Tell us a little about yourself; briefly tell us about your background?
I’m from a town in Punjab called Moga. My mother was a teacher, my father a businessman. Among the three children, I am the only son. After school, I did electronic engineering in Nagpur. It was while I was studying there that I was selected as one of the top 5 in a modelling contest and people started to suggest I do ads and films.
Who would you say your role models were growing up?
My role models while growing up were my parents. They gave us the values and the template for life that I still follow. Among stars I admired Amitabh Bachchan and also Sylverster Stallone.
You are a qualified engineer by profession. What made you change your career path and such a very different one at that- from academics to creative art?
While I was studying engineering, I participated in the Gladrags Mr. India contest and ended up in the top five. After that ad film and film audition offers began to come my way, and I felt I’d like to give it a shot. My mother always encouraged me to follow my dreams and take up acting as a career. I moved to Mumbai and started my acting career, doing Telegu Films.
You primarily did Tollywood films before breaking into Bollywood with Shaheed-E-Azaam, How does your Bollywood experience compare to your experience in the South Indian film industry?
I loved my experience both in the South and in Bollywood. I still do Telegu movies with Hindi movies. There can be no comparison between the two,as both are equally good. Eventually a good story is a good story, no matter what language.
You were not immediately recognised until your role in Yuva. Have you worked with Mani Ratnam before in South Indian films? How was it working with Mani Ratnam?
It was an amazing experience working with Mani sir. He is truly a legend, and I feel quite fortunate to have had that opportunity.
You’ve worked with a lot of finest directors in Bollywood. How does that make you feel?
It is a very humbling feeling ofcourse. When someone you respect also respects you for the work you do, its a great feeling.
In Jodha Akbar, how difficult was it to get into the role of Sulamal?
Mr Gowarikar made my day when he said, “I can see only you doing Sujamal and no one else.” While shooting for Jodha-Akbar, I committed myself exclusively to that film for one year.
My mother, who taught history, got me books on Mughal history which I was fascinated by. And then ofcourse Ashutosh ji also had his tips and there was my own take of the character. By the time we were ready for the first shooting schedule, I knew Sujamal very closely and then, everything just fell in place.
The sets and costumes of Jodha Akbar were magnificent. How long were you in make-up and costume for on a daily basis? How long did it take to shoot the whole film?
The dressing would begin at 5am and take almost 5 hours to complete the task. It took almost a year to shoot the whole film.
The Barjatya family usually champion a single actor to play the role of Prem in their movies, formerly using Salman Khan, and then Shahid Kapoor and now yourself. How did you feel when you were approached by them to star in Ek Vivaah… Aisa Bhi?
I was very happy that I was approached by the Barjatya famlily. To date that remains one of my personal favourites in the work I’ve done.
Congratulations on your awards, nominations and the Dabangg success. The movie Dabangg and of course your character Chhedi Singh has been loved by the audiences. How does it feel?
Dabanng was a fantatstic film and I’m delighted I was part of it. You know audiences have connected with your character deeply when they come up to you calling you by your screen name and mouthing dialogues from the film! On a personal level its the most satisfying thing for an actor to have a film appreciated by audiences and doing well on the box office. I’ve been very lucky that way — be it Jodha Akbar or Dabangg or Singgh is Kinng. And I think BBudha will also be fantatsic.
How much do awards matter to you and how much does commercial success?
Box office success is most critical of course because that’s the audiences awarding you. They tell you they liked your film. If you have that, then receiving a critics award is like icing on the cake.
When you signed up for the role in Dabanbg, did you always know that the movie would be the success that it has become?
I had faith in the script and I was sure it would do well. The characters in the script are amazing. I loved the action sequences
Your other role of antagonist in the movie ‘Arundhati’ down south was also very much appreciated and the movie was a big hit. What is it with your role as the antagonist and a movie’s success- any connection that you feel?
I enjoy grey characters. They are complex and often require thought to portray effectively. I’ve enjoyed both my roles as Chedi Singh and in Arundhati tremendously.
You have been nominated for the best actor in the negative role for the iifa awards, for which you also won an Apsara award. How do you feel about that and what are the chances of you winning it, you have strong competition.
I’m honoured by the nomination and that the role has been appreciated so widely. That in itself is very satisfying. I have great respect for the actors also nominated in this category at IIFA. Let the best man win!
Lately, you’ve been starring in a lot of negative roles. Do you prefer negative or positive roles?
That’s not true I play a cop in my next two movies – Bbuddha and Maximum. So I think its a fair mix.
You got good reviews for your portrayal of a negative character as a young politician in the film Dabaang. Tell us, how you prepared yourself for this role? And what were the challenges you had to face?
I spent time with some UP politicians and worked on body language, nuances, etc. I also had to work on my fitness a lot as there were a lot of action sequences, with none other than Salman Khan. In college I had many friends who were from UP and Bihar and so I knew how they spoke andtheir accents, so this helped me to accept the challenge and perform it well.
What was it like working with Salman Khan? Any memories- good and bad?
It was really an experience working with Salman Bhai. He is genuinely a very nice human being and it is great to know him as a friend and work with him. I look forward to work with him again.
Critics appreciated the fact that you made yourself noticeable when you were paired against someone as good as Salman Khan, how do you feel about this?
Salman Bhai is superstar and it was a terrific experience to work with him in Dabanng. I feel Chedi Singh and Chulbul Pandey are like a package that worked well together and I was happy with the way my role turned out.
You reportedly refused the first scene which involved violence against Amitabh Bachchan in Bbuddah – Hoga Terra Baap, tell us about it. What role do you play in the movie?
I play a cop in the movie. I simply went cold. Every actor who faces the camera with Mr. Bachchan for the first time, goes through some amount of nervousness. But when I was told that I had to rough up Mr. Bachchan, I was panic-stricken. I tried arguing that I would not be able to handle the aggression against someone so senior and legendary. This was the man I have hero-worshipped from childhood. I waited 10 years to share screen space with him. Now when it was finally happening, I was told I had to be extremely rude and violent with him in our very first scene together. But then Mr. Bachchan was very supportive and asked me to do it which made me numb on the sets!
How do you keep away from the trivialities of show business. You have a wife and family, does a stable family and home go hand in hand with success and fame in Bollywood?
I have a very simple and straight forward personality. There is no such problem. My wife and kids are very supportive and the fame in Bollywood does not affect my family life. I’ve known my wife since my days in Nagpur, so I’m Sonu, much before being a celebrity for her.
Recently you have stripped for PETA. Have you always been a vegetarian?
Yes, I have always been a vegetarian. I strongly believe in the concept and think its entirely possible to achieve your fitness goals and your nutrition goals being a vegetarian.
How do you maintain your physique. Our readers would love to know your tips for maintaining your body.
Discipline. Determination! There’s no way out. I follow a strict regime, I believe a lot in work outs and never miss going to the gym. I avoid junk food and unhealthy food. I love running and if I have the opportunity, I would love to run out in the open spaces – or even on many of my outdoor schedules, I would run from our hotel to the sets and so on.
It is fair to say that you have reinvented yourself and found tremendous success. Tell us how you ensured that your make- over got you where you are today.
I think its an evolution more than a makeover. There were many years of great struggle. Its an ongoing process of learning and growing that I think will always continue and never stop. But I am happy with who I am as a person today and look forward to many more challenges.
What are your forthcoming films? What kind of roles do you have in them?
My forthcoming films are Rana, Buddha and Maximum. They are all terrific scripts and roles. I am looking forward to them.
Lastly, what would you like to tell your fans?
Thank you for your support. It is my biggest encouragement in this field.