I am an actor, I will become a star
The much-in-demand Neil Nitin Mukesh gets candid in this exclusive interview
He enthralled the audience with a spectacular performance in his debut movie 'Johnny Gaddar'. And then took one and half years to come up with a second release, "Aa Dekhen Zara", in April. However, the wait for his third has been shorter, with "New York", releasing on June 26, 2009.
We caught up with the actor over his lunch, which consisted mainly of steamed fish and vegetables – courtesy good friend John Abraham.
Neil reveals what made him shift to such a diet while he also talks about his films and aspirations:
You have been branded as an actor following your first movie "Johnny Gaddaar" while some others are on a run to be a star.
I feel cool about it because I think it could start a trend. Jokes apart, being an actor is the basic thing. Actors have a better chance of making it to stardom. But mere stardom might not last.
How do you choose a role?
The first thing that I look for is the director and then my character. If it was not for a director like Sriram Raghavan I might have never been able to do a role like 'Johnny Gaddaar' the way I did it. The length of the role does not really matter, but the strength of the character does. Otherwise I would not have been doing 'Tera Kya Hoga Johnny'.
You have loads of movies in your kitty. Seems many people want to work with you and trust you as an actor. Does that pressurise you?
It is a great responsibility. But the trust level is greater in me for them because all of them are great directors and I'm hoping that they help me grow as a good actor. All the directors put immense trust in me because they sign me on as an actor and not as a star because as of now I am an actor. I will become a star!
So you want to become a star?
If given a choice I will always be an actor. You can have actor stars! (Laughs)
How has life changed since 'Johnny Gaddaar'?
It hasn't changed life as such. Neil has changed only in the sense that he has become more humble, more down to earth, more responsible and a more caring person. The only other factor is time. I would like to spend a lot of time with my family and friends. But again, I am a little troublesome. Because when I have no work I am just not normal. I get restless, agitated and irritated! Work is an addiction for me. If I am sitting idle then I start thinking of all possible illnesses.
You seem to have close ties with Yash Raj Films with whom you have done 'New York'
Yash Raj Films is the school where I have probably learnt everything. For me, doing their film is like homecoming because I started my career with them. My first day on a film set was with them. When I had decided to become an assistant director it was Adi Bhaiyya (Aditya Chopra) who gave me the opportunity. Now that I had the opportunity to work with them again, I hope I haven't let them down.
Is it true that director Kunal Kohli was very strict with you when you were assisting him on YRF's "Mujhse Dosti Karoge"?
It was my learning ground. My father has always told me that the day a man starts patting your back and praising you then he is not probably trying to teach you or help you. If you want to learn then let somebody point out your mistakes. Don't be defensive. Kunal in that sense was a man from whom I learnt a lot. He had to be harsh on me as probably at that point I was a bit restless and immature. I think he did a brilliant job of guiding me.
What's "New York" all about?
It's an intense thriller drama. It's tough to talk about it as even saying a word about it would be like giving away the story.
Tell us about the character you play.
I play a very important character. (Laughs)
Are you paired opposite Katrina Kaif?
I cannot really talk about it.
It's about New York and you shot it in Philadelphia?
Cheap shots! (Laughs)
You worked with Bipasha in "Aa Dekhen Zara" and John Abraham in "New York". How was it and what's your relationship like with both of them?
John is like my elder brother. You can actually call him my elder brother. And Bipasha is one of my dearest friends in the industry. Working with them is like working with family.
Did John share fitness tips?
Oh yeah. The diet I follow now is because he put me on it. This happened in New York. I had put on a bit of weight for the first half and I had to lose it for the other half. I was a bit lazy, but it was John who made me go the gym. And since then I have not missed the gym and my steamed fish, steamed vegetables and salad (points at the food in front of him). I feel healthier and stronger now.
How was it working with Katrina?
She is a darling to work with. Extremely impressive as an actress! You can't believe how good she is in the film.
Shah Rukh keeps joking about all heroines being taller than him. You seem to be working with girls taller than you too. Do you get conscious?
Bipasha and I are almost equal, but Katrina is much taller. We in general like to see women all small, nice and petite. But both Bipasha and Katrina are blessed with long legs. For us 5 feet and 6 inches is tall for a woman and when you have a girl who is 5 feet and 9 inches and she also wears some heels, she is bound to look taller! But it's fine. Haven't you seen Al Pacino and Tom Cruise?
You are also working with Madhur Bhandarkar in "Jail", who seems to be going one notch up with every film
He will go a lot higher because he keeps reinventing himself and pushing himself harder. The beauty is he chooses subjects that nobody will even think of. And he treats them in a realistic way.
Is 'Jail' in any way related to the novel "Shantaram" which is also about a guy in jail? Or the American prison drama "The Shawshank Redemption"?
I have not read the book. Now that you have told me I will read it. But the film is not based on any of that. Since the space is of jail people will say it is 'Shawshank Redemption', 'Prison Break' or something else. But it is not so. 'Jail' is not the story of a man who spends his entire life in jail. Probably it is the circumstances under which he is put behind bars and what all happens thereafter. And obviously you will see Madhur Bhandarkar portraying what the Indian jail scenario is.
Is "Jail" bigger in scale than "Fashion"?
"Fashion" required glamour. "Jail" requires one costume for me! I don't think the budget is something that Madhur sits with. It's the requirement of the film that he concentrates on.
Are you really going bald for it?
It's a rumour. I am not going bald. It depends on what Madhur really wants.
What sort of research have you done for the role apart from watching all the movies with prisoners?
Madhur gave me a lot of newspaper cuttings to read. I have been constantly meeting people and talking to them for their feedback. I also visited some jails. All these things add nuances to my understanding of a jail scenario. But it is Madhur who has done all the research.
"Tera Kya Hoga Johnny" is supposed to release soon too. Tell us something about that.
In 'Tera Kya Hoga Johnny' I play a very interesting character. It's very much like a Sudhir Mishra film his usual style of filmmaking. I play a boy with a lot of problems and one who is trying very hard to settle down. There are a lot of characters in it.
You were to work with Sudhir againwhat happened to that project?
I have not signed his next film. Sudhir and I have talked about it only casually.
It's been said Neil has become arrogant and that you have also been turning down films, partly because of the money factor
People who don't suck up to others are generally quoted as arrogant. I am here to do my work. I am definitely not arrogant, choosy or picky. But I am careful.
Money is something that I have never seen as a part of achievement. I have mentioned this before and I will say it again that for me the biggest high is to earn a name for myself. Many people can make money but how many of those can actually make a name?
My whole agenda is to make a name and go on with my legacy. People who have known Nitin Mukesh and knew Mukesh will definitely know that Neil Mukesh is as down to earth as his father and his grandfather. I refuse films if I feel I won't be able to do justice to the character. But people get upset and some spread rumours like I charge too much or that I have become arrogant.
I am actually doing films for peanuts as I take scripts which I love.