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Iranian actor Sajjad Delafrooz is one happy man. He’s enjoying all the praise coming his way for playing the main antagonist Hafiz, in Hotstar’s espionage thriller ‘Special OPS’. Sajjad, who had previously played terrorist Abu Usman in the Salman Khan starrer ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ in 2017, speaks exclusively to about his role in the show.

How difficult was it to play such an evil baddie?
All of us as human beings are a mixture of different personalities, we have a bad guy in us as well, there’s a liar and there’s a lovely person. I decided to use that person in front of the camera. It was very easy for Special OPS because I didn’t do too much or prepare much, to be honest. I just listened to my director, Neeraj ji (Pandey) has a very clear vision, he knows what he wants and how he wants it. At every single point, I just listened to him, his guidance made me reach there. I can’t take all the credit, the credit goes to the director in this case.

What kind of response did you get for this role?
I was surprised to be honest, I did not expect to get so many compliments. I got so many compliments, it was like Tiger Zinda Hai again. All I wanted to do was work with Neeraj Pandey but then people watched it and they remember dialogues and they’re putting up all these pictures from the show and I’m like, ‘wow!’ People really liked the character somehow and I’m really happy about that.

How was the experience of shooting in so many exotic locations like Azerbaijan and Jordan?
It was amazing. You travel around with a nice crew, what more do you want, right? We shot in Azerbaijan, Jordan, Turkey… the best part was the scale of this series. Sometimes as an actor we shoot with a green screen or chroma and they show that we are shooting in other places but for Special OPS we shot in all real locations. That as an actor is amazing, you get a feel of the location, you feel that you are really that person. We shot in Jordan’s Wadi Rum and it was a beautiful place. The only part that was difficult was that it was actually winter and we had to pretend that it’s summer… it was so cold that we were shivering every time he said ‘cut’. Then we again had to come back to our characters because my character is a very calm person and he can’t shiver on-screen (laughs). That was tricky, sometimes it used to be 2 or 3 degrees and it was so cold. We used to only wear a pathani and be in the desert, that was the only difficult part.

What was the most memorable part of the shoot for you?
If you’ve watched the series you’d know that every character has two to three names. Since I had read the script, I was aware of the real character names – the name that Hafiz should know and the name that the public should know. There’s an intense scene where Hafiz and Farooq (Karan Tacker) are talking and there are so many names that Hafiz has to say in that scene. I was supposed to call Farooq as Rashid but every time in the end I kept calling him by different names, I even ended up calling him by my character’s name Hafiz. There were so many names in that scene and we also had to shoot the whole thing in one take. When I called him Hafiz, Karan was shocked and it was really funny (laughs). Plus, it was so cold during that time in Jordan.

How was the experience of working with such a big ensemble cast?
We became such good friends that I’m still in touch with Karan, Muzammil (Ibrahim), Vipul (Gupta), Saiyami (Kher). We still talk and the most important thing was the friendship that we got out of this. The crew became like a family. I have to say that this is what India taught me… I work in a different international market and it has always been like we work, we say bye until the next time we meet. But here, friendship is very important… they call me and check on me, especially in these times when we are quarantined. I’m based in India since Tiger Zinda Hai, it’s been two years that I’ve been living here in Mumbai. People I have met two years back are sending me messages saying, ‘You’re a foreigner in the country, if you need anything just ask us.’ It’s very beautiful and a big lesson for me. You think you’re mature enough but then you realise that you don’t know a lot of things and you need to believe in friendship and love again.

Did you always want to be an actor?
No, never. I just wanted to get my degree, I love education and I love to study (laughs). I had my Masters and I wanted my PhD one day. I had a simple life and I was the manager of a company. But then I thought my life was so boring that I couldn’t handle it, I didn’t know what to do. I was becoming lazy and I’m not a lazy person at all. It was so difficult for me to go to the job, so I thought let’s do something fun. I didn’t want to regret one day, so I started with modelling in 2011. When I went in front of the camera I realised, ‘this is the one!’ I just wanted to be on set, it’s like my oxygen. You know when there’s a force on your chest and you can’t breathe? And suddenly I could breathe on set . That gave me the feeling that this is what I wanted to do.

And ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ with Salman was that big break for you that made people recognise you?
Yes, definitely. Before that, I’ve done so many projects, I did jobs that I really liked. I did jobs that were good but didn’t get appreciation before Tiger Zinda Hai. Nobody saw me or appreciated those roles. But after Tiger Zinda Hai, everything changed, people started following my work. Sometimes people follow the work that was done so many years ago, some of them I don’t even want to remember because they were that bad. Tiger Zinda Hai was that definitely big break where everything changed.

Do you fear of getting typecast as a villain?
I know the process of the film industry, it’s all about time. For me, the first goal is to work and with time you’ll change people’s mindset, it depends on how hard you work for it. I guess patience is always the key.

How has the journey been from being in Neeraj Pandey’s ‘Baby’ to now playing the main antagonist in Special OPS?
I was shooting in Thailand at that time when my agent told me that a big director is coming to the UAE and I need to audition for him. It was a very small role in Baby but for that I did some seven to eight auditions. I spoke to Neeraj ji only for a minute and I told him that I was really surprised to see the amount of knowledge and detail in his film A Wednesday. He was surprised as well to see that a person from another part of the world watches Hindi films. We shot Baby in 2014 and five years later I met Neeraj Pandey for the second time. He said that he exactly remembers our conversation from five years ago and that was amazing. When I look back, I think it’s amazing that I’m doing this today after doing that small role in his film. If in those days, even one person would have told me that I’d be playing one of the main roles for this director, I’d have said, ‘Ah, I wish’. Life is so surprising sometimes, it takes you a different way.


‘Special OPS’ is streaming on Hotstar.