'I remember how my grandmother was scared for me when I joined the industry because she was aware of the hurdles and pitfalls.'
'It's a harsh place.'
'When the going is good, it's great, but you really have to have the spirit to deal with the situation when the chips are down.'
From the time he exploded on the scene in 2003 in Vikram Bhatt's Footpath as the gangster Raghu Shrivastav, Emraan Hashmi has proved himself as a real fine if somewhat under-rated actor.
His brooding, mercurial and unpredictable characters in films like Murder, Jannat, Raaz and Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai turned him into a popular star with some fine songs to his credit.
But then, he sprung a surprise again, breaking away from these rebellious playboys to play more mature men in The Dirty Picture, Hamari Adhuri Kahani and Why Cheat India.
On his 44th birthday on March 24, he tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, "I had reached a saturation point and I didn't think I would have done justice to the roles anymore. I had changed as an artist, as a person too, maybe because of the incidents in my personal life."
What plans have you made to bring for your birthday?
The plan was actually to get out of the city, to take the family on a holiday.
Unfortunately, I start shooting in a couple of days, so it will be a quiet celebration.
We will probably go out for dinner, but that's it.
What happens to the vacation?
That will happen in April or May.
I have family in Toronto so we will be visiting them and then we will go to New York.
When you look back, which is the birthday you want to forget?
(Laughs) The irony was that in 2020, the nationwide lockdown, which came in the wake of the COVID pandemic, was announced on my birthday, March 24.
We had made plans when suddenly, on the evening news, the lockdown was enforced and people were running out to stock up on rations.
It was quite a shocker.
So yes, that's a birthday I would like to forget.
Talking of the lockdown, all those months when one was coped up at home gave one a lot of time to retrospect, introspect and make changes. Any plans that you formulated then which you are executing today?
The lockdown was a very confusing time for all of us, so no decisions set in stone could be formulated then.
But I did set some small goals for myself, knowing that we would be crammed together at home for an indefinite period of time.
Like getting into reading again.
Also, taking care of my health and diet because during that catastrophic time, it suddenly dawned on all of us that boosting our immunity was paramount.
I decided to work on myself and be as productive as was possible in the circumstances.
You were one of the stars who back then, went cycling with your wife Parveen and son Ayaan once COVID restrictions were eased. Are you still pedaling or have you gone back to driving?
I have been crazy busy with shoots, so I have not been able to go cycling for a couple of months.
But I got my cycle serviced two days ago and now, when I have a 10-day breather, I'm going to get back to cycling.
We get many gifts on a birthday, a few of which we treasure down the years. Which one would that be for you?
I don't know... there's no one particular gift that comes to my mind. Actually yeah, the cards my son has given me.
When Ayaan was around three years old and had just learnt to scribble with crayons, in his own gibberish way while trying to make sense of language, he had written these messages on greeting cards which he presented to me early in the morning, soon after I woke up.
Obviously, my wife had held his hand and helped him write.
He had misspelt dad, but I cherish every card.
Does he still give you cards on your birthday?
Yes, he does.
(Chuckles) Ayaan has just turned 13, and I'm seeing traits of a little monster now.
After his early struggles with cancer, how do you feel today when you see your son growing up so healthy and vibrant?
The five years after the cancer diagnosis in 2014 were hell for the family, but they also taught us a lot.
Now, the worst is behind us.
On January 14, 2019, I put out a post on Twitter informing everyone that Ayaan is cancer free now and thanking people for their prayers.
The stability that has come after five years of chaos is something we treasure.
Through my book, The Kiss of Life: How a Superhero and my Son Defeated Cancer, I have tried to document how hope, belief and positivity can get you through even the darkest phase.
It's a beautifully written book, straight from the heart. Given the response it got, have you ever thought of writing a follow-up book?
I don't think I would.
Maybe later on in life, never say never.
But honestly, I can't give myself complete credit for that book.
There were people who pushed me into writing it and at that point in my life, it was necessary for me to heal through the book.
Of course, it was traumatic to go through that journey again and it could well have been three-four books, but was edited down because the two people helping me, S Hussain Zaidi and Bilal Siddiqi, felt I should cram everything into 200-250 pages for it to be an easy read for the consumer.
Maybe later, when I have lived a better life and there's something I want to impart professionally, I will write another book, but not at the moment.
Now that he is older and can understand things better, do you see Ayaan reading the book and reliving his victory over cancer?
Well, the book is in our home library and Ayaan reads a lot.
There were conversations we had with him after the diagnosis, even two-three years post it. But I don't know how much he remembers.
I think it would be painful for him to touch on this journey so soon after he has been through all that he has.
Perhaps later, when he is in his 20s, 30s or 40s, he might read it.
That's another reason why I decided to document the journey, it's a testimony of Ayaan's personal victory, the battle against cancer that he won.
Down the years, what are some of the resolutions you have made on your birthday?
I wouldn't call them resolutions, that's too heavy a term, but through the days and months, I have set mini goals for myself.
During the lockdown, I got into the habit of journalling, so now, I write them down, knocking them off my list once accomplished.
It can be as simple as getting a diet sorted, like going off carbs could be my goal for the next month.
What is your goal for the next month?
I want to take my fitness to the next level.
That would be a fresh take on the rakish characters that people loved to see me play in the early 2000s.
My mass space was very different from the traditional mass space and I want to reinvent that mass space for myself, bring it back to the audience.
You broke out of that mould and matured as an actor but from your words, one assumes that at the end of the day, you feel your fans still miss the 'Bad Boy' of Murder and Jannat.
They do. I get a hear a lot of that on Twitter, at airports, in flights and when on city tours.
You can't turn a deaf ear to these interactions because the consumer doesn't lie, he is never wrong.
So why did you break away?
I had reached a saturation point and I didn’t think I would have done justice to the roles anymore.
I had changed as an artist, as a person too, maybe because of the incidents in my personal life.
I wanted to express that creatively through my films and had started looking at different scripts.
I took up a film like Hamari Adhuri Kahani to delve more deeply into the emotions I was feeling then.
It was a departure by design.
But now, I want to explore that earlier space again in a revised, reinvented way.
My audience still likes those rakish characters with a rebellious streak from the first 10-15 years of my career.
It’s up to writers and filmmakers to bring something fresh to the table.
I know you are against taking a sequel too far, but would you want to revisit a Murder or a Jannat, given their evergreen popularity?
People within the film industry want some sense of what works in this climate of post-COVID uncertainty and after a couple of formulaic sequels worked, some have jumped on to the sequel bandwagon.
That can be a dangerous place to be in, I know because I've been a victim myself.
Very few sequels match up to the original or even Part 2, so, if I do jump on, it has to be a fantastic script.
The Murder, Jannat and Raaz franchises are very dear to me, and whether I take them forward will depend on the merit of the script.
Pathaan's super success has proved that not just the hero, even the bad guy can be as well loved.
Yes, and I've always loved anti-heroes.
In my very first film, Footpath, my character Raghu was one.
Bad guys are sometimes far more interesting than the hero, who is boxed up by morals and ethics.
With an interesting back story, the khalnayak can sweep public opinion in his favour by presenting a different point of view.
You may not always agree with him, but at some level, you do empathize with his cause.
A classic example would be Joker. What a brilliant character!
You may not accept what Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Flex is doing through the film but you still love him because of his past. It's a nice dichotomy.
My Shoaib Khan in the 2010 film, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, was also not a traditional villain per se, it was just that his ideology was different from Sultan Mirza's (Ajay Devgn's character).
These roles have to be well written, sometimes anti-heroes can become unidimensional.
Does the script of Tiger 3, in which you play the antagonist opposite Salman Khan's Tiger, measure up?
(Laughs) I'm not even claiming that I am in Tiger 3 at the moment. Let people keep guessing.
You were one of the first stars to jump on to the OTT bandwagon with the Bard of Blood. Any new Web series coming up?
Yes, a Dharmatic Entertainment and Hotstar show for which I am shooting at the moment.
I can't delve too much at this point, but it is an interesting space.
Is Shootout at Byculla happening?
No. But there is a film with Excel titled Ground Zero. I'm waiting for them to make a formal announcement.
Is your son Ayaan showing signs of following in your footsteps?
Even though I am a very liberal parent, I would rather that Ayaan did not follow in my footsteps.
I remember how my grandmother was scared for me when I joined the industry because she was aware of the hurdles and pitfalls.
It's a harsh place.
When the going is good, it's great, but you really have to have the spirit to deal with the situation when the chips are down.
I want to be the protective father and tell my son to choose a more stable profession.
At the same time, I want to nurture Ayaan, be his support system rather than hold his hand and point him in one particular direction.
It's the personality traits that are emerging as he gets into his teenage years that will determine my son's choices in the future.
I can't push, and I won't, I would be doing him a lot of disservice if I did.
The decision to be an actor or an astronaut is his to take. I will only facilitate and guide him.