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'People Want To Marry Me'

May 15, 2024 11:28 IST

'People are saying, 'Wah Ustad!''

IMAGE: Indresh Malik as Ustadji in Heeramandi. Photograph: Kind courtesy Indresh Malik/Instagram

It is not easy to be noticed in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali period extravaganza which features actors like Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sanjeeda Sheikh and Shekhar Suman. Yet Indresh Malik's Ustadji has wowed us with not just his cunning designs as he pits one tawaif against the other in Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, but also the sensitivity with which he portrays his character.

"Ustadji is a layered character who gossips, conspires, plans murders and is exploring his sexuality. I imagined him to have had a hard childhood, exploited physically and emotionally. But the turmoil and trials of his upbringing haven't turned him to stone and he's not completely heartless," Indresh tells Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya.


How did Ustadji walk into your life?

The offer came from the casting agency, Shruti Mahajan, who had earlier got me Gangubai Kathiawadi too.

I was auditioned, there was a costume trial and the contract signed before I met Sanjay sir (Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali).

He was sitting with Manisha (Koirala, who plays Mallikajaan) and some of the others. We spoke a bit about what I thought of the character, then I returned home.

It was a casual meeting, maybe he just wanted to see me.

On the first day of the shoot, I had butterflies in my stomach.

We saw the rushes, made some improvisations, and it took a few days to understand the character. But once we got into the flow, it was easy.

IMAGE: Indresh Malik as Ustadji with Jason Shah's Alistair Cartwright in Heeramandi.

That scene where Jason Shah's Inspector Alistair Cartwright forces himself upon you couldn't have been easy?

(Laughs) Oh, it most definitely wasn't. Sanjay sir even asked for Jasonji to be brought in front of me, but I still wailed, 'Sir, nahin hoga, mujhe thoda waqt do (Sir, it's not happening, give me some time).'

He was very patient and gave us a lot of freedom.

Jasonji and I spoke in the vanity van for a while, after which we did the scene and it went off beautifully.

It helped that Sanjay sir's vision is not over-the-top and there's nothing mediocre or tasteless in his films.

A line of dialogue like 'Main aapke liye bahut sare randiyan laya hoon' (I have bought several whores for you) was refined to 'Main aapke liye rakhtaon ka fauj laya hoon (I have a brought an army of companions).'

Bade arson ke baad (After a long time) one heard the word 'rakhta', which is familiar to me because my forefathers came from Rawalpindi and Lyallapur and I'm well-versed in Urdu, thanks to my grandparents.

The Urdu you hear in Heeramandi is not Arabic Hindi, but Punjabi Urdu that one heard in Lahore in the 1940s.

I made some improvisations which were well received and accepted by Sanjay sir.

Give us an example.

Well, there's this scene where I come upon Sonakshi Sinha's Fareedan and Sanjeeda Sheikh's Waheeda all dressed up to go out and I exclaim, 'Aai hai, kidhar chal diye mere makkhan ke donge? (Oh ho, where are you off too my bowls of butter?).'

'Makkhan ke donge' is a phrase people of Delhi, those living up North, instantly identify with this and it has resulted in some memes.

IMAGE: Indresh Malik with Sonakshi Sinha in Heeramandi.

Speaking about Sonakshi, your relationship with Fareedan in the series evolves beautifully, culminating in the scene where she presents you with a nath.

Yes, without saying a word, she boosts his self-respect and makes him feel wanted.

Ustadji is a layered character who gossips, conspires, plans murders and is exploring his sexuality.

I imagined him to have had a hard childhood, exploited physically and emotionally.

But the turmoil and trials of his upbringing haven't turned him to stone and he's not completely heartless.

He craves warmth and affection and with Fareedan, whose mother was killed by her khalajaan (aunt), who sold her off when she just a child, he forges a bond.

The nose-ring is a token of her respect and love.

I was so moved that I continued crying long after the shot was canned.

Sanjay sir hugged me.

IMAGE: Indresh Malik with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Photograph: Kind courtesy Indresh Malik/Instagram

Reportedly, he gave you a Rs 500 note. Were there more such tokens of his appreciation?

(Laughs) I still have to take the first note from him and whenever we meet, I ask Sanjay sir for it.

Woh udhaar pending hai aur main zaroor loonga, jholi phehla ke loonga (That debt is still pending and I will definitely ask for it and take it respectfully).

It the gift of my guru.

You must be flooded with compliments since the series started airing.

Bahut sara pyaar mil raha hai (I have got a lot of love), more than expected adulation from all over the world.

Elderly people from the 1940s and 1950s, who are familiar with the era, are very appreciative of my performance, saying Heeramandi would be incomplete without Ustadji.

I'm not used to such compliments, it humbles me.

There are some proposals too, with people saying they love me and want to marry me.

How do you react to them?

With a 'thank you so much'.

What more can I say?

Mohabbat hai logon ka (It's the love of people).

IMAGE: Indresh Malik with his wife Leena. Photograph: Kind courtesy Indresh Malik/Instagram

How has your family reacted to this unconventional role?

I'm blessed to have a wonderful family and they have been quite matter-of-fact.

I'm happily married with two children.

My mother told me, 'Tussi badi sona lag raho ho, bahut saari baatein kar raha tha (You are looking very nice, you are saying a lot too).'

(Smiles) When you get genuine feedback from your own, it is equal to any award.

Did you always want to be an actor?

Yes, I want to entertain till the day I die.

But I'm a businessman too. My wife is an entrepreneur as well.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Indresh Malik/Instagram

What brought you to Mumbai's film industry?

I landed my first role when I was still in Delhi, in Zee TV's comedy-drama series, 12/24 Karol Bagh.

It premiered on August 31, 2009 and I played Rajiv Bhalla.

It was supposed to be a cameo, but the response to my character was so good that I played him for two years. I got lots of awards and accolades.

I did other serials in Delhi.

By the time I came to Mumbai, I was a known face.

The autorickshawwallah refused to take money from me.

The bank manager wanted a photograph.

Chhote chhote (Small) ifs and buts are there in every profession, they are a part of life.

But for the most part, life has been beautiful.

One remembers you in Ekta Kapoor's television series, Naagin.

I didn't have much to do in Naagin, but I got appreciation for whatever little I did.

On the last day, Mouni Roy, the beautiful protagonist, who loves my diction, asked to be presented with an Urdu book. She even insisted I sign the gift.

I also have fond memories of other co-stars like Vishal Puri and Sudha Chandran.

In the Web series, Pataal Lok, I played Mukesh Talreja, another small role, but Jaideep Ahlawat praised my performance in the scenes we had together.

Now, people are saying, 'Wah Ustad!'

(Smiles) Aur main unhe dil se shukriya kehta hoon (And I thank them from the bottom of my heart).

I promise that whenever someone calls me Ustad, main pecheche mudh kar zaroor dekhoonga (I will definitely turn back and look).