'Our viewers have grown up over the years.'
'Today, they want to see something which is sensible, a story rooted in logic rather than jingoism.'
He started out as the quintessential bad boy of Bollywood, in films like Footpath, Murder, Jannat and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and impressed us with his care-a-damn swag and histrionics.
But in the two decades since, Emraan Hashmi has grown up and been walking the straight and narrow path.
This year, he went rogue again with a vengeance.
As Aatish Rehman, the ex-deputy director general of the ISI who is planning to assassinate the Pakistan prime minister and occupy her chair, he added a new dimension to Salman Khan's Tiger franchise in its third instalment taking it into 2023's Top 10 hit list.
Emraan was travelling when Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya reached out to him, but spoke from abroad in a candid two-part interview.
Tiger 3's Aatish Rehman has not only redefined the bad man in Hindi cinema but also geo-politics in the subcontinent. Unlike several films in the past which have happily cashed in on bashing Pakistan, the enemy in this case is clearly the individual rather than the country.
Yes, we have had films ringing a kind of forced jingoism which has become fashionable today.
Showing the 'other' in a black-and-white kind of scenario is predictable, but in all areas of life things function in shades of gray.
So the audience has appreciated us for underlining that this man's ideology does not reflect the ideology of a country and its people, and by country, I don't mean just Pakistan.
Our viewers have grown up over the years, more so with the proliferation of OTT platforms.
Today, they want to see something which is sensible, a story rooted in logic rather than jingoism.
That is not to say that those films don't work at the box office, they definitely do, but had we done the same, Tiger 3 would have been just another film.
Instead, you see this man who starts out in the army and is loyal to his country, but slowly, because of circumstances, a certain ideology gets etched in his mind and you see Aatish change.
He may be in the wrong. but he believes that what he is doing is right, and this transition is interesting for both the audience and the actor.
A section of the trade believes the film could have earned more had it released conventionally on a Friday instead of a Sunday when people were busy with Lakshmi Puja and Diwali celebrations. Collections were further dented by coming up against the World Cup in the lead-up to the finals.
I see it in a more positive light. Despite the slump in business brought on by the festival and the World Cup, Tiger 3 has turned out to be the most successful film released during Diwali.
Everyone has the right to deconstruct a film after its release and come out with their own thesis of what it should have and could have done, but I think such discussions are pointless since we are talking of hypothetical situations.
The reason we came on a Sunday is because pre-Diwali, everyone's busy with shopping and that's why traditionally, this has been a weak period for the film industry.
Had we opened on Friday and the numbers had been low, these same people who are now saying Tiger 3 could have done a certain business had it opened two days earlier would have immediately written off the film.
We did what we thought was right and today, Tiger 3 is the biggest hit amongst the films that released during Diwali and one of the year's top grossers.
What are some of the reactions to your brilliant performance and your salt-and-pepper appearance?
Well, the reactions range from surprise, since I had never dabbled in something like this before or even looked anything like this.
Also, there's appreciation for the fact that the short flashbacks make Aatish a well-formed antagonist.
There's a justification for what he is doing and why as opposed to the usual villain who is devious and evil simply because that's what is expected of him.
Last year, Hindi cinema was on the verge of being written off after a spate of debacles, but it has returned this year with some of the biggest blockbusters. That must be a huge relief for the fraternity.
Yes, it's very heartening because the scenario was extremely gloomy post the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were many who believed we had lost our way and unless we pulled up our socks creatively and brought the audience back to the theatres, we would not recoup losses.
This has been the biggest comeback for Hindi cinema.
The collections of some of the recent films have more than made up for the dry run in 2021 and 2022.
Now, with more money coming in, we can make more films and do what we want.
More people will be experimenting creatively.
Talking of creative experimentation, you will be making your debut in Telugu films with a big-budget action thriller, OG, co-starring Pawan Kalyan.
Yes. It's interesting in that it brings together two different film industries with its own sets of audiences.
Pawan Kalyan sir's fans have enjoyed the films he has made and the characters he has played.
Ditto, for my audience.
This is an opportunity for me to introduce myself and tap into a Pawan Kalyan audience who probably haven't seen my films before, and vice versa.
That is OG's USP.
Having worked with Malayalam director Jeethu Joseph in The Body earlier and now Sujeeth in OG, do you see any changes in the way South directors work?
It's not about the film industry they are from, I think every director has their own style.
Sujeeth mounts his films on a huge scale, everything is ramped up, with a larger-than-life protagonist and antagonist.
That's the cinema he watches and likes to bring to the screen.
Someone like Jeethu Joseph is more contained, his films are more concept-based.
The style of film-making varies from person to person even though the Telugu film industry is known for a little more masala as compared to Malayalam cinema.
What did you think about Sujeeth's 2019 Hindi-Telugu action thriller Saaho, featuring Prabhas?
Actually, I've seen only a bit of Saaho before we started shooting for OG.
I thought the visual effects were spectacular.
It's commendable for a young director to be making such a huge film.