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 biggest influencers in his life.
IF I could peg Emraan Hashmi as anything, it would be as a man predictable only in his unpredictability. Twelve years ago, he hit the big screen with roles that many of his peers wouldn’t touch. But he went on to turn every Murder, Zeher and Gangster into a box office hit, despite mediocre scripts. Then, when the serial kisser monicker was threatening to occupy more headline space than his name, he did a U-turn and took up meaty roles in films like Once Upon
a Time in Mumbaai and The Dirty Picture. Now, after a lean phase—during which he struggled with his son’s fight with cancer and movies like Mr X bombing at the box office—the actor seems to have re-invented himself yet again, this time with the help of a superhero and a cricketer. Our first inkling were tweets: about photo shoots with his son last year and the promise of his first book. Titled The Kiss of Life: How a Superhero and My Son Defeated Cancer, and co-authored by Bilal Siddiqi, it was launched last month. In it, the 37-year-old, who is famous for shielding his private life from Bollywood’s
spotlight, has spilled all—from how he spent hours wondering where he went wrong as a parent to humorous anecdotes about getting his now six-year-old son Ayaan to eat his food by telephoning him as Batman. But as chuffed as he is by the positive reception the book has received, Hashmi is even more excited by today’s release, Azhar, a film on former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
The gentleman’s game
“When I first got the offer, it was just an idea. But I was sold because I’ve followed Azhar’s life very closely back
in the 90s and, of course, during the major scandal in his life (match fixing). I found it very intriguing—a story of a hero and a fallen hero. It has a lot of drama and that’s the reason I did it,” he shares, when I phone him at the end of a long day of promotional outings. The film, which spans the cricketer’s childhood and life in Hyderabad, documents all the key segments:
his early days learning the game, the test centuries, his captaincy, and the scandal, right up to 2012, when
a high court order struck down BCCI’s lifetime ban against him. However, the role has already attracted
some criticism, inane though it may be—like how a 5’8” Hashmi can play a 6’1” Azharuddin. Well, reportedly,
the actor wore four-inch soles inside his shoes! He also trained very hard to take on the batsman’s persona.
What started off with simple online research—reading interviews and watching YouTube videos—soon
turned into intense practise sessions where he learnt to mimic the batsman’s mannerisms. “It took me at
least six to seven months to crack, even with one-on one sessions with Azhar to emulate his body language
and stance,” he confesses, adding that while 80 per cent of the film is factual, director Tony D’Souza has taken cinematic liberties—like heightening certain emotions, situations and dialogues. The film also co-stars Prachi Desai, Nargis Fakhri and Huma Qureshi.
Twist in the tale
As we chat, something else becomes clear, too—that Hashmi is poised at the brink of a new phase in his life.
He admits he wants to take steps in a new direction, Azhar being the first. He shares that he plans to turn
producer soon (“I’m not sure when it will happen, but it will be soon”), that he is turning the book into a documentary
by the end of the year, and that he also wants to play a ‘nice character’ once in a while. “I don’t know if the audience will want to see me play an uncomplicated role, but it would be interesting to do something where I completely do away with any shades of grey and play a hero who is squeaky clean, who does everything by the book, is not a home wrecker and is not
involved in any murder mysteries,” he laughs, before quickly adding, “But there has to be some conflict in
the film; I don’t know what that could be, but it needs to be there because simple, good people by themselves
don’t make dramatic cinema.” The actor would also like to explore international cinema.
His first foray, Tigers—a 2014 film that is currently doing the international festival rounds (but is yet to release in India)—saw him work with Oscar-winning Bosnian filmmaker, Danis Tanovic. “The experience was interesting. Danis had researched the story for seven years, so any question we had, he had a clear answer, which helped us actors a lot,” says Hashmi, who is clear that he’d sign a foreign film only if he is cast as the central character.
However, the biggest change for the actor—who is returning to the Bhatt camp with Raaz 4 (for which
he has been shooting in Transylvania)—is how his perspective on life has changed in the last few years.
“Nothing is worse than seeing a four-year-old child being jabbed with needles and chemo being pumped into that tiny body,” he says, sharing, “I knew things had changed me, as traumatic experiences often do, but I didn’t fully understand how.” In fact, he admits to thinking about it for three months, until the day when a school race in which Ayaan insisted he participate in—despite a foot drop (a result of his treatment)—flicked on a switch in his mind. “He fell twice while running
and came in last. But when he reached the finishing line, he looked back at me with a smile and a wink, and
gave me a thumbs-up,” he tells me. Naming his son as one of the biggest influencers in his life now (up there
with his mentor, Mahesh Bhatt), Hashmi says that the incident was the “toughest to write about”, but it also
showed him emphatically that life is all about rolling with the punches. While the ‘lesson’ may not seem like
a new one, it promises to be a lasting one. Especially for an actor looking to bounce back in his career. “You
are only as good as the roles offered to you. Azhar was a great role and I hope I get more like it. If I rule this
Friday, I’ll get more work, but if the chips are down, I’ll just have to push harder, be better at my craft and apply
myself more,” he concludes.
“Azhar is a risky film because of the element of critique that could come my way. But the dividends also could be huge if I can
pull it off. Walking this tight rope is the reason why I signed it”
At the film’s promotional events, Azharuddin has applauded Hashmi on a job well done. Not surprising, considering the two trained together for three months to get the game right. Hashmi, a fitness buff—who mostly incorporates functional fitness, endurance and strength training into his routine—cut back on lifting weights to prepare for his part. “I had to be
more flexible in my wrists and arms,” he shares, recalling how he used to bat over 100 balls every day, leading to painful
wrists. The actor also took up yoga to get the lean look he needed.
Famous for not watching too many Bollywood films, Hashmi shares he is a fan of TV serials and Hollywood flicks. “I’m very happy that Game of Thrones has started again; I’m back to watching it. I also recently finished watching Narcos and Breaking Bad. The most recent movie I watched was The Witch, an indie film that is quite creepy,” he says. A fan of actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Johnny Depp, he says he loves their choice of roles.
“A normal person will get scared by my diet,” Hashmi smiles. In the last couple of years, he’s cut out a lot. “We don’t have milk, sugar, certain fruits like apples (because of its wax coating), red meats, junk food and the like,” he says, adding that he tries to shop organic whenever possible. He also admits it is a miracle that he has convinced Ayaan to eat his greens (Batman’ influence, perhaps?), which are natural cancer fighters.
By Surya Praphulla Kumar