Welcome to Maxim! It’s your first shoot with us.
It feels great! Honestly, I’ve always followed your covers and I used to think, ‘One day I’m going to be fit enough to be on the cover of Maxim,’ and here we are! I’m quite excited.
You’re more than just fit! What keeps you feeling confident 24x7?
I guess it would have to be my perseverance and will power, and a positive attitude. I feel that if you work hard, everything will fall in place. That’s what makes me feel the most confident.
How was the experience of coming back to Hindi films and working on Aiyaary?
I don’t look at it as coming back because that’s when you’ve taken a sabbatical from work, but I’ve been shooting every day of my life. It’s been great. I’m glad that it’s this team, our wavelengths match and they’re all such amazing people. I feel Neeraj sir (director, Neeraj Pandey) is an institution in himself—such a well-read man with so much experience and knowledge. Forget about the film. As a person you learn so much from him and you improve on so many different aspects in life. And also the kind of actors this film has—if you look at the poster, you’ll see all National Award winners.
You’re the next in line?
(laughs) I wish. It’s been a great and wonderful journey working on this film.
What was working with Sidharth Malhotra like?
He’s a Delhi boy and I’m from Delhi too, needless to say we got along really well while shooting. After a few days we both realised we’re also from the same part of the city, from Defence Colony, and we lived a lane apart from each other! He’s very grounded, hard-working and non-filmy.
He’s a stellar guy. Is working in Hindi films a permanent crossover you’d like to make?
My thinking isn’t going to change what’s going to happen. I just want to work in good films. For me the larger picture lies in doing great work whether it’s Telugu, Tamil or Hindi, so that 10 years down the line when I look back, I’ll have some great films in my kitty. That’s my idea of doing films. I just want to be in front of the camera.
From what you’re saying, it seems a good script is what motivates you?
Yes, the script is most important. I always feel an actor’s job is the only job where you get to be different people every day. Now if you’re doing the same thing over and over, there’s no excitement in life. I take it one day at a time and I don’t think too much.
Does that mean you’re not really into making five-year plans?
I’m a little spiritual that way. I feel that people keep planning and they forget about what’s in hand. They miss out on the energy that they need to streamline the present, and I tend to look at that. I feel if that is in my control, the plan will eventually shape up on its own. It wasn’t an intentional decision to start doing cinema in the South. I always had one goal: whatever I do, I’m going to do it well. I wasn’t going to be a struggler in life and I’ve had that clarity since the fifth grade. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew what I didn’t want.
You didn’t intend on working in films initially. How did it all start, then?
I’m an army kid and I didn’t grow up on a dose of films. I was all of 18 when I shot my first portfolio. And within a week of getting my pictures clicked, I got a call for a Kannada film. At that point my idea of South films was that they were sleazy. Because that’s all I knew about South films back then. And I told my dad, I’m only going to do Hindi films, as if I had some godfather sitting there (laughs). A few days later the same team called up my dad, and they said they’d seen my date of birth, that I was going to be a big star, and that they wanted to work with me. So I did that film, well, primarily because my pocket money back then was `2,000 per month. I was going to make lakhs in 30 days and I wanted to buy a car for myself! That was my priority at the time. And that it would be a good experience. So I landed up on the first day of the shoot, and I had to speak in Kannada, which I obviously didn’t know. But I was good at cramming up and that’s what I did. And within 15 to 20 days I realised I really enjoyed being in front of the camera. I found another side to myself. I thought I’d finish college and then get back to acting. And finishing college was important because I always wanted to have a back up in case I didn’t make it in films. I moved to Mumbai after college and Yaariyan happened, my first Hindi film. And then two days after that I started shooting my first film in Telugu which went on to become a great hit.
Wow, everything really fell into place on its own?
I think it was destined but, I’m also really lucky that I didn’t get it overnight because I would have never valued it. By the time I did my first proper film in Telugu, I had some two-three small films here and there, and I gave it all that I had. Yaariyan released and it did well, but I was already well-established in the South by then. I always believe it’s better to be a star in one place than a struggler in the other.
How do you think you’ve changed since you first started working in films?
I doubt I’ve changed. Of course, you grow with the kind of experiences you have and the people you meet. I have definitely evolved, because I came from a very protected environment, the cantonments, where you don’t know what the outside world is. But I’ve been very lucky to have met the right kind of people whether in the South or in Mumbai. I somehow got into spirituality so that’s helped me evolve as well. I think I read Osho too young. My decision making today is very different from what it would have been five years ago.
And that includes diving into the fitness business as well? Given that you’re the owner of three Functional 45 gyms, you’ve got to be a gym rat yourself.
Yes, I am. Starting the gym franchises was completely my idea and I’d like to take credit for it. I always knew I was going to venture into some kind of business on the side, because let’s face the fact, if you’re lucky, you’ll work for seven to eight years till you’re 30, till people don’t say you’re looking old. So you can’t really live in a balloon or a dream bubble. I used to work out at F-45, which was the first branch in India of an Australian brand. It’s a very solid bootcamp training arena. I was addicted. And when they asked me if I knew anyone who would want to start a franchise, I asked for their business plan and that was pretty much the start of it. It made sense because I enjoy healthy living. Fitness, food and films are the three F’s of my life.
Your Twitter page reads “build a life you don’t need a vacation from.”
Why I really think that makes sense is because people will say ‘oh my god, you’ve been working for so many days now, don’t you need a break?’ I’ll need a break if I don’t like my job. If I like my job, I’m looking forward to being on set every day. I feel like 99% of people aren’t even aware of what their likes and dislikes are. We’re the chosen ones who are aware, we’re getting to do what we like, and then you want to be tired of it? No. Of course, I want to take vacations, but it’s when I want to take them. Not because I’m “over worked”. I was filming for four years without a break. I finally took a break last year and went to Tomorrowland.
Whoa, you basically went from high-energy work to a high-energy vacation.
I know, and that was also exhausting. And then I realised aise holiday nahi karte. You need to keep one buffer after your holiday for recovery mode, always.
Where’s your buffer usually?
If it’s India, it’s Goa. It’s the perfect weekend getaway. I’m a total beach person.
What’s the craziest adventure experience you’ve ever had?
I don’t know what went on in my head when I decided to go bungee jumping at the world’s second highest spot in Colorado. I was strong enough initially and I told myself it’s all in the mind, and then when it was finally time to jump, I was screaming. I really thought I was going to die. I wanted it to stop. There was definitely a panic attack. They had to push me over. Yeah, I pretty much decided I’m never putting myself through something like this ever again.
So no more rushes of adrenalin for you?
Not through bungee jumping for sure. Maybe I could go skydiving? But then the butterflies I feel in my stomach make me think ‘why do I want to torture myself’?
Good point. Let’s change the subject. What’s the best way for a guy to get your attention?
Just be as real as possible. The moment you try too hard, I can tell. That’s why I’m still single.
What’s the first thing you notice about a man?
His height. I think that’s my first criterion.
You’re pretty tall, so I’m guessing guys of a regular height don’t have a chance...
Nope. The first thing that will get me to even have a conversation with a guy will be his height. I’ll tell you why. Let’s say I want to take a relationship somewhere. Now I’m 5’9 and I wear 3 in heels, I need the guy to be at least 6 feet tall. Half the people don’t qualify.
Is it easy to date when you’re in the public eye all the time?
That I can answer only once I’m dating somebody.
You’ve not even been on a date? That’s hard to believe.
Like I said, people don’t even qualify for the first basic requirement. Everyone wants someone nice, with a sense of humour, etc. Whoever has to lie, will lie. Might as well have the height, na? You’ll eventually explore all that other stuff.
It’s cool that you’re so pragmatic about this.
Yeah, absolutely. But unfortunately, that’s why I’m stuck as well.
How about sportsmen?
I guess you should make me meet some. My friends have been claiming to help out but they haven’t done anything yet.
Done! For research purposes, your ideal date night would be?
Some great food—just not fast food, I never really developed a taste for it. Good conversation. Laughing out loud. Just being ourselves.
And the one thing a man should never do on a date?
Never boast about yourself.
What can Maxim readers do to make the women in their lives smile? In other words, #MakeHerSmile?
It begins with a certain sense of respect and not considering women lower than men, or thinking of us as the lesser sex. Give them the freedom of choice. If every man as a husband, a father or a brother can give a woman that respect and freedom to make her own decision, it’ll automatically bring a smile on her face. It’ll just make the world a better place.
PHOTOGRAPHS: TARAS TARAPORVALA
STYLING: KRISHNA MUKHI
ASSISTED BY: SAKSHI AGARWAL
MAKE-UP AND HAIR: VENUS PEREIRA