'Kissing is not written in the script. They just find their way on the sets!' Emraan Hashmi tells Ronjita Kulkarni/Rediff.com.
"I run away from kisses!"
That may be an unusual statement coming from an actor known for being Hindi cinema's serial kisser on screen, but Emraan Hashmi has had enough and wants to move on.
"You reach a saturation point," he says as he lounges in his father's spacious home in Pali Hill, north west Mumbai. The actor lives on the floor above.
"You feel you've been there, done that," he continues. "The films may be doing well, but I feel like I'm sleepwalking through the set because it feels like another day on the set of an earlier film."
"It's death for an actor if you get repetitive. You should offer the audience a certain diversity."
"I have had an image for the past 10, 12 years which has worked wonders for me. But it's time to phase that out and bring in a new Emraan Hashmi that I can pitch to the audience," he says.
And that's where his next film Why Cheat India comes in.
The movie takes on the education system in India and Emraan believes in it so much, he is even producing it.
"The film is very relevant to our education system," he says. "It is quite ineffective. I've been through it personally, as a college student. The whole concept of mugging, teachers not turning up... But I wasn't aware of the cheating mafia, and how organised it is."
"It is about informing (India) that this organised crime is affecting the already shaky foundation of the education system," he says. "There is no real world application (of what we learn) in schools and colleges. They don't help our professions."
Did he turn producer because this topic was close to his heart?
Or was it due to a lack of good stories coming his way?
"It is not that I am not getting good stories though that's a part of it," Emraan says, shaking his head. "(If you produce a film) You are in control of things."
"Sometimes I feel it would have been far better if I had been in control of things (earlier). At least, I would have had a say; not just turn up, act, and leave. You are very limited in your involvement as an actor. As a producer, I can nurture it more."
The job, of course, is tough.
"It is basically disaster management," he says with a laugh.
"The decision-making is a challenge," he elaborates. "You have to complete something in a certain number of days, push the crew, go to the next location because it's all time bound..."
Why Cheat India may be a good move on Emraan's part to clean up his image, and his foot may be out of the door, but he hasn't left the room yet.
The last scene of the film will see the actor well... kissing!
"Ya, I almost did (get out of that)," Emraan says, smiling sheepishly.
"I was rebelling and saying no, not in this, I told my director no way... But it finally found its way. But I promise you, I will try (harder)!" he exclaims.
His next film, The Body, will see him kiss again, but no more after that, he insists.
Doesn't it get frustrating?
"Sometimes, yes,"he admits. "People resist change so much here, so that change will not happen overnight. But I am down from the number of times I have kissed in a film. From 10 to one is progress!"
Does he nix scripts which have kisses in them?
"They are not written in the scripts. They just find their way on the sets!" Emraan says, shaking his head.
After a pause, he says, "But that doesn't mean you can't have any of that in a film. Yes, I'd love to do a film in which there are no kisses, but that's really not what I meant by 'image change'."
"It has to do with the genre of films and the kind of characters -- the urbanised, cool characters, suave, playing to the star, doing the Emraan Hashmi things that people expect in a film, the dialoguebaazi... It is a blend of everything, not just the kiss. I want to phase all that out and bring in something fresh," he explains.
"It is a huge change for me to do a film like Cheat India after Murder and Raaz and all those films. And that change will gradually get more extreme when I do other kinds of characters," he says.
Emraan grew up watching international cinema, and he admits he barely watched Hindi films.
Yet, he made a career out of movies that worked especially well in B and C centres.
"It was tough for sure," he says. "I did not have a reference point, and maybe that brought a certain newness in my performance. I had subtlety in my performance, a natural instinct about how the character should be performed. That became my forte."
"But I wish I was the kind of actor who dreamt of acting from the age of six! I envy those kinds of actors who had a sense of clarity from a young age."
Emraan wanted to be a pilot at that age.
A bit of struggle, and a bit of trial and error, helped Emraan settle into his career.
"There is nothing like learning on the job, making mistakes, and understanding from them. It was not easy because you have probably not had the influences other actors have had in that cinema. The benefit was that the cinema I was doing was very different from what the others were doing."
"Erotic thrillers were things that people did not touch with a bargepole, but I was doing it. And they suddenly started working at the box office," he recalls.
"I didn't even know kissing on screen would get so much traction and eyeballs. And such a shock value! I thought it was such a normal thing," he says.
Emraan doesn't quite appreciate the way the background score is used in Indian films.
"There is a liberal use of background music in our films. If you see the cinema abroad, there is no need to constantly have background music, make people *feel* a certain emotion. It should be in the performance, not in the background music," he says.
"Not just that, there is a jingoism that we have in our films. Subtlety, maybe five years ago, wasn't rewarded as much. People felt that acting karni chayiye. One had to be loud. The background music and the entire pitch of the film had to be loud," he says, adding with a relief that things are changing now.
Which of his films is he proud of?
Awarappan, Jannat, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai and Shanghai, he lists.
Is there any film he is not proud of?
"Every film is important," he says, shaking his head.
What about Azhar, you prompt.
"Azhar was also a great experience," he says. "Sometimes you go right or wrong with what you put out there, but the experience has been good mostly."
Does he get upset when a film doesn't work at the box office?
"It is disheartening when a film doesn't do well. It is something you get angry with and upset about. But it is important to understand that in the creative field, you have to be open to failure and mistakes. You have to learn from them and move on," he answers.
That, in fact, is the advice he will pass on to his son Ayaan: "Be resilient. Don't get bogged down by failure, you may see a lot of it. Winners are people who get up after the fall."
Emraan Hashmi admits he is a reluctant movie star. An actor who likes to act, but not live in the world of actors.
And so, one will rarely find him at a party, an awards show or even a special movie screening.
"I realised the merits of our awards very early on," he explains. "I have performed at some awards for money and realised that the awards given out are not particularly on merit."
"I don't enjoy film parties or awards ceremonies," he adds.
"I have a compartmentalised life in which I work in films, shoot, promote, and be in the process of film-making. Then, there is a world outside that. I cannot talk shop 24/7. Some actors can do it, fair enough. But that's not me," he says.
"I have another life away which I'd like to keep for my sanity," he says with a chuckle.
What makes Emraan Hashmi angry?
"I am actually very cool," he replies. "Very rarely do things make me angry. But incompetence and hypocrisy make me angry."
Emraan loves the work he is doing on the digital platform.
After Tigers, he is working on a Web series, Bard Of Blood, which will release in August.
"It is great writing," he says.
It's also a lot of work.
"It's like doing three films!" he exclaims.
But he does not mind it: "You get an entire seven episodes to play out the arc of that character."
Bard Of Blood revolves around an English teacher who is an ex-spy. He goes back to the battlefield in Afghanistan to rescue some agents.
Emraan will follow that up with his next movie production, Father's Day.
The actor is finally doing the kind of work he has always wanted to do.