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Exclusive: Saqib Saleem: “Waiting for that film that changes everything”

Saqib Saleem debuted in Indian cinema in 2011. He made a somewhat easy transition from modelling to acting in an unplanned fashion. The actor has recently been in London filming with his sister Huma Qureshi for the upcoming Hindi remake of Hollywood film ‘Oculus’ (2013). BizAsia caught up with Saleem just before he flew back to Mumbai.

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So you�۪ve been in London for the ��Oculus�۪ remake. Post this, what else have you been up to whilst your time in London?

I finished shooting on the 8th of this month (August) then I didn�۪t know where I was for the next four days, just going crazy because we were so happy that we finished the shoot. Everybody was happy because we finished the film in about 31 days, and you know that�۪s a record time. Because usually films take very long and we thought we�۪d come to London, shoot the film flat in a month and we achieved that. So all of us are very happy. We were all celebrating for the next three-four days. Then on the 12th my parents came down, so we were with them since then, and just travelling. I was actually just sitting at the airport at Hilton earlier and I�۪ve just shifted to Regent Street, so I�۪m right in the middle of London now. It�۪s my first time her so I�۪m just enjoying myself, going out for dinners, meeting new people, striking conversations with random strangers who have no idea who I am. So it�۪s nicer because I don�۪t get to do this back home, it�۪s always nice when I go out and I just let loose, I talk to whoever. It doesn�۪t matter, nobody it judging me, so it�۪s nice and fun. I�۪m kind of discovering London, and I want to say that it�۪s a really, really, really fun place.

I understand that you were at the AR Rahman Concert on Saturday (15th August). Did you enjoy it?

I loved it. I�۪m a very big Rahman fan, I went crazy, I was shouting at the top of my lungs. I�۪ve never met Mr A R Rahman, but it�۪s my dream that I want to lip sync to his songs, probably something like a ��Rockstar�۪ (2011) if I ever do a film like that, where he has composed all the music and I�۪m lip syncing to his music, that would be the biggest highlight of my career. He�۪s a magician when it comes to music. The kind of music he�۪s made from ��Bombay�۪ (1995), ��Roja�۪ (1992), ��Rockstar�۪, ��Dil Se�۪ (1998), ��Guru�۪ (2007), all these are legendary songs. I can hear them anytime of the day and it just cheers me up.

It all happened last minute. I wasn�۪t supposed to go, this guy Tony called us and asked if we wanted to go. I was like ��Yah! Who would say no to an A R Rahman Concert?�۪ So then me and Huma turned up. It was a lot of fun.

Rahman is God. I don�۪t know about anybody else, but for me he is God, when it comes to music.

It was made better that it was on India�۪s Independence Day.

Yeh it felt right, he sang �� Swades�۪. It was nice. And the guy is such a nice human being, you can see it. You look at the guy and you know he�۪s a nice person. That makes it more special for me. He�۪s a) very talented and b) comes across as very humble and very sweet.

There seems to be a split in the current generation where a lot of actors want to be known on social media and want to make their presence felt, and there are others who completely stay away from it, wanting the persona of an actor to be away from it. As you did a film about social media yourself with your first debut film being based on Facebook, how did you feel about it?

The point here is that I love connecting with people. I am a people person, if I don�۪t talk to people I feel incomplete. I think if I don�۪t talk to people who appreciate my work then what is the point of working. I need to reach out to everybody; I want those people to think of me as a nice person. I don�۪t know these actors�۪s who want a certain mystery around them. It works for the, to each his own. For me I love connecting with people, and these are the people who make me who I am. If I don�۪t connect with them, then what�۪s the fun. It�۪s all about connecting to your fans, and about knowing what they think about you, giving them some piece of advice or just taking some advice from them. It�۪s always nice, to be connected. See earlier around 10-15 years ago there wasn�۪t any social media, and that is why there were actor�۪s who wanted certain mystery about themselves, but now I fell that the platform that you�۪ve got, you need to interact with people. People need to know who we are. That�۪s all. I�۪m just out there, I�۪m an actor, I signed up for this, I�۪m not going to shy away and be like ���Oh no, I don�۪t want people to know about my personal life.�۪ Go on ask me anything, I�۪ll answer back.

Some people aren�۪t as extrovert as I am, but I love talking to people, if I don�۪t talk to people I�۪m like ���What am I doing? Why am I being so discrete and shy about who I am?�۝ I�۪m a very open person. Love conversing with people, whether it�۪s some banter I have with somebody, whether it�۪s someone trying to put me down, somebody�۪s trying to put me up, it�۪s always nice. I just feel that if I�۪m having all of these conversations on social media, people should have a sense of humour. It�۪s all in good humour; nothing is to be taken personally. If all of this is understood then why not? It�۪s a lot of fun to be on Twitter.

Talking about how you got into acting, your dad as we know has a chain of restaurants and you didn�۪t want to go into that line. However, if you weren�۪t an actor, is there any other career that you could see yourself in?

I would have been a cricketer. All my life I have played cricket. Since I was 9 years old my only aim in life was to play for India. And I have played state ���hand cricket for Delhi, for Jammu and Kashmir, my mother is Kashmiri, so I ended up going to Kashmir and playing there for a year. I�۪m still very passionate about it, I still watch all the games, I was following the India-Sri Lanka test match in the morning, though we lost very badly. I still follow cricket, that will always be my first love. I would have been a cricketer. If not that then there was a time in my life where I was working with my dad, in his restaurant business. I was helping him out, trying to understand how everything works, but then after a point I realised it�۪s not going to work out for me, this is not what I�۪m cut out for. Then one fine day I moved to Mumbai and things starting to fall in place. Though I never though I could be an actor, I�۪m not a trained actor. I have no formal training as such, I just went with the flow. I went for auditions and one thing lead to another and then I got to work with Yash Raj. I thought�۪ Wow, this is cool. People tell me that they have to go to Mumbai and struggle, and work so hard for years and years and then they probably get one audition and that�۪s how it happens?�۝ that why God�۪s been very kind, that Yash Raj was my proper first film audition and I trapped it. I don�۪t know if it was easy, or was I good or was I at the right place at the right time, all I knew is that there was something right going on. I just wanted to be very honest and about what I was doing, and that�۪s what I did.

Was there anything during the time that you were modelling that you feel set you up for being an actor?

When I was doing a lot of fashion work in Delhi, when I was walking for all the leading designers in the country, I used to really enjoy doing that. It was a high, but after a while when you keep doing the same thing, wearing all the fancy clothes, just strutting down the runway, coming back, going for after parties, after a while there is a saturation point, like you feel ���What next?�۝ I feel I�۪m worth more…. as in I�۪m not trying to undermine modelling. It is a great profession for people, but I felt now I need to do something else, do something more. I was handled by this agency in Delhi called Elite Model Management and they told me ���You know what Saqib, There�۪s an actor in you. You should go to Mumbai and figure it out.�۝ I was like ���Are you sure,�۝ because I had never acted I�۪ve never been in front of the camera, and I thought I was shy in front of the camera. So she was like ���No, I think you should.�۝ Then I came to Mumbai, and like I said, I went for castings and things started happening. The first casting I went to I got an ad, and I was like ���Oh, the first audition I have and I get an ad, This is some connection somewhere. I can�۪t be that good of an actor?�۝ I�۪m sure people try for years and years, I have so many friends who came here and tried for a while, then it started working out for them then they started getting stuff, but for me, I don�۪t know God�۪s been very kind like that touchwood, that things started happening from day one. There�۪s nothing else I want to do now. This is it.

So having started off with Yash Raj Films, were there any downfalls, or would you say it always been plus points?

Being and actor, I wouldn�۪t deny it, insecurities do creep in here and there. That�۪s a very honest confession, when you see other people working, and there�۪s a certain film you want to do that somebody else is doing, you do feel like that. But at the end of it I do feel that I am a very happy person so I look at what I am getting and not what the other person is getting. So luckily till now there haven�۪t been any downfalls as such. So whatever work I have done I have been appreciated for it. My films probably haven�۪t made Rs 100 Crore or Rs 5 Crore, but I�۪ve been appreciated for my films. People still think I�۪m a good actor, and it is one film that can change everything for anybody. So yes I�۪m waiting for that film. Maybe ��Oculus�۪ is that film or maybe the film after that it that�۪s film. Nobody knows. All I know is that I have to keep working hard and sooner or later it will happen. I believe in it.

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Talking about you and your sister Huma, neither of you entered the industry in the same way, which worked out well, as it was made to look like there was no connection between you. However, there wasn�۪t much time in between the released of both of your debut films, would you say it�۪s been easy or difficult, or have you not thought about it, having a sibling in the industry too?

It�۪s actually only helped us, because when you�۪re working in the industry you understand what it takes. You understand what an actor need to go through, when you face rejection for an audition, when you probably get something but probably don�۪t get what you want, so at least you have somebody in the family to talk to. It�۪s nice when you come back from working hard and you want to talk to somebody, who will probably understand what you are going through, because of the fact that, that person�۪s in the same profession, and that�۪s what I think me and Huma provide for each other. So, I only see good things to the whole point of me and Huma working in the industry.

So how about when you�۪re choosing films, or when she�۪s choosing films, and reading scripts and hearing narrations, do you consult each other?

Not exactly, in all honesty. However if there�۪s something that really excites us we tell each other. We try and give each other narrations of what the work is about. If I hear something that�۪s very nice, I get really excited I want to tell everybody, so I end up giving narrations to all my friends, to Huma and then I want to take feedback as to what they think of it. It happens all the time, I get excited when I hear a story and I share it not only Huma but all my friends.

In the current generation and in the recent films, are there any films that you�۪ve watched and thought that you�۪d really love to do a film like that, or that you really want that kind of role to come your way?

I really like the kind of things Varun (Dhawan) is doing right now. You know he�۪s mixing it up very well, he�۪s doing ��Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’ (2014) then he�۪s done ��Badlapur�۪ (2015), so as an actor I really admire the kind of work he�۪s doing. Like I said, ���Jo kismet mein likha hai vo usi ko milta hai�۝ (whatever is written in somebody�۪s destiny that�۪s what they are going to get), so if a film like ��Badlapur�۪ comes my way, I�۪d be very happy to do it.

Do you have any regrets in your journey so far?

No, I�۪m a content person that way. I don�۪t regret anything; I think I have to have a longer career to have regrets. This if my fifth year in the industry, so I really haven�۪t had any ups and downs as such. I�۪ll have to have a longer career to really answer that question. I�۪m very happy with the kinds if films I�۪ve done. Do I want to do more films? YES. Definitely but they have to be good stories, good scripts,. In all honesty they are very far and few to be found.

When there comes a time where you read a good script that does excite you, would you a little apprehensive to see that film, maybe not turn out like it is on paper?

It does happen that sometimes what�۪s on paper doesn�۪t get translated, and somebody has to take that risk as an actor. If you believe in the director, and you believe in your content then you just have to go for it. You can�۪t be unsure about doing a film whilst you�۪re doing the film. If you say yes, then you give your full commitment and surrender yourself, and do what you feel is required of you to do.

Would you say that there�۪s anything you�۪ve learnt in your journey of acting so far?

See I knew nothing about acting. I had zero idea about acting and I probably still have very little understanding of it. I�۪m still learning everyday, since I haven�۪t figured out all the things I can do. So everyday on set is a learning experience, because I�۪m a very receptive person, I like to listen to people rather than dictate terms and say ���this is what I�۪ll do,�۝ and ���this is how it should be done.�۝ If I�۪m doing a film I really need to believe in my director, and thankfully all these films I�۪ve had, have had very good directors who�۪ve really guided me, whether it�۪s been Karan (Johar), Nupur (Asthana), Ashmia (Chibber) or this film that we�۪re doing with Prawaal (Raman). It�۪s been very interesting with very clear-headed directors, the know what they want. So that�۪s made my journey very interesting. I�۪ve enjoyed the whole process of it. I go on set and learn everything everyday, I�۪m a student. I want to learn as much as I can and these people have been great teachers to me.

Koi ek director hai jo aapke wish-list mein hai? (Is there one director who is on your wish-list)?

Mein Aditya Chopraji saab ki romance picture karna hai. I think mere under bahaut romance hai mujhe lagta hai, aur mujhe Aditya Chopra jesa director chahiye, jo mere andar se romance nikaal de.

(I would like to do a romantic Aditya Chopra kind of film. I feel I have a lot of romance inside me, and I would like a director like Aditya Chopra who will bring that out).

I am a very romantic person in real life, and I haven�۪t done an out and out romantic film. Tho vo romnatic film mujhse Aditya Chopra ke saath karna hai (So I would like to do that film with Aditya Chopra).

I have a feeling you�۪re a ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ (1995) fan then?

I�۪m a very big DDLJ fan. I�۪ve seen it like 100 times.I can watch it from anywhere, like in the middle of it and still enjoy it as much, as I�۪ve seen it so many times. There was a point when I was growing up, that I remembered the dialogues, through and through. But now I�۪m not that sharp anymore, I don�۪t remember word to word dialogues, but if you give me a scene I can kind of remember what Raj says, or whatever happens in the film.

You�۪ve said that you�۪re the kind of person who always wants to see what�۪s next, and that you want to continue with acting, so what would you like there to be in your future in terms of an actor?

Interesting scripts. Interesting directors. People who believe in me and want to make films with me. I don�۪t plan things as such, I�۪ve never planned my career graph, like I don�۪t plan it and think this is what I�۪m going to do now, and my next film should be an action film and the one after that should be this. I hear stories, I hear scripts, and if there�۪s something exciting that comes up then I do it. I don�۪t stop myself from doing a film. If you seen the kind of films that I do, usually young actor don�۪t do these kinds of films. They shy away from doing these kind of films. But I�۪ve don those films, because I believe in the story. It has to be a good script, it has to be a good director, and I need to believe in both of them and then I�۪d do the film. As simple as that (laughs).

BizAsia would like to thank Saqib Saleem for taking the time to talk to us.