Meet the most intelligent conversationalist in Bollywood
Published : Sunday, 14 January, 2018 at 11:12 AM Count : 127
Emraan Hashmi is on the pink of change. The actor is done with his erotic films image. What will happen next, he cannot say now, but something will happen, he believes. “I know this reinvention phase will take time and hopefully with the films I do in the future, it will happen.”
Yet he continues to struggle with being perceived as a street-smart, smooch-happy casanova with low to no intelligence. An image very far from the real person and actor. “It’s an unbearable burden trying to be perceived as an intellectual. I consider myself a person who’s ignorant about a few things but still seeks knowledge about a whole lot of other things. What I’m trying to say is that there isn’t any final goalpost to the things we learn and the knowledge we attain. As Albert Einstein said, ‘The more I learn, the more I realise how much l don’t know’.”
His relationship with books has been rocky. “Growing up, I was not much of a book guy. I never read as much as I should have. I feel that has held me back on many levels,” he says. “Now, I read as much as I can. Currently, I’m reading two books, Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind and The Lost City of Z. When we had the incident with Ayaan, I discovered the joys of reading information that helps us as individuals, such as health and fitness. I have even become more healthy in my eating choices because of this.”
When he was younger, he found himself at odds with words, struggling to express his thoughts. “I would have all these ideas, story ideas but didn’t know what to do with them. I think that is something I have worked on consciously all these years,” he admits.
Evidence of his preference for the printed word is the fact that, unlike many in his profession, he does not like oral script narrations. “I prefer a bound script. That’s because, 15 minutes into the narration, I would tune out, and then I would not know the story. So now I ask for the script. When I have it in front of me and I am reading it, it allows me to visualise the story and the characters clearly,” he says.
One of the things Emraan likes to do in his free time is watch documentaries. “I recently saw one which talks about how the number one reason for pollution and greenhouse gases in the world is cow farts. I also like to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, as well as follow current affairs, news, updates on environment, technology, politics, film information and articles about cinema, but not gossip, food and travel,” he says.
And he loves a good, stimulating conversation. Apparently, he is known as one of the few who can hold a conversation with his ultra-intelligent uncle, Mahesh Bhatt, something he good-naturedly denies. “Who told you that? Listen, when talking to Bhatt sahab, it is more of a monologue than a dialogue. He loves to talk!” he laughs.
Intelligence, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. It is the ability to think logically. Our true intelligence is tested when we’re faced with a crisis and we put our emotional intelligence on the front lines. Emraan did this twice, the first time by brilliantly getting his son Ayaan to cope with chemotherapy by convincing him that he is indeed a superhero, and again when he wrote his book, The Kiss of Life, about the ordeal.
“It was painful to relive it all over again but I had to do it before we forgot everything. I found myself digging deeper into myself to tap into the feelings of what happened. But it was a great learning process and I didn’t know that I could do that. I have changed as a person. I am much, much more aware now than ever before. I want to know things. I have a natural curiosity and questioning attitude. I cannot accept things how they are or how they are told to me. I have to question, understand and only after I have the answers will I be convinced,” he says.
The one thing he will not question is the choices Ayaan will make as he grows up. “We are not going to impose our wants on our son. I want him to make his own choices. I will be there to guide him but he can do and be whatever he wants in life.”
The new phase in his acting career is evident in the films he’s done in the recent past. Take the 2015 film Tigers, directed by Oscar-winning Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic, in which Emraan essayed the lead role of real-life Pakistani former Nestlé baby milk salesman Syed Aamir Raza, for which The Hollywood Reporter gave his performance a thumbs-up. Or the 2016 biopic Azhar, directed by Tony D’Souza, which saw him in the title role inspired by former national cricket team captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Both roles are a far cry from the roving-eyed romeo we have known him as on screen. Even his sensitive portrayals in films like Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and The Dirty Picture won him laurels from audience and critics alike.
He has always tackled his performances with a studied approach, he says, something he learned the hard way from his first day in front of the camera. “I got into acting thinking it is so easy, I can do it. Then, on the first day of my first shoot and first shot ever, I bombed so badly. When walking back to my green room from the set that day I thought, what have I got myself into? I had tried other things, but they didn’t stick. So if this didn’t work, I thought, what the hell was I going to do? Then I knew I had to either do something to make it happen the next day or fail. I stayed up all night, rehearsing and saying my lines, at least 100 times. I didn’t give up till right before the shot the next day, and then I did it. That is how I got into the habit of preparing. It was a tough lesson learnt well,” he recalls.
For a Westernised youngster more hopped up on Hollywood films than Bollywood, he conquered a good share of the Indian film market. Surely that takes a certain amount of intellect. Emraan prefers to stay real. “I research and study for a character, even if it comes across as though I don’t do any preparation. I cannot just go on set and say my lines without preparing, like, say, Sanjay Dutt does. He can come on a set, hear the situation of the scene on the spot, hear his lines a few times and then deliver the scene and that’s terrific. I cannot. I have to prepare. I have to research. I read, watch clips, meet people if I have to,” he reveals.
As we wind up, Emraan quips in his trademark self-deprecating dry, humorous tone, “I know I’m a famous person, but how much can I keep talking about myself? Yes, in interviews like this, you have to, but I cannot do it otherwise. I am not so full of myself.”