ENTERTAINMENT

The Sidharth Malhotra Interview: Karan Johar Is The 'Ma' In Dharma, He Has Given Me Birth In Bollywood

The actor on what Karan Johar means to him, the criticism of his acting abilities and his current equation with rumored ladylove Alia Bhatt.

09/11/2016 2:14 PM IST | Updated 10/11/2016 8:41 PM IST
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Lucas Jackson / Reuters
Bollywood film star Sidharth Malhotra poses for a portrait while promoting the film "Baar Baar Dekho" in New York, U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

When I meet Sidharth Malhotra at his agent's office in Bandra, he looks like he's taking a break between a heavy-duty action scene. He looks rugged, deliberately unkempt and also has a bit of bruise on his left arm. It does turn out to be a break -- he's had a day off of sorts and he couldn't be gladder.

He' is filming director duo Raj and Krishna DK's action thriller, a film that is being marketed as Bang Bang's sequel where he stars with Jacqueline Fernandez. Malhotra is an action movie fan and it appears that with this film, he wants his romantic hero image to change and become more action-oriented.

We'll find out.

While he digs into some pasta, a steaming cup of coffee arrives for me and the interview begins.

The year started off quite well for you with Shakun Batra's Kapoor and Sons wowing both, the audience and the critics. Since it was a multi-starrer family drama, what kind of personal feedback did you receive?

Honestly, we never expected people to relate so much with the family. We showed a middle-class household that just clicked well with everyone across the country. They felt as if they were listening to their own drawing room/bedroom conversations. I think the credit largely goes to Shakun and Ayesha DeVitre's writing. As for me, people gave me a lot of love for that role. It was a character of a neglected writer-brother that could've been easily overshadowed but I think the sincerity with which I approached the role made it stay with people.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

You were coming out of Brothers (2015), a fairly big budget film that had tanked at the box-office. Did the success of Kapoor and Sons reassure you at a time when you perhaps needed it the most?

I think every film becomes a new experience and it isn't right to carry the baggage of a past failure. But who knows what works here, man? I mean, Brothers was pitched as a big film and was hotly anticipated. On the other hand, Kapoor and Sons was almost like an indie. But the reverse happened. So, this is actually a learning curve for me -- the unpredictability of the business.

For that matter, I didn't even expect Ek Villain (2014) to do that well. It was my third film and you know it had a double-digit opening day?

For that matter, I didn't even expect Ek Villain (2014) to do that well. It was my third film and you know it had a double-digit opening day? But funnily, I don't remember being all that excited about it then. I was too naive, too new to understand the enormity of a sizeable box-office weekend. It was only later on that it sunk in and I was like, woah, that's fucking mad. So I think it is with time and experience that you understand the highs of this industry and to fully savor in that, you need to fully feel the lows.

So if a Brothers or a Baar Baar Dekho doesn't work, I'm still happy with the experience that I get out of them. In the long run, it also makes you thick-skinned which is essential to survive here.

After Kapoor and Sons, you appeared in Baar Baar Dekho. While the film's album was perhaps one of the most addictive we've had this year, it didn't translate into the audience rushing to the theaters. What did you make of that?

I'd rather fail doing something new than fail by trying something that's already been done.

Baar Baar Dekho was quite experimental in the sense that a film like that hadn't been attempted. I get bored if I am told to act in something that everybody else is already doing. So it gives me strength to know that I've attempted something different than the typical formula.

And it's quite alright if it doesn't work -- you make your peace with it by promising yourself to work harder next time as it is very hard to pinpoint the specific reason as to why a film failed just as you can't tell one reason why a film worked.

I mean, Baar Baar Dekho was produced by Dharma and Excel, two of the best production houses in the business. Yet it didn't connect with people.

Excel Ent
Sidharth in a still from 'Baar Baar Dekho.'

Do you somewhere feel that your acting abilities need a lot more work and maybe that's what pulls a film down? Critics have pointed out that while you are sincere, you also come across as wooden in your performances.

I feel any form of criticism or praise is short lived. A few months ago they said I've given my best performances in Kapoor and Sons, and now with Baar Baar, you are saying there is the argument about bad acting. Well, I try. And I don't do it to shut my detractors questioning my acting skills, but I do it for the film. I want my director to know that I've gotten the character he wants me to portray, that I am in it.

I also don't attach myself too seriously to my critics or fans. My next film will come, it might work at the box office, and they'll sing praises about how I'm a good actor. It's all time driven.

To remind everyone, they're (Dharma) one of the best studios in the country. I am getting to work with them. Established actors would give an arm and a leg to work in a Dharma film. I am lucky to be getting those films and as a Dharma talent, we're also contractually obliged. I don't see anything wrong in that. If they didn't want to give their own talent work or ensure their success, why would they launch me?

How about comparisons with your peers? For instance, Varun Dhawan, who was launched in the same film as you, has had an exceptional trajectory at the box-office. He's also experimented, balancing off a dark and edgy Badlapur with commercial fare like ABCD 2. Do you look at that and think of it as a yardstick to evaluate your own growth?

Well, just because you were launched in the same film doesn't mean your careers have to be clones of one another. No two journeys are the same. I've done films against type which a lot of people warned me against. Today, I don't think our audience is as star-driven as it used to be. They're story-driven. They come to watch good content after having liked a film's trailer. Which is great, which is how it should be. I don't compare the choice of my roles with anybody else's.

How much of a role has Karan Johar -- who has produced 5 of the 6 films you've acted in -- had in ensuring your success in Bollywood?

A lot. He introduced me to this industry. He's got me here. The 'Ma' aspect in Dharma is him as he's given me birth in Bollywood. That is a huge role.

No, what I mean to ask is this -- Do you think you've been able to sustain yourself and build your credibility as a Bollywood A-lister because there is a steady stream of work coming to you from Karan's Dharma Productions?

I do not think that.

The 'Ma' aspect in Dharma is him as he's given me birth in Bollywood. That is a huge role.

Are you implying that people come to watch the films I do because Karan Johar is producing them? No, right? They come because they like the trailer and want to check it out. And it is not correct to say that I've only done Dharma. Ek Villain was Balaji. Hasee Toh Phasee was a Phantom production and Baar Baar an Excel.

Yes, but all of them had Dharma's involvement as co-producer.

Well, I don't really blame people for making that connection. But to be honest, it doesn't affect my life. People thinking what they think of that connection is just an inconsequential technicality for me. I am here to do work and focus on being part of great stories.

To remind everyone, they're one of the best studios in the country. I am getting to work with them. Established actors would give an arm and a leg to work in a Dharma film. I am lucky to be getting those films and as a Dharma talent, we're also contractually obliged. I don't see anything wrong in that. If they didn't want to give their own talent work or ensure their success, why would they launch me?

I know of so many actors who want to work with Dharma and haven't gotten the chance to.

Times of India
Dharma Productions head honcho Karan Johar with Sidharth Malhotra

Fair enough.

As the quintessential outsider from nowhere who made it big in an industry deeply entrenched in nepotism, do you feel empowered in the knowledge that your struggle, especially until Student of the Year, has been tougher than other industry kids?

Definitely.

I have come out of nowhere and however far I reach, I will always keep looking back at where I started out from, which was nothing. Not even nothing. It was negative. I didn't know a soul in this industry, I didn't know this city.

You pin down the credit to Karan and a lot it is deserved but it cannot just be one person pushing you for the last 5 years right. You've to have something much more than that.

As outsiders, we go through countless auditions and rejections and that toughens you because those rejections are very personal -- the product we're selling is ourselves. And for that to be rejected hurts. But at the same time, it prepares you and toughens you for a lot many things that come in life.

I didn't want to remain a model because they typecast you as this dumb person who only looks good and has nothing else to offer. That was the reason I switched to direction by becoming an assistant director.

As a city, Mumbai can get very overwhelming. Especially for people who live alone. If I am not mistaken, you are a single guy living in a large house all by yourself. Do things get lonely?

Quite. Bombay has a huge population of single people with lots of dreams.

Before moving here, I had my family who supported me. I also had a few friends who I still talk to when things get tough. And mind you, Mumbai can get to you. You need that support system, especially when you're trying your hand in Bollywood.

Fortunately, I have made friends here who I can reach out to whenever I like. Even at 4 am. And that makes me feel very, very secure.

Your family is in Delhi. What is their involvement in your career decisions? Do they get the fine nuances of the industry, key people, risky project, the tricks?

(Laughs) Not at all. They don't understand this world. And I don't blame them. Nobody in our family has had any experience with film or film people. Which is quite alright. There is a very efficient, incredible team that manages my work and endorsements. Reshma Shetty of Matrix has had a huge role to play in my career. As for parents, they know beforehand the films and ads I am doing but don't have a say in my decisions. It's like NASA for them. Now, if you asked me about it, I wouldn't know shit.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

You're quite a hit among the ladies. Quite a lot of them swoon over your ruggedness. Is this a Bollywoodised makeover or were you always a ladies man, so to speak?

(Laughs) The last thing I've to compare it to are my school and college days. I was in all-boys school in Delhi and then moved to a co-ed one in my 10th standard. Now that's the time when your hormones are raging and you are about to hit the pinnacles of puberty. And so I did. We were overwhelmed to see girls. Later when I went to college, I think I was pretty lucky in getting girls. I am always excited to meet and interact with women. It's always an amazing experience, just like the movies.

Hmm, but more hits than flops in your case.

(Laughs) I'd certainly say yes to that with confidence. But to be honest, I was just like an average Delhi guy who had his fair share of relationships. My first realization of love was when I broke up with my school girlfriend. That was my first heartbreak I guess and it was devastating. At that age, when you get attached to someone deeply, it's terrific and terrifying. It was my puppy love and the separation was pretty bad. I didn't get into a relationship after that but had my share of fun as a single man.

And then I came to Mumbai. As a single guy, Mumbai can be very liberating. It helps you get rid of emotional baggage. I came here thinking I'd be the only one wanting to be an actor but realized there were millions of them. That immediately told me to stop having fun and work doubly hard to reach somewhere. Fun would follow. But I didn't want to remain a model because they typecast you as this dumb person who only looks good and has nothing else to offer. That was the reason I switched to direction by becoming an assistant direction.

You didn't enjoy modeling?

It was good money but modeling is quite superficial as it doesn't test all your senses, the way acting does. Where it did help me though was in making contacts and making me focus on my appearance and physique.

This conversation has broken a very set type that I had of you -- that of an introvert. Maybe the characters that you've played -- largely of a brooding guy who internalizes more than he speaks, has a role to play in carving that image, far from what you seem to be - very articulate about your feelings.

No, but I used to be very introverted. When I started out with SOTY, I was very awkward around people, especially other stars. Unlike Alia, Varun who grew up hanging on film sets, I didn't share any equation with anyone from Bollywood.

Unlike Alia, Varun who grew up hanging on film sets, I didn't share any equation with anyone from Bollywood.

I had to start from scratch and that was quite difficult. For them they were X Uncle and Y Aunty, for me they were Sir and Ma'am. Was weird. The version you see now is a much more socially enhanced one. I am much more at ease now with industry people. It's also because it takes time to build meaningful relationships, it doesn't happen overnight.

Vogue Magazine

One of the meaningful relationships you have is with Alia Bhatt. In an interview I did with her, I asked her about the two of you seeing each other and she told me "Whatever is true today may not be true tomorrow." Would you say that what you have with her is something casual and isn't worthy of acknowledging in public?

It's very tricky to comment about your personal life. A lot depends on your personality and as far as I am concerned, I like to keep things private. I don't understand how it affects anybody's life so I usually refrain from commenting on it.

What it also does is that it makes the relationship frivolous. Maybe for me, it is serious enough to not be discussed in public?

As far as affecting people's life is concerned, it doesn't change anything. It whets a very personal curiosity, something that is an integral part of celebrity culture all across.

I've been on that side. I have been a non-actor reading news, wildly consuming pieces of gossip in tabloids. But now I realize that it isn't correct. It isn't nice to decode everything about someone's personal life as these are very sensitive, emotional people. Everybody has feelings. Everybody has relationships. And that sanctity should be maintained.

Is it that or you all just love to keep the interest in your celebrity alive by not confessing to affairs. Constant speculation means a constant influx of news.

(Laughs) In today's day and age, there are no private corners. Everything is out there for everyone to consume on social media.

Well, as for Alia, what I share with her is something unique. I got to know her when both of us were non-actors and that bond is for a lifetime. We're extremely comfortable with each other. I am happy to know she's doing really well.

There is a lot of likability and comfort and deep-rooted attachment is what I'd say and that I'd like to believe will last for a long, long time.

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Alia Bhatt