Many will remember Ankur Bhatia from last year’s ‘Sarbjit’ where he played the role of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s husband. The actor, who is playing the part of Ibrahim Parkar in the forthcoming ‘Haseena Parkar’, has made a shift to the mainstream after finding success in independent films. With this Apoorva Lakhia directorial, which marks the third film of Bhatia’s in the commercial Bollywood arena, Bhatia shares the screen with on and off screen brother-sister jodi Shraddha and Siddhanth Kapoor.
BizAsiaLive.com caught up with the actor ahead of the film’s release this week.
You play the role of Ibrahim Parkar in the film. What excited you about the role?
Well, there were two things that really excited me. The first being that the first film I’d ever worked in was Apoorva Lakhia’s Zanjeer. Actually I had met Apoorva when I was working in independent films when one of my films was being screened and there was a documentary made about his film Shootout at Lokhandwala. At that time, I had no plans to come to India but when I eventually did, I met him. He was already shooting for Zanjeer and at that time there were no parts available as he had already started to shoot. He gave me some numbers and contacts as I was there for around two and half months but nothing happened. But when I was going back that – this how luck happens – it just so happened that an actor who Apoorva had already been shooting with for Zanjeer had a few date problems and wasn’t able to continue. Apoorva then offered the part to me even though it was a very small part, saying it’d give me good experience. So I did that but the film kept being pushed so I kept going back to New York and coming back for about a year. In the mean time I shot for two Telugu films, one of which was the South version of Zanjeer. Eventually, when I finally moved to Mumbai, Sarbjit happened and it was a meaty part where I was playing Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s husband. It was more of my character and my acting that was highlighted with that film. When Apoorva saw that film, he called me and appreciated my work. That’s when I asked him if he had any parts in Haseena and he then told me about the part of Ibrahim Parkar. He told me that Ibrahim was also 6 feet 3 inches tall and a good-looking pathan. However, he told me I’d have to do a lot of research and audition for it. I worked closely with the dialogue writer so it was good but it wasn’t great because I didn’t have too much background on Ibrahim. The writer had done much research about him… that he had a pure vegetarian restaurant in a hardcore Muslim area. I found it really interesting that this character was smart and I also found out that he was a stuntman in films. I then went to meet these well-known stuntmen Javed and Ejaz to capture the way they live and how they talk, etc. I also visited the restaurant to see the kind of people who came in and all. After that, I went back to Apoorva and did the scenes and he really loved it. So, it took about six months to get this film. When I then met Apoorva for the first meeting, he asked me one question that dictated my entire journey as Ibrahim Parkar in the film. He told me that my first scene in the film is my wedding night with Haseena. He told me that he didn’t want the audiences to wonder where this Ibrahim had come from so he asked me to think about “Why did you marry Haseena? Was it out of love or was it because you knew that she was Dawood Ibrahim’s sister?” He then asked me to write an autobiography on this guy to find out why he did things and everything so that I would have the right emotions in my eyes when filming. I then met Haseena’s son and daughter and found out about him. Interestingly, that’s when I discovered that the way I was perceiving him was different. I found out that he was actually a very funny and jovial guy who was madly in love with his wife. He was a gentle giant who loved Bollywood movies and that’s why he was a stuntman in films.
You were appreciated in ‘Sarbjit’ which was also a biopic. Do you think you’re drawn to those kinds of real-life subjects?
Well, as an actor, I’m drawn to any kind of a good story. I think the director Omung Kumar must’ve seen something in me to have put me in that part. I am very grateful for that because it was a very good training ground for me. He’s a fantastic director and I got to work with the likes to Randeep Hooda and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. In that character too, there wasn’t much information out there about him. I was able to carve that character. The difference with Ibrahim is that I had ample time of six months to learn about the character. When you’re given a fictional character, you can bring out whichever element you’re comfortable with but here the circumstances are real. Ibrahim as a character is totally different to me as a person. I’m born and raised in Bhopal. I’m a computer engineer with masters in mathematics, worked in six different financial firms. I don’t have the type of a character like a pathan and I don’t talk like that. For me, it was interesting to meet the people who knew Ibrahim and I was learning and I was carving the character that way. It was a very fulfilling journey. By the time I finished the film, I was so much in the character that I cried for about half a day after my action scene because that was my last day. I was feeling sad that I wasn’t going to be on the set again. So, it took me some time to get out of the character.
When meeting Haseena and Ibrahim’s children, did you feel any pressure that you felt you had something to live upto?
No not really. I think when you’re going to meet a family in this way, you need to be careful because this guy isn’t there anymore. You have to maintain that boundary and I had never done this kind of thing before so I was a little bit cautious. I don’t think I felt pressurised as such. I was just cautious that I didn’t want to play the character in a way that was totally different to the way the real Ibrahim Parkar was. The family were very friendly about it though. It was more about finding out physical traits. For example, I found out her wore a bracelet which had “IP” written on it. I asked my costume designer to make the same kind of bracelet for me and in all my scenes I’m wearing that bracelet. So those kinds of elements I was able to build up.
Your chemistry with Shraddha Kapoor, who plays Haseena, is quite interesting. How did you make sure that was right?
I think it was because I had so much time to prepare for the role. I had made up my mind that I was in love with this girl. Siddanth and I were taking a workshop together and at the time Shraddha wasn’t there. I knew about Shraddha scenes very well and by the time we shot for the film, I was already in love in fitting with my character. That’s where Apoorva’s trick really helped becauae my first scene was the love song and if you watch the song you can see I’m actually in love with her. I am absolutely smitten by her. In fact, Ibrahim Parkar turns out to be the strongest pillar in her life. He was killed in front of her so it becomes a big setback for her in life and she’s left alone with four kids. I had read the scenes and prepared so many times that when I got to the sets, it wasn’t difficult. Shraddha is very down-to-earth and it’s so easy to fall in love with her. She was also very much in the character so it was easier. I’m more from an independent film background so I’m more for improvisation which helped in this scenario.
Was there a personal connection that you felt with Ibrahim?
Yes! You know, I had a strong desire to become an actor. I love the camera. That’s what we dream about. When we go to the sets, we are alive. That same element was somewhere there in common with Ibrahim. There’s a scene where the family are watching a movie and he comes on the screen. I can relate to that in so many ways. I had gone to watch Sarbjit with my parents and when I came on the screen it’s that feeling. So I had a lot of fun doing those scenes where I’m actually acting inside the film.
How much importance do you give you critical acclaim?
For Sarbjit, my character was important but there were more pivotal roles. I had only a few scenes which were broken down. All the reviews I read all said good things. I grew a real beard for the character and not one said I didn’t look like a sardar. I also gained weight to look like a guy in his 50s. I did whatever I could to bring life to that character. The one thing that I was disappointed about is that people didn’t really recognise me in the film. I once did an interview where the reporter actually remembered my dialogue from the film and that is critical acclaim for me. They didn’t know it was me but they remembered the character and the dialogue. I think Haseena Parkar will be different. My character is different and my look is like me. I am hoping it’ll be appreciated. I give a lot of value to critics because they watch so many films. It’s kind of like a good judgement. Sometimes when you’re doing a film, you’re totally absorbed. Your perspective becomes biased somehow. You start loving the character and the other characters in the film. It’s only when a third eye comes in the picture, it makes it all real.
Do you think the audience will be surprised in any way about Ibrahim?
Well, they’ve seen the romantic side in the song. They’ll see a more broader version in the film. He’s funny. He has this whole movie about him. He’s romantic. There’s a comic element to him too but there’s also a daring side. He’s very particular about certain things. At the end of the day he’s a pathan. But there’s one thing… You can’t have too many surprises in a biopic. Before his killing, there was an unsaid law in these gang rivalries that there were no attacks on the families. It was actually this particular incident that broke that rule Dawood Ibrahim had left the country and they couldn’t find him. This happened and everything changed.
You were part on the ensemble cast in ‘Sarbjit’ and you’re in a lengthy role in ‘Haseena Parkar’. Is the day near where you will play a protagonist?
That’s a difficult question. After Sarbjit, certain things came my way that I didn’t want to do and then Haseena happened. A lot of this is about who is making what next. I know some things I wanted to be a part of were already out there. I have taken it very slow and steady make a career out of acting. I’ve been careful in choosing what I do. I’m still hoping I get a good part like Haseena but I have no inclination that now that I’ve done this so I need to be a lead. I am more of that school of thought that I want to be in front of the camera and do a good part. Even if it is just a few scenes, it has to make a difference to me as an actor and to the audience. I hope what you’re saying comes true.
BizAsiaLive.com thanks Ankur Bhatia for talking to us. ‘Haseena Parkar’ releases on 22nd September.