Urban Asian brings you an exclusive interview from Bollywood actor Imran Khan, who stars in the upcoming film ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ alongside Katrina Kaif and music sensation Ali Zafar. He gives us the low down on his great chemistry with his co-stars, his love for food, fear of scooters and much much more!
When you heard about the script for the first time, what was your reaction?
Imran: I think I was shooting for an ad or something and Adi called me and he said I have this script that I think you would like and very interested in. It’s a new director – a guy called Ali Abbas Zafar. I think this boy has a lot of promise and potential. He has written a great script and I would like you to meet him.
So I was like, sure I would love to. I met Ali like a day or two later, he came to my house and we sat down and he said, well Imran I have written this script and it’s called ’Mere Brother ki Dulhan’…and right there I was like…eeeww. Anyway he went on and he told me a basic outline. I don’t like to do narrations because I always tend to fall asleep. I like to read a script because that’s how I understand them. So he gave me a two/three-minute outline of the film. This is the story, and this is the shaadi, and they are in this house and this that. I was listening and I was like, dude, ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ and this shaadi stuff, it sounds terrible’. So I said ok, thanks man, great to meet you, I’ll read the script and I’ll call you – and I sent him off (chuckles).
I met my mom and Avantika that evening and they said, so how was it? I said, dude its terrible! What a horrible idea, ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ sounds terrible, I am not doing it. They said, acha really? And I said, yeah, yeah, no chance.
I left the script with my mom that evening and she happened to read it. I still hadn’t read it. She called me the next morning and said, Imran, this script is hilarious, you have to read it. You have to do this film. So, I said, really, are you sure? And she said, yeah, yeah it’s damn funny, it’s the funniest thing I’ve read.
So I collected the script, went home, sat down and thought, chalo now, let me give this a chance. I started reading and literally 5-10 pages in I was laughing, 15-20 pages in, I was laughing even more and that sustained. It’s very rare for a film to be funny all the way through.
I called Ali that evening and I said, listen dude, I had some reservations but I love your script. I think it’s great and I am on board. And from then on it was incredible how quickly everything fell into place. I think literally a month after I read the script we were doing rehearsals, we were doing pre-production and after about 1.5-2 months after our first meeting, we were shooting.
What was the special thing about the character of Kush Agnihotri that got you excited?
Imran: I have always been somehow drawn to characters who are close to life. I don’t know for whatever reason I don’t like to play larger-than-life characters. I like to play characters that I can relate to, that I feel other people can relate to that anyone can look at and say – yeah, that’s me. I like my characters to be relatable and that’s what I found in this situation because the situation these characters are in is ridiculous – it’s crazy!
But the way that they are dealing with it and what they are actually doing, their reaction, their emotional reaction to it is very real. It’s very genuine and very authentic and that’s what I like; that you can still have a normal guy put into this crazy situation. I found that interesting. I found that it gave it grounding.
Tell us who is Kush Agnihotri..
Imran: Kush Agnihotri is a very simple, standard, average kind of a guy. He is a boy from a small town called Dehradun. Actually, Ali, our director is from Dehradun, so I think as I understood it over the course of making the film, Ali has put a lot of himself into this character – based on where the character comes from, the way he dresses; overall his outlook on life is very similar to Ali’s.
So my character Kush is from Dehradun, he’s grown up there and since then he’s moved to Bombay and is working in films. Now he’s become an AD in films which is actually just a backdrop you know. The majority of the story takes place in North India – in Dehradun, in Delhi, in Agra and it’s how this normal guy gets stuck in a situation that he doesn’t entirely know how to deal with and he finally has to resort to his wit and his intelligence.
I found it very nice that Ali wrote a character who never resorts to doing anything wrong or anything bad. Whatever situation comes up, he feels that he can deal with it in a correct way and that he can deal with it in an intelligent and witty way. That’s also actually where most of the humour comes from…the way that these characters deal with the situation; but to me that was appealing, that it’s a guy who never loses sight of what is correct and what is the right thing to do.
What was the kind of preparation that was done during pre-production – from your end and from the team?
Imran: I have always liked to work a lot with the director before I start a film because I feel the director and the writer (in this case they are the same person) have the best idea of who this character is and really the easiest thing that you can do is to just sit and talk to the director and he will tell you everything.
He has written the various drafts of the script, he has worked out everything – the look, the way the character will speak, who is who– and the director has all of this material with him, so you just have to sit there and he will give it to you. That makes an actor’s job so much easier. And in this case, since Ali has based so much of the character on himself, a lot of my preparation was just sitting and talking to Ali and seeing how he is- how does he speak, how does he dress – simple things. When I was working with the stylist, I would notice what kind of a watch Ali is wearing, what kind of shoes does he wear every day. So I would see consistently, every 3-4 days, acha does he change shoes, what kind of shoes does he wear, what kind of watch does he wear, how does he dress. So I would try to take pieces of that and put it into the character. I’d try and listen to the way that he speaks because people from North India, there’s a very fluid way that they speak Hindi and that has always been a major weakness of mine so this is something that I tried to pick up. I would listen to the way that Ali speaks and I would make a conscious effort to speak more Hindi so that I could kind pick up his flow. I think I have done an okay job with it.
This is the first time you will be seen with Katrina. There have been occasions before when you were supposed to do films together but things didn’t work out…
Imran: Katrina and I have almost worked together a couple of times in the past. At one point, I think, both of us had even come on board together for a film and unfortunately there were various problems and the film never took off. So it was always these near-misses and I had always really looked forward to working with her. I thought there was something very interesting – very exciting about her as an actor and she was someone that I wanted to work with but somehow that “correct” thing never came up.
So I was surprised by how quickly and easily this fell into place. Because as I said, I read the script and two months after I read the script, I was on the sets and I was shooting. So it was a very quick process. I found, you know, she is quite a mystery this girl (laughs) because the first time I met her, she was very, very sweet, very polite saying hi…how are you and then that was it and I think it took a couple of weeks of being around her, interacting with her, talking with her before these barriers would kind of open up.
And once I got to know her, I realized she is actually a very, very chilled out person. She is very non- actor like and very non-starry. She doesn’t have that vibe around her. She is just someone who is reserved and takes a little bit of time to open up and some time to warm up to people but once that happens, she is great.
How did it all work out…working on sets with her?
Imran: I think Katrina and I approached scenes very differently. I mean that’s fine; every actor has a style of working. As far as I know she doesn’t sleep – she will spend the entire night, sitting and working on the dialogues, memorizing it and figuring out how she is going to do it. She’ll come on sets in the morning and again she’ll be ‘tak-tak-tak’. I mean it works tremendously for her. She’s incredible on-screen. You watch her on-screen and it looks sparkly, alive, spontaneous but the fact is that she works very hard; she puts a lot of rehearsals into it.
With me, I sit and I memorize the lines but I don’t work out the way that I am going to do it. So I have the dialogues in my head but then based on what my co-actor’s doing, what my director is telling me, I figure out how I am going to play that just as we are doing it. The two of us would approach it very differently but I think it works out well.
Also in this case, she is playing a much louder character than me. She is playing a character that is very exuberant, who speaks very fast, who speaks very loudly and very often my character is very taken aback by her and he is caught off-guard. You know, she is saying something weird and I have to be caught unawares. So it worked out well, that she would do something and I could actually react to that.
Let’s talk about a particular scene where the director wanted her to slap you and it turns out that you were slapped more than the required number of takes…
Imran: There’s this scene just before interval, it’s the pre-interval scene. It’s actually a very good scene and I am very happy with the way that it has turned out. It’s a very emotionally charged scene and at the end of the scene she is supposed to give me one tight slap. It was actually a very simple shot because we’d done the rest of the scene and it was just this one insert of this slap. And for reasons that I never quite understood, we ended up doing about 16/17 takes of that. I have never done that many takes of anything in my life. I am not quite sure why it happened because I didn’t really have much to do.
I had to say a line and then get slapped and she didn’t have a line…( thinks) why did it take so many takes for that? (Smiles). Anyway, so we’ve done about 16/17 takes of this and each time Katrina’s slapping me, like full ghoom ke, it’s not even like a half-slap. Phatt! All the way across, from ear to jaw. And finally we got this thing done. I’ve partially lost hearing in this ear (pointing towards his left ear) and we pack up for the night.
It was a night shoot and the next evening we came in and I’m told that we have to shoot this part of it again because Katrina’s not happy with it. As you can imagine, I was thrilled (sarcastically). I was looking forward to more, so we went into it yet again with even more slaps!
There was a rifle in contention…
Imran: I was entirely innocent in that incident. I think that shot is actually in the trailer where Katrina has a gun and she slams me against the wall. So I am against the wall and (gesturing)… I am holding the gun like this and saying, where have you got this gun from? Now it’s quite a straightforward shot. She is holding the gun and I am holding it and she pushes me against the wall and I stop like this. So she has pushed me back and I have hit the wall, then the gun has come and stopped over here (gesturing near his neck); now any sane, logical, reasonable person would also stop like this but Imran hits the wall, the gun stops and Katrina Kaif going into the gun, face first! I thought it was hilarious but she didn’t think it was that funny (smiles).
Anyways, shooting stopped, her nose swelled up, it became roughly the size of a peach which is a small fruit but is big for a nose.
Now the other actor that co-stars in this movie happens to be Ali Zafar…
Imran: You know, after I read the script and I went in to have my first meeting with Adi and director Ali to say that I am on board, I want to do the film, a very serious thing that I’d said was listen the character of my brother Luv – Bhaisaad, is a very, very important character. It is a very good and well-written character. I was afraid that we should not end up with an actor who does not suit it, an actor who will not do the role well. Very often there’s a tendency in films ke once hero-heroine mil gaye then people don’t really care about the rest of the casting. Their friends – this one, that one, anyone gets cast. And I feel that damages the film very badly. So, I spoke to both of them that ‘listen we have to have someone very, very good for this part because it’s a very funny role and he’s got very, very funny lines and he’s my elder brother and he’s a guy who is more stylish than me, more cooler than me, more suave than me.
And Ali, director, said I am thinking of Ali Zafar, actor. Probably, I’ll clarify that we have Ali Abbas Zafar, who is our director and Ali Zafar, who is playing my brother in the film which led to a lot of confusion on the sets. Sometime you would call Ali and two guys would turn up and I fear that it’s going to lead to a lot of confusion in promoting the film as well. So, for purpose of clarity, I will say Ali – director or Ali – actor. So, Ali – director says he is thinking about Ali Zafar. Now, I had not actually seen Ali’s film, ‘Tere Bin Laden’ but I had heard great stuff. Avantika had seen the film and had said that this guy is great, he’s a damn good actor, so I was really hoping that Ali would agree to do the film. And Ali – director contacted Ali – actor…as I understand it, their first conversation was on the phone and Ali narrated the script to Ali (holds head) Ali – director narrated the script to Ali – actor over Skype because Ali – actor was abroad and Ali – director was in Bombay and for whatever reasons they couldn’t meet face-to-face.
So they sat and they’ve done a video conference on Skype and Ali- director has narrated to him and Ali’s (actor) agreed to do the film over Skype. True story (smiles). I found…firstly, Luv’s character in the film has some of the best, some of the funniest lines in the film because he’s a slightly flighty character. He’s a guy who treats every situation with this kind of dead pan humor which I love; I think it’s hilarious.
How was it performing scenes with him? For he is someone who is not a traditional actor, he is a musician first and then took to acting. So how was it working with him?
Imran: You know, Ali himself says that he is primarily not an actor that he is a singer; he is a musician and who has kind of moved into acting and now become an actor. But I don’t know, I never saw any hint of that. I never saw even the slightest indication that he was uncomfortable in any way. I found him to be very, very comfortable, very easy, very effortless actor who just kind of breezed through it (snaps his fingers). I thought that he was hilarious in the film. I think he’s done a spectacular job and he is going to get a lot of accolades and a lot of recognition for the work that he has done in the film. I never saw the slightest indication of discomfort.
Do you remember any scene where he cracked up while shooting?
Imran: Ali and I were unable to somehow work with each other without cracking up or without laughing. For the record, it was always his fault and not mine because something would happen and he would start laughing and he would point the finger at me and say, you’re making me laugh and everyone knows I’m not funny and it couldn’t have been me that was making him laugh, yet somehow he would just keep cracking up and this always happened late at night…it would always happen around 3 o’clock – 4 o’clock in the morning. we’ve been shooting, everyone’s tired and sleepy, It’s the last 2-3 hours and you have until 6 o’clock because 6.30 is when the sun begins to come up and that is when you have to stop shooting and invariably at around 3-4 o’clock Ali would start cracking up and point at me saying, ‘Imran’s making me laugh’ and then of course I would also start laughing and in fact, I am sure there must have been lots and lots of takes that we are not able to use in the film because somewhere in the middle of it one of us has started laughing, generally him because he always started laughing…not me.
Let’s talk about some of the locations where the movie was shot in…the film is based in North India was shot in many real locations…
Imran: The film is kind of spread out over a lot of north India. We’ve shot in so many locations – we started off shooting in PataudI, we’ve shot in Dehradun, in Mussoorie, in Chandigarh, in Delhi, and in Agra. This entire heartland of North India. We’ve travelled so much and shot in some of the most incredible locations. I think a major part of the fun that I’ve had while shooting was just getting to travel to these places where perhaps I would not have gotten to go before.
We’ve shot in Nabha, which is near Patiala. Everyone knows Patiala but nobody knows about Nabha. So, there’s a very, very beautiful haveli over there that we’ve actually cheated for Agra. The location is in Nabha but we’ve pretended that it’s Agra. I got to meet great people and the food…I think everyone probably knows this about me…I am a great foodie – I love food, I love to eat. Particularly travelling through North India, travelling through Punjab the food that we were getting to eat in these places was unreal. I am very fortunate that I don’t put on weight – I don’t have that problem. I ate everything that I could get my hands on. With the kinds of dals, rotis, tandoor stuff, it was just unbelievable. I think we should go back.
Often there were scenes where you had to be out there in the public places. You were on the roads riding a scooter – how was that? Let us talk about the experience of riding a scooter actually…
Imran: Riding the scooter in this film was easily one of the worst experiences of my life. Firstly, I do not know how to ride a scooter, at all. This didn’t seem to be a problem to anyone; for whatever reason, it was not felt that I needed to train or something. They were like, ‘don’t worry…you’ll be fine…you’ll learn’. So, I arrived on sets, it was explained to me that ‘this is one brake here…this is the clutch…you have to turn this…ye woh hai…’ So, I think for reasons of authenticity or what they had got one of the original scooter models, one of the first few models that were made when they invented the scooter.
As you can imagine, it’s not held up well overtime. There were no indications, no markings, you cannot tell what gear you are in – you have to actually remember what gear you are in, that’s the only way! Incidentally, you also have to remember your dialogues and your…kya kehte hai use…your acting thing. I feel a major part of the movie was based on the scooter for every second day I used to go on the sets and they would be like ‘sir aapka scooter…’ Never again. From now on I shall do films where I have Ferraris!
There is this one particular sequence where you are dressed as Prince Salim and Katrina as Anarkali and you have shot in front of the Taj Mahal with around 5000 people present…
Imran: In the middle of this entire emotional, sad song there’s this one moment where Ali has to bring his standard, signature touch which is that little flourish of humor. As a person, Ali is a very funny guy who is kind of ruled by his sense of humor and he has to put that in, here and there. So, this one little moment in this song which we have shot on the banks of the Yamuna, right in front of the Taj is where we are dressed up in this Mughal attire; I am decked as Salim, Katrina is dressed as Anarkali and we are doing this…I mean if you’ve seen the video, you know the moments that I am talking about but these are moments that are actually damn funny.
And while we are shooting in Agra, suddenly there is this, again half the population in Agra has turned up to watch the shooting. Everyone was over there and they are watching and you can hear what people are talking about. People were confused as to ki kya ho raha hai…kaisi picture ban rahi hai because they’ve heard a little bit about the film. You know where we are shooting some stuff in normal, modern-day clothes and they’ve seen photos of that in the newspaper and then suddenly here we are in this Mughal get-up so people are talking and they are confused, ki acha kya hai ye…period ka hai ki nahi flashback sequence rahega, pichle janam ka this kind of background, people are all speculating and trying to figure out what is going on. It was the funniest thing.
In this film you also have many senior actors such as Mr. Parikshit and Mr. Kanwaljeet and even you are even seen in the get up of a senior citizen. Would you like to elaborate on that?
Imran: I have always believed that when you work with very good actors, it makes you work better. Firstly, it improves you as an actor; secondly, it also makes the scene look better. If you’re working with a very bad actor as sometimes I have, it drags the scene down. And you’re working with a damn good actor; it adds so much more, it gives you so much to play with. I had a fair amount of scenes with Parikshit saab (Parikshit Sahni), who is playing my father in the film. He is a very senior, experienced and a very accomplished actor. So he brought a sense of ease and gravity to it because you can tell that he knows what he is doing. He can just walk on the set and he knows what to do…he knows what he is doing.
And since he knew that we are doing a comedy, a funny film, he tweaked his performance in that way and he came up with some hilarious reactions, some hilarious moments. There’s this one sequence in particular, where I am in disguise – I am dressed up as a maulvi so I have this long white hair, white beard and I have a pillow stuffed down to give me a pot-belly and he and I come face-to-face with one another. And he is feeling that there’s something off about this character and he is my father so he obviously has a very good chance of recognizing me so I have to avoid being recognized. So I had to catch him and say, ‘aadab!’ and he says ‘aadab’. I have to do one more aadab and he does another aadab and the way that he was racking the tension in that was hilarious. Because he would start with a little surprise, then suspicion that this guy looks familiar but at the same time getting flustered because the guy keeps saying aadab. So the way he built that graph up was just hilarious. And it was again one of those moments where I would look at him during a scene and I would feel like cracking up…feel like laughing. So I had to kind of hold that back.
Let’s wind up. This film was shot in utter madness with people turning up in Delhi and Agra. Can you sum it up in one go…what was the whole experience of this film? Why is it special to you?
Imran: This film is I think a major step in my career – in my working process. I am a quiet person, I am a person who likes to underplay and am generally much more reserved. And Ali as a director, his style, his taste is much more flamboyant. And I feel that what Ali has managed to pull out of me in this film is perhaps something that I didn’t think I could do – that I didn’t think I had in me.
The style of it is much louder, overplayed, the volume is turned up, the style of the dialogues, treatment, and the way everything is done is much louder and I honestly didn’t think that I had that in me. And somehow Ali has brought it out of me and I am amazed that I had that in me and I am amazed how Ali found those correct buttons, correct switches and correct triggers to bring that out of me – I mean really that is what makes a director. You bring something out of an actor. If the director‘s not bringing something new out of an actor then why is he there? I might as well do work without a director. So that is what you are looking for a guy to open you up.
I am tremendously grateful to Ali for opening that side of me – let’s see how much further that goes!
Credit: Yash Raj Studios