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With Azhar releasing today, the actor talks aboutnailing the nuances of his role, the appeal of a squeaky
clean character and why his son is one of the biggestA�influencers in his life.

IF I could peg Emraan Hashmi as anything,A�it would be as a man predictable only in hisA�unpredictability. Twelve years ago, he hit theA�big screen with roles that many of his peersA�wouldna��t touch. But he went on to turn everyA�Murder, Zeher and Gangster into a box officeA�hit, despite mediocre scripts. Then, whenA�the serial kisser monicker was threateningA�to occupy more headline space than his name, he did aA�U-turn and took up meaty roles in films like Once Upon
a Time in Mumbaai and The Dirty Picture. Now, after aA�lean phasea��during which he struggled with his sona��sA�fight with cancer and movies like Mr X bombing at theA�box officea��the actor seems to have re-invented himselfA�yet again, this time with the help of a superheroA�and a cricketer.A�Our first inkling were tweets: about photo shoots withA�his son last year and the promise of his first book.A�Titled The Kiss of Life: How a Superhero and My SonA�Defeated Cancer, and co-authored by Bilal Siddiqi, itA�was launched last month. In it, the 37-year-old, who isA�famous for shielding his private life from Bollywooda��s
spotlight, has spilled alla��from how he spent hoursA�wondering where he went wrong as a parent to humorousA�anecdotes about getting his now six-year-old sonA�Ayaan to eat his food by telephoning him as Batman.A�But as chuffed as he is by the positive reception theA�book has received, Hashmi is even more excited byA�todaya��s release, Azhar, a film on former Indian cricketA�captain Mohammad Azharuddin.

The gentlemana��s game
a�?When I first got the offer, it was just an idea. But I wasA�sold because Ia��ve followed Azhara��s life very closely back
in the 90s and, of course, during the major scandal inA�his life (match fixing). I found it very intriguinga��aA�story of a hero and a fallen hero. It has a lot of dramaA�and thata��s the reason I did it,a�? he shares, when I phoneA�him at the end of a long day of promotional outings.A�The film, which spans the cricketera��s childhood andA�life in Hyderabad, documents all the key segments:
his early days learning the game, the test centuries,A�his captaincy, and the scandal, right up to 2012, when
a high court order struck down BCCIa��s lifetime banA�against him. However, the role has already attracted
some criticism, inane though it may bea��like how a 5a��8a�?A�Hashmi can play a 6a��1a�? Azharuddin. Well, reportedly,
the actor wore four-inch soles inside his shoes! He alsoA�trained very hard to take on the batsmana��s persona.
What started off with simple online researcha��readingA�interviews and watching YouTube videosa��soon
turned into intense practise sessions where he learntA�to mimic the batsmana��s mannerisms. a�?It took me at
least six to seven months to crack, even with one-on oneA�sessions with Azhar to emulate his body language
and stance,a�? he confesses, adding that while 80 per centA�of the film is factual, director Tony Da��Souza has takenA�cinematic libertiesa��like heightening certain emotions,A�situations and dialogues. The film also co-starsA�Prachi Desai, Nargis Fakhri and Huma Qureshi.

Twist in the tale
As we chat, something else becomes clear, tooa��thatA�Hashmi is poised at the brink of a new phase in his life.
He admits he wants to take steps in a new direction,A�Azhar being the first. He shares that he plans to turn
producer soon (a�?Ia��m not sure when it will happen, butA�it will be soona�?), that he is turning the book into a documentary
by the end of the year, and that he also wantsA�to play a a�?nice charactera�� once in a while. a�?I dona��t knowA�if the audience will want to see me play an uncomplicatedA�role, but it would be interesting to do somethingA�where I completely do away with any shades of greyA�and play a hero who is squeaky clean, who does everythingA�by the book, is not a home wrecker and is not
involved in any murder mysteries,a�? he laughs, beforeA�quickly adding, a�?But there has to be some conflict in
the film; I dona��t know what that could be, but it needsA�to be there because simple, good people by themselves
dona��t make dramatic cinema.a�?A�The actor would also like to explore international cinema.
His first foray, Tigersa��a 2014 film that is currentlyA�doing the international festival rounds (but is yet to A�release in India)a��saw him work with Oscar-winningA�Bosnian filmmaker, Danis Tanovic. a�?The experienceA�was interesting. Danis had researched the story forA�seven years, so any question we had, he had a clearA�answer, which helped us actors a lot,a�? says Hashmi,A�who is clear that hea��d sign a foreign film only if he isA�cast as the central character.

Life lessons
However, the biggest change for the actora��who isA�returning to the Bhatt camp with Raaz 4 (for which
he has been shooting in Transylvania)a��is how hisA�perspective on life has changed in the last few years.
a�?Nothing is worse than seeing a four-year-old childA�being jabbed with needles and chemo being pumpedA�into that tiny body,a�? he says, sharing, a�?I knew thingsA�had changed me, as traumatic experiences often do,A�but I didna��t fully understand how.a�? In fact, he admits toA�thinking about it for three months, until the day when aA�school race in which Ayaan insisted he participate ina��despite a foot drop (a result of his treatment)a��flickedA�on a switch in his mind. a�?He fell twice while running
and came in last. But when he reached the finishingA�line, he looked back at me with a smile and a wink, and
gave me a thumbs-up,a�? he tells me. Naming his son asA�one of the biggest influencers in his life now (up there
with his mentor, Mahesh Bhatt), Hashmi says that theA�incident was the a�?toughest to write abouta�?, but it also
showed him emphatically that life is all about rollingA�with the punches. While the a�?lessona�� may not seem like
a new one, it promises to be a lasting one. EspeciallyA�for an actor looking to bounce back in his career. a�?You
are only as good as the roles offered to you. Azhar wasA�a great role and I hope I get more like it. If I rule this
Friday, Ia��ll get more work, but if the chips are down, Ia��llA�just have to push harder, be better at my craft and apply
myself more,a�? he concludes.

“Azhar is a risky filmA�because of the element ofA�critique that could comeA�my way. But the dividendsA�also could be huge if I can
pull it off. Walking thisA�tight rope is the reasonA�why I signed it”

At the filma��s promotional events,A�Azharuddin has applauded Hashmi on aA�job well done. Not surprising, considering theA�two trained together for three months to get theA�game right. Hashmi, a fitness buffa��who mostlyA�incorporates functional fitness, endurance andA�strength training into his routinea��cut back on liftingA�weights to prepare for his part. a�?I had to be
more flexible in my wrists and arms,a�? heA�shares, recalling how he used to bat overA�100 balls every day, leading to painful
wrists. The actor also took up yogaA�to get the lean look heA�needed.

Famous for not watching too manyA�Bollywood films, Hashmi shares he is a fanA�of TV serials and Hollywood flicks. a�?Ia��m veryA�happy that Game of Thrones has startedA�again; Ia��m back to watching it. I also recentlyA�finished watching Narcos and Breaking Bad.A�The most recent movie I watched was TheA�Witch, an indie film that is quite creepy,a�?A�he says. A fan of actors like DanielA�Day Lewis and Johnny Depp, heA�says he loves their choiceA�of roles.

a�?A normal person will get scaredA�by my diet,a�? Hashmi smiles. In the lastA�couple of years, hea��s cut out a lot. a�?WeA�dona��t have milk, sugar, certain fruits likeA�apples (because of its wax coating), redA�meats, junk food and the like,a�? he says, addingA�that he tries to shop organic wheneverA�possible. He also admits it is a miracle thatA�he has convinced Ayaan to eat hisA�greens (Batmana�� influence, perhaps?),A�which are naturalA�cancer fighters.

By Surya Praphulla Kumar


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