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April 4, 1997


'Today, I have to depend on others; tomorrow, hopefully, people will have to depend on me'

The surprise debut of 1996 was undoubtedly Arshad Warsi, one of the two male actors in the ABCL production, Tere Mere Sapne. Chandrachur Singh, the other actor, already had a hit in Maachis, with Gulzar directing him.

Arshad, with his number of film releases not crossing zero, wasn't considered worth publicising. But once the film came out, he grabbed centrestage and the song in which he appeared, Aankh mare ladka also hit the top of the charts. Though surprised at his unexpected popularity, he is very glad it has happened with his first film itself.

Offers began pouring in till he had to barricade the windows to keep them pouring in. Many of them he rejected and the ones that remain, much to his satisfaction, are from directors like Rajkumar Santoshi, Kundan Shah, Mehul Kumar and Prakash Mehra.

Cloud nine, here comes Arshad.

In a conversation with Rediff On The NeT's, Sharmila Taliculam, Arshad is refreshingly honest about what he thinks of films and a career in it.

Why are you at home? You should be more busy now that you are so popular.

I am. But this is a well deserved break. I needed it. I have been working real hard, you know. Day and night. Next year, I am thinking of doing two shifts a day.


I just want to finish work as soon as possible. It's not too much, if I have given that impression, but I would like to finish whatever I have on hand.

Have you had lots of offers lately?

Yeah. I turned down at least 35 already. They are all major films and they (the producers) are angry with me. They hate me. It's like, 'What does he think of himself? Is he acting like a star?' But it's not that. How many films can I do? I don't want to take everybody's money and sit on it. I just want to accept as many films as I can handle.

What kind of roles are these?

Fortunately, I am getting quite a few nice roles. Unlike Tere Mere Sapne, in one film I am a very a subdued guy. In another it is a action role and then third is that of a village bumpkin. So I think I have been lucky so far. I am also doing films with Kundan Shah and Rajkumar Santoshi. One is with Govinda and it will be a riot, I am sure. Then Mehul Kumar has signed me for a film with Amitabh. I think I have been lucky.

You seem to have benefited the most from Tere Mere Sapne.

Yeah, I guess I did. But then I seem to have worked hard for it too. My role was good, very good. It wasn't very easy, you know I could have gone overboard. But I managed quite well. Everybody thinks that I am like that in reality. Only, I took the role seriously.

What are you like in reality? Anything like your character?

I certainly like to enjoy my life. I like to live it the way I want. I am not as crude as Balu though he is a lovely guy. Still, I am a little bit like him, I suppose.

But playing the role of a Tamil brahmin must have been difficult.

But then I was a rebel and born and brought up in Bombay. So I didn't have to act like one. As my father and me don't get along, I didn't have to go according to the religion or traditions. I was a typical Bombay tapori. Maybe, here and there, I spoke a bit of Tamil, but on the whole I could get away with not speaking the language.

How did the acting bug catch you? Childhood dream or something.

Nothing of the sort. In fact, I never thought that I would be acting some day. No inclination either. I was a choreographer in ad films. I was basically into dancing. It was a chance that I got.


The director of the film, Joy Augustine, knew me and asked whether I would like to do the film. And I said, why not? I thought that people from all over India are dying to get into films and here I am, getting the opportunity to make something out of my life. So I accepted. Also, Mrs Bachchan saw my photographs and liked me. I have her to thank for too. So I didn't struggle or anything, though the struggle starts now.


Yeah, you know like keeping bad banners behind and accept good ones.

So you plan to continue with your new career?

Yeah, only if choreography would pay as much, I would like to continue with acting.

Money is the main attraction?

Definitely. Everybody works for money and so do I. I won't work for anybody for free. But it also doesn't mean that I would probably end up doing anything for money. Job satisfaction is very important.

See, it's all hand-in-glove. You get a good role, so you work better. When you work better, you get paid better. I guess it's the same with me. I never knew that I could act. Seeing myself on screen, I realised that I could. So, now I have to put a lot of interest in my work. By next year I want to do more work and keep my producers and distributors happy by finishing off faster. That's one of the reasons I am not accepting new projects.

See, my way of thinking is slightly different. Good banners does not pay their stars, it's the weak banners which do, but I am still working with good ones. Because I have to plan my career accordingly, so that I am paid that way. So the fact is that money is important.

So how do you manage when the good banners don't pay you?

That's what I said. Money is important, but work is too. So I can get good roles with the good and major banners. See, it's also how you arrange your life. Foundation should be strong. When it is, you start moving ahead. That's precisely what I am doing right now. Have a strong base, money will follow. So far, I think I am going right, though I am making a lot of people unhappy. But that's okay.

You spoke about money and good banners. What about talent? Don't you think one should have that to survive in the industry?

Would you be talking to me if I had no talent to make it here? Let's be honest. I never realised that I could act. It was Joy Augustine and Mrs Bachchan who thought I could. The only thing I knew was that I could dance. But after being given the opportunity and seeing myself, I realised that maybe I am not a great actor, but I am not the worst either. God has to be a little happy with you to be somebody and I guess he was with me.

Were you screen-tested for this role?

So how did Mrs Bachchan think you could act?
Would you believe by seeing my photographs? A friend of mine, Amit, clicked my photographs. They weren't the run-of-the-mill variety, the ones that calls for posing. They were much more natural with a lot of expressions. And I came to know later that I gave him 36 different expressions in one roll. I had 16 photographs in a huge black sheet and that was my screen test. It impressed Mrs Bachchan and that's how I got the role.

Were you given the choice of choosing a role?

Yes, but with due credit to Joy, he described Rocky (Chandrachur Singh) to me and I decided that Balu is best suited to me. So the casting was half the battle won.

Did you think that you would be popular after this one film?

No, I didn't think that I would be recognised with this film. As I said that I had no clue that I could act and I knew that Rocky was a good actor. He was working in Maachis at that time. So I thought that with Rocky there, nobody will look at me. Also, I am not that good-looking either. And comedy is supposed to be difficult -- which was what I was doing. I didn't expect much out of this film. But I was hoping that what Joy and Mrs Bachchan noticed in me, other producers should also notice so I get another chance to prove myself. It was a long time coming.

I signed my second film weeks before Tere Mere Sapne was released. You can imagine the insecurity level I went through. My friends liked me in the film, but it was the reaction of the audience I was waiting for. They are the ones who pay money and decide whether you are good or bad.

So how did you know that the people had liked you?

I went to the theatres and saw for myself. They actually liked me. I went to Thane, Bhandup (suburbs in Bombay) and many other such places.

Were you recognised and mobbed?

Yes, I was. ABCL had arranged for us to go to Thane. I sat in the audience and, in the middle of the film, got up and went up on the stage and spoke to the people. And you know what? They were chanting "Balu, Balu" all the while I was up there. That was great.

It felt nice that I was being recognised as the character of the film, because that proved that I had done a good job. Like Aamir. He is always recognised by his characters, Raju Jetley, Raja and likewise. And he is a great actor. You know the premiere was in Ahmedabad and people there didn't know me. They didn't know who Arshad Warsi was. But after the interval they only knew me.

Why weren't you given sufficient publicity before the release of the film?

I don't know. ABCL would have a better answer to that. I did speak to them about the publicity and they told me that the PRO Gopal Pandey would finish off Rocky's publicity and then they would start with mine. But that didn't happen 'cause the film was ready for the release. I did feel that as we both (Rocky and me) were in the film, we should have got equal amount of publicity. It doesn't matter now, because finally my work was appreciated.

Were they more biased towards Rocky?

Now you are putting me into trouble. But I will be honest with you. Most of the time it felt like that. Maachis was releasing and also Tere Mere Sapne. So it was easier for Gopal Pandey to give Rocky more publicity because he was in charge of both the films. I don't know what went wrong, but one thing I knew and that was it was not a nice thing to happen.

So ABCL had nothing to do with it?

Nope, I don't think so. I am sure that Mrs Bachchan was not even aware of what was happening.

Did that affect your working with your costars?

No, why should it? Rocky is a wonderful guy. He is a good friend on and off screen. I enjoyed working with him. We should be doing many more films together. Prakash Mehra was telling me the other day that we remind him of the Amitabh and Vinod Khanna team. That was a nice compliment from such a reputed film maker. Rocky likes me hell of a lot.

There's a lot of insecurity in the industry with films or stars not doing well. How do you cope with it?

Fortunately, I am not a very insecure person. When you have a strong foundation you don't worry. When you sign up the riffraff, what do you expect? You are knocked out in weeks.

Newcomers go on a signing spree and sign anything and everything. They get dazzled by the money. It's sad. I hope never to be like that. I am trying to do good work and hope to remain in this position for few years to come. See, there's no surety that the film will be a hit. So you bank on your work and talent. My film may or may not be a hit. I only know that I am in that film. I will do my best and leave the rest to the others. I should not fail myself as a person.

Do you dream about being a superstar?

Not at all. I don't even think about all these things. Somebody the other day called me and said that they had done some sort of survey and apparently my name was third in the list after Aamir and Sunny. I was surprised. It's not the number that got me happy, but being recognised as an actor that did.

Look at Amitabh. He is nowhere on the scene right now, but he is still one of the best. These numbers don't make a difference.

Like Aamir, do you plan to do only two films a year?

My secretary told me that ideally I can do about six to seven films a year What I planned is to do a film, reach halfway through it, and start on the other. But, it so happened that I am not the only one in the film, there are others too and their dates have to match mine. They are much more busy than I am. Still, I think I will stick to my plans at the moment and see what happens. But in a year there will probably be four releases at the most. I think it's fair enough. Not too bad.

How do you find time for yourself in all this?

Yes, the industry's not really all that organised. It is a little problematic. But I would like to make myself so big that I can work at my own convenience. Today, I have to depend on others; tomorrow, hopefully, people will have to depend on me.