What was growing up as an industry child like? Who were your uncles and aunts in Bollywood?
I had a regular childhood. I remember going on holidays with Anil Kapoor and Sunita aunty and interacting with Govinda. My friends were Rhea (Kapoor), Harsh, Sonam, and Arpita (Khan). For me, they were all regular people; I couldn’t see them as stars. I rarely went on sets, I found shoots boring.
When did you discover the urge to act?
The urge was always there but it was after I watched American Psycho that I seriously considered acting. I was studying at Nottingham to become an investment banker but when I watched that film I was blown away. I wondered how I would have played such a character. In fact, that’s why I am so obsessed with Badlapur. I am not myself in this film – I shaved my head a bit and had to go through a three-hour make-up routine to get the right look, and did a lot of research. The film is based on a true story and is very intense.
Does playing such intense characters affect you mentally?
It does! This was one character I was happiest to leave. Living it day-in-and-day-out did take a toll. It’s a dark role and I was insisting that the director make it
Your cinematic sensibilities seem diametrically opposite to that of your dad (David Dhawan).
(Laughs) That’s true. My producer would sometimes ask me if I was actually David Dhawan’s son! I feel as an actor, it’s my duty to represent the youth so I try to portray characters they identify with. And today’s youngsters are quite messed up because of the exposure and the stimulii around them though even though they are quite smart.
What was your upbringing like? How much freedom were you given as a kid?
I was given quite a bit of freedom. But if I had to be out late, I was required to take Rohit’s (his elder brother) permission.
What was your curfew hour?
I had to return by 1.30am. Even girls didn’t have those rules! But my dad was quite strict. In fact my mom was more easy-going than my father.
Did you break the rules at times?
Of course I did! I would use my friends as an excuse. I would say Ankit’s (pointing to his childhood friend who had accompanied him to Dubai) tyre broke down or something like that.
You are remarkably down-to-earth for an actor. Who grounds you?
My parents, brother, friends and my manager.
How difficult is it to stay grounded in Bollywood?
I feel I am a very accessible actor. When I go to a mall or any public place people are not scared of me. They come to me, kids jump all over me. People think I am their friend which is a good thing.
Stars enjoy attention initially but tend to run away from it later, don’t they?
That’s true. When Student of the Year released, I loved the attention. It’s not that I don’t want it now but sometimes I want to be left alone to just observe people. However I understand where they come from. If I had to play a fan I would do it very well!
Have you ever chased a star?
Yes, Samuel L Jackson. I spotted him on a street abroad and I was pretty sure it was him. I mustered up courage to ask him, ‘Are you Samuel L Jackson’? He simply said, ‘No’ and walked on (laughs).
In terms of your personal life, how do you manage to keep it so secretive?
Simple, I don’t talk about it. I think the press likes me, if they want to bajao me, they can! But thankfully, they don’t! In fact, they know a lot more about me than what they write.
Doesn’t it help to have a controversial image in the media and remain in the headlines?
Honestly, I feel only a good actor survives. You may have good body and the looks but if you are a bad actor you can’t last. Controversies need not always be bad, at times it helps a film too. But right now I don’t do any PR. I genuinely feel the media is fond of me.