's most famous male model, he's every woman's dream come true and every man's envy. He is Milind Soman. From competitive swimming to the ramp and the silver screen, he's conquered it all. And now, he's all set to make his mark in Bollywood with his debut film, Tarkieb.

Between shooting for the serial Noorjahan in Film City, he spoke to Vivek Fernandes about the film, his co-stars and what it felt like being the oldest newcomer in Bollywood.

Tell us about Tarkieb.

Tarkeib is a murder mystery set to an Agatha Christie format, where the film starts off with the discovery of a corpse. There are six suspects -- people who have been involved with the murdered woman and who have possible motives for murdering her. I am one of the suspects because my character is that of her former fiancée. Tabu plays the murdered woman and Nana comes in to solve the mystery.

How did you get into films?

Actually, I hadn't given much thought to doing films. I was quite happy with television. Esmayeel Shroff, the director, saw me in Tanha, a serial I was doing for Star TV and thought I would suit the character. He called me and I agreed.

I thought Tarkieb would be a good way to start. There is no pressure on me as the central character to carry the film or anything like that. It would be a nice soft launch. I have few nice scenes and people can see me on screen and see what I look like. And the star cast is very good.

I wanted to work opposite people who were respected actors already, so the audiences could judge my capabilities. That was my only real reason for choosing this film. Apart from the fact that it's a different kind of film, there aren't really any murder mysteries made.

Are you happy with the final outcome?

Yeah, I think it's a nice film. It's interesting, it's a murder mystery, so the suspense element is present right through the film. I like the performances and the style of the film. The way it is shot is completely different. I wouldn't call it a regular, commercial kind of movie.

How were you first approached by the film industry?

I don't know really. The first film I signed was about 10 years ago... 1989, actually. It was Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, which I didn't complete. And Deepak Tijori did the role. I had just started modelling then. And, after I became a popular model, I had a lot of work, so I didn't pursue films. I was not interested in films as a career at that point of time.

Captain Vyom About four years ago, Amol Palekar offered me a film called Daayra, which again I did not do... Nirmal Pandey eventually got the part. But I started doing television because of that, so that I could get some experience. I began with A Mouthful Of Sky and I enjoyed that a lot. So, when I started getting offers for Hindi television, I jumped at the opportunity to do Margerita and
Captain Vyom.

These projects were quite memorable in their own way -- Margerita was a really good serial and Captain Vyom, despite being a children's serial, was such a different kind of programme that people still remember it. And then, I did 20 episodes of Tanha. All the serials I did were very small -- Margerita was only 26 episodes, then I did 20 episodes of a serial called Vakaalat. The only full length one I did was Vyom and the current Noorjahan.

I have not done too much television because I do not like doing one project over a very long period of time. That's what I like most about films -- it's for a finite period. Then again, most of Hindi films are not finished in the time-span they ought to be completed in. Even though it would take 60 days at the most to shoot, they drag on for over two years, which is really frustrating. All the films I am doing at present, starting with Tarkieb, will be completed in two or three months.

Why didn't Daayra work out?

There were a few technical problems. I would have loved to do the part, though everyone I knew said I shouldn't. I am happy that Nirmal did really well and his performance was appreciated.

Do you regret not doing Jo Jeeta Who Hi Sikander?

I don't regret it because I think it would have been really early for me at that time.

What went wrong with AMOS?

Marketing, primarily. The serial was shown on 46 different channels all over the world, so it wasn't badly made. It did pretty well business-wise. People had reservations about Indians speaking English at that time, though that doesn't exist any longer.

Everywhere I go, people are aware of AMOS and of my role. It was not like it was rejected as a programme. Of course, critically it panned, but then again, who cares? We only care about people who watch.

Do you think you have grown as an actor?

Yes, I have been told so and I think so too. At the end of each day, you know what you have learnt. I think, if I hadn't grown as an actor, I wouldn't have been offered television, let alone films. That was a risk I took. People asked me why I continued to do television and not films. But I always thought I was not ready for films. And I felt that, when films were ready for me, I'd get the calls.

How was it like working with professionals, national award winners like Nana Patekar and Tabu?

Tarkieb It was very good -- they were very friendly, extremely supportive, very normal. It's not like they flaunt their talent or their stature in the industry or the awards they've won. I think shooting Tarkieb was fun for everyone involved. The director was very friendly -- really sweet. Even though he's supposed to be strict, he was shockingly nice to all of us.

With Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan and Tushar Kapoor entering films, how does it feel to be the oldest newcomer in the business?

(Laughing) I've never thought of myself in that light before. But, you could say it's true, because the characters I play are more in the age group of the younger actors even though I am perhaps 10 years older. I don't feel pressurised at all. There are so many actors out there -- Shah Rukh, Aamir Khan, Salman, Sunil Shetty... they haven't disappeared. Why don't you ask them if they feel pressurised? That would be a great story idea!

Is your alleged affair with Tabu is a publicity gimmick?

(Laughing) I have absolutely no idea why the press starts things like this. Tabu is well-known and we are friends, we got along very well. I don't know why they have to call it a romantic liaison. I have not contributed in any way to it. This is the first time that I actually spoken about it.

Do you regret doing the Tuff ad?

No, not at all. I regret though that a few people found it offensive, which they shouldn't have. But I must say the ad helped me. All publicity is good. Look at the politicians, they murder but still people still vote for them, don't they?

What's on your agenda after Tarkieb?

I have already finished another film called Pyaar Ki Dhun. It's by a new director and stars three newcomers, all girls. The supporting cast includes Nirmal Pandey, Saeed Jaffrey, Prem Chopra and Smita Jayakar.

It is a relationship-based story about a whole lot of people. I am onscreen throughout the movie. That makes me the central character, I suppose, but the focus is on everyone. It's about how relationships change over time and what people go through in a relationship, why they break up and why they get back together again and how relationships work out eventually.

Then, there is another film I am doing called Bhagmati -- Queen Of Fortunes, with Tabu again, which will be released this year. The director of this partly-animated, partly-realistic film is Ashok Kaur. The movie is based on the romance between Qulli Qutub Shah, the founder of Hyderabad, and Bhagwati, a dancer. All the historic bits are animated and the contemporary parts have us acting live.

I am also doing Pehchaan, which may hit theatres this year. I play the cop and Nana plays villain. We should finish shooting by August and I star opposite Twinkle. It is directed by a newcomer called Sudhanshu Jha.

Milind Soman There is another film that, hopefully, will be completed by July. It's called Adhaar. Tara Deshpande is paired opposite me. Milind Gunaji is in the film too... Too many films... perhaps I should stop, huh? But, again, every project I have chosen has something new and unique, either in concept or treatment or presentation.

I am also working on two serials -- Noorjahan and Deewarein.

Now that you are acting in films, aren't you afraid of overexposure?

Not at all. There is no such thing as overexposure. If people like you, they want to see you. If you do the same thing over and over again, then you will definitely get stale and jaded like most actors do. They get caught in a rut because they think people like to see them. They don't realise people like them as personalities and as actors; they want to see them doing different things. They stick to one style only and that is why films begin to flop.

Over the past 12 years, I have kept reinventing myself. I've experimented with different looks, changed my hairstyles... that's what has kept me fresh. That is why I am the oldest newcomer in films, because people still see me as new. They don't say, "He began his career 12 years ago, what is he now doing films for?"

How do you know when it is time to change?

There's no definite way, but opportunities will always present themselves. People will always see you as someone else, fortunately, and you might either accept or reject their opinions. Amol Palekar saw me as a transvestite, when I am supposedly one of India's top models, macho-man. I was really excited. So, if someone saw me as a terrorist, a transvestite or Devdas, I'd be thrilled.

Why do you choose to do unconventional stuff?

Because conventional is so boring and so easily overlooked. I haven't done the usual sitcoms and soaps in all my television work, with the exception of A Mouthful Of Sky. But that was different because it was India's first English serial.

What are the roles you'd like to portray?

I would like to do very different characters. One of the actors I admire a lot is Charleston Heston. I like the roles he has done… Ben Hur, Ten Commandments. I don't know if I fit into those roles, they are very strong, individualistic, iconoclastic characters. I haven't done any of these roles so far… nobody's offered them to me.

Do you think you will ever return to the ramp?

Milind Soman Yeah, why not? I still do shows, rarely though. I actually stopped doing shows four years ago, but if somebody gives me enough notice, I'd do the show. I do charity events too. I enjoy doing ramp work. I have no hang-ups; just because I am a television and film actor, it doesn't mean I won't do other stuff. I'll still do music videos. I'll do everything.

Apart from acting, would you like to pursue any other ambition?

(Laughing) I'd like to be a journalist like you. I think, whenever I see something I want to do, I'll do it. I've always done that.

I became a professional swimmer by chance. Somebody said, "Why don't you compete here?" I did and became national champion when I was 11. I continued till I realised, at 18, that I would have to stop because I would get beaten. Then someone else came upto me and said, "Why don't you model? Take Rs 50,000. We want to shoot pictures of you for two hours." I said okay! What else could I say??!

So, life's generally a ball for you…?

No, it's just as hard as it is for you. But it's different.

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