Darsheel Safary is our guest for this week's #BigInterview. The boy who set the big screen ablaze with his marvellous performance in 'Taare Zameen Par' ('TZP') in 2007 had disappeared, barring a few glimpses at few events here or there. We spoke to him and asked a host of questions.
Now a young man of 25 who has, by his own admission, undergone quite a bit in life, Darsheel did not bat an eyelid while fielding our curiosity. It was nearing midnight when we started talking. The conversation was long and we decided to have a second round, too.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
You turned 25 last month. Belated 'Happy Returns'...
(Looks upward) I have been fortunate to work with Priyadarshan sir ('Bumm Bumm Bole in 2010), Walt Disney ('Zokkomon' in 2011) and Deepa Mehta ma'am (Midnight's Children in 2012). I enjoyed my freedom in college. I was introduced to theatre, which is an experience that cannot be substituted. But, I had imagined myself in a certain way when I would be 25 and the reality has been different. Anant Mahadevan gave me some very good advice.
He told me that I must have a learning attitude and even if I'd done a 1000 shows, I should always feel that it is for the first time. And then came the pandemic. I don't know why, but time moved fast.
I thought that I would be established as an actor at 25. I'd thought that life would be easier. I thought I would be sorted spiritually. And of course, I never thought that we would be engulfed by a pandemic (smiles). Last year was challenging for me. And, note, I am sugar-coating this.
Tell us about the challenges...
I was travelling across the country for not one but two plays. Suddenly, everything came to a grinding halt. Imagine! I was in talks with many filmmakers on a lot of exciting projects. All that went for a toss. I had a crisis of sorts. Questions arose in my mind - Kya duniya same rahegi (Will the world be the same)? Kya main same rahunga (Will I be the same)? Who is Darsheel? Why does he go up on stage? Why is he an actor? Many aadhe-tedhe (twisted) doubts and questions started playing in my mind.
My parents and friends would cajole me to have patience. I would revert saying that they cannot feel what I am undergoing because they are not in my shoes. The momentum had stopped, which is worst for an actor; band baj jaati hai (the person gets jacked). I wondered how I will get this time back.
I understand you tasted immense success right in your first film 'Taare Zameen Par' and that's perhaps the reason why you felt like that...
We all think that we have to go forward and take the next step upward, don't we?
Are you reaching out to filmmakers or casting directors?
Do you know there are certain people who have come up to me and said that they were under the impression that I have quit acting? Eventually I decided 'ye sab gaya tel lene (let’s not be bothered)' and I ought to be myself. The pandemic was weakening and I started going out to meet my friends. We all think too much. Abhi sochna chhod dena chahiye (We should stop thinking so much).
When 'TZP' set the box-office stage on fire, did people at school feel that 'aap bahut bhav khaane lage ho' (you have become arrogant and haughty)...
If you do a film, you have the eyes of everyone transfixed at you. They make their judgments and you have to bear the consequences. I faced bullying in school by my seniors. Even my watchman in my building has a certain fixed notion about actors. Worse, you are not even aware that the world is looking at you with different eyes. Even your family starts looking at you differently at least to some extent.
Let me take you back to the first day I went to school after ‘TZP’ released. I was surrounded. My tie was pulled. I had to take a half-day to save myself. Today, however, I understand that an actor has to be prepared for such things.
Are you in touch with Aamir Khan?
My father is in touch with Aamir uncle. He has guided me on most of the projects I've done after 'TZP' and given me his agreements.
Would you like to work in camps? Do you miss having someone in the industry who has your back?
Honestly, I didn't know earlier what are camps. I thought camps means a group of people who like to work with each other. And, I haven't given much thought to the camps. Anyway, look at the camps. If I start belonging to any camp, that would mean that I am taking the shorter route. My life has traversed me on a longer route. Everybody has his or her own journey, isn't it?
Are you saying that you don't miss working with Janhvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, et al?
No, I am not saying that. In fact, I want to work with them. Who wouldn't? Janhvi and Sara are established names in the industry. I believe everyone gets his or her chance. Maybe in a couple of years, I will get mine, too.
Do you think star kids have an edge? Do you envy them?
I think a lot of their life has been sensationalised with the talk that their journeys are easier. But if their parents make their life easier, what's wrong? Influence is used everywhere- be it in schools, colleges or any other place. Tomorrow if I have a kid and I can make his or her life easier, I would do it.
At the end of the day, a maker will cast whosoever he wants to cast. If one keeps grinding, things will work out. I can't keep thinking that I am going to be discriminated against. And the truth is that so far I haven't faced any kind of discrimination. On the contrary, I feel lucky not to be carrying any bag-and-baggage on me.
So you're saying that if you were a star's son, you would have invariably been compared to your father and then people would have said that you aren't as good as him...
Absolutely. You got it right. That's exactly my perspective on your previous question. Look around, isn't that what's happening rampantly? (pauses).
And, not having bag-and-baggage gives you the liberty and scope to retain your own original style. At times, you can even take a step back and introspect who you are. That's very good for an actor.
Which actor's journey has inspired you the most?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui's journey. My mother is still shocked that he was in 'Munnabhai MBBS' (Nawazuddin showed up in a scene wherein Munna played by Sanjay Dutt pretends to be a doctor in front of his parents but is called out by Nawaz's character)- and look at him now! Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao too. And of course, how can I forget Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan? If I feel lost, I go to the Internet and see their interviews. It motivates me.
Why don't you put out bare-bodied pictures on Instagram? A lot of male aspirants do. In fact, many actors tell us that they want to increase their followers as many producers and directors have started casting as per an actor's strength and pull on social media?
Maybe that's happening, but I wouldn't like to put out such pictures. I had a great body two years ago, though.
Why wouldn't you like to put out such pictures?
I feel shy.
Then, how would you do intimate scenes which have become as common as salt and pepper?
Ask me about it! Now, that's another thing.
Does that imply you have refused such offers?
I haven't refused but they didn't work out. My answer to this question of yours would be: I shall think about it only when the project in question is good.
Please clarify this. Back in 2007 after 'TZP', buzz was that your father had asked Rs 2 crore as your acting fee for director Ajay Monga’s film...
I had met Mr Monga and it didn't work out. That's all I remember. I don't know how that buzz originated. Honestly, I don't know what had actually transpired. Lekin agar maanga hota, toh aaj tak toh mujhe pata chal gaya hota (I would have known by today at least if there was any truth to it). The beauty is that Mr Monga and I met a few years ago at an event.
We were very good with each other. We spoke quite happily with each other.
What's your relationship status?
I am not very comfortable with this question. If I say 'yes', I might be asked to reveal her name. Let's say 'It's complicated'. It's a cool way to be neutral (laughs)..
Didn't you get many offers after 'TZP' and you refused many of them?
Yes, I did. There was so much happening in terms of demand that we got overwhelmed. Everyone who approached us was in a tearing hurry. To tell you the truth, we were so overwhelmed that it became difficult for us to take stock of the situation. We decided to rather go slow and concentrate on good content.
So yeah, that's been me since 2007. But now slowly, work is coming my way. I have shot for a web show. I have completed a Gujarati film with Ratna Pathak ma'am and Manasi Parekh. I have shot for a few ads and even an anthology film. I am shooting another film in May. I have shot for a film 'Mukt' wherein my character demanded a lot of vent to frustration. Maine bhadaas nikal di (I got to vent my frustration). By God's grace, I am back to being happy.