Rajniesh Duggall has a strong connection with the UK. His wife is a LSE graduate and his first two films were shot here. DEVANSH PATEL was invited for coffee and cookies at the actor's Mumbai residence for another exclusive interview
Q It's quite a shock to many that you weren't nominated at the Star Screen Awards under the best male debutant. Were you unhappy?
A You're right, I wasn't nominated. I've always been a sportsman and I have always won my races. That's how I play the game. Yes, I do feel that nomination toh banata tha. Somewhere the jury must've thought that some other people were better or they must've missed my name out (laughs). But yes, I should've been nominated.
Q After 1920 comes Phhir which is shot in the UK. You should be the Indian ambassador for the UK. What say?
A (laughs) Why not, both were shot in the UK. My second film Phirr is fifty percent shot in Newcastle.
Q How different was the UK experience this time around?
A In 1920, we were just shooting around the castle. Phhir wasn't a really chilled out shoot because we had to shoot a lot of out doors in different locations. The weather wasn't the best to shoot in as the temperature went to minus three degrees! I had a lot of chase and fight sequences to do in the severe cold which becomes quite tough. But Newcastle was a beautiful place where we could walk everywhere. There were some lovely bridges to see with some delicious Italian and Chinese food accompanied by a great night life. I injured my finger there during one of the chase sequences coming down some hundred stairs. Nothing serious but I had a few stitches.
Q It's bizaare but 1920 and Phhir have no scenes in London, the commercial capital of the UK. Did you miss shooting in London?
A This time I didn't shop from London as time did not allow me. I have a lot of friends there. Pallavi, my wife, has studied in London. So she has a lot of friends there who are bankers. Poor them - they are just ready to be kicked out due to the recession (laughs). Some have luckily ventured out into new businesses. I just had a day off from Newcastle but did not visit London.
Q How was your working experience with the director of Phhir, Girish Dhamija, different from Vikram Bhatt in 1920?
A From one Bhatt to the other. He has moved on. He used to write screenplays for the Mahesh Bhatt camp and is now doing it for Vikram Bhatt. Story wise, Girish is very sound and technically, Vikram Bhatt is very sound. Girish, along with the director of photography and the producer, would sit and discuss the entire scene out and only then go on the sets to shoot it. That was like doing your homework before going on the sets. I was quite impressed. I'd also like to state that Girishji's chief assistant director, Gurdeepji, could not come to the UK because he was denied visas. That was a big blow for us. If your right hand is missing, you're handicapped. But Dhiraj Ratan, who had written 1920, came to the rescue. He offered to be the chief AD. He tried to handle as much as he could and, touchwood, did it very well.
Q From a horror genre to a thriller. What chills, thrills and frills are you going to offer this time around besides chanting the Hanuman Chalisa?
A (laughs) For a change, I am not going to chant Hanuman Chalisa this time. There is no religious aspect in the film. Phhir has a lot of emotion, drama and action. It's got speed to it. It will require a lot of editing because it's like going forward and coming back kind of a story. Once the film is totally edited, it'll turn into one of the best thrillers you'll see this year. The film releases around June or July.
Q How did you get along with your debutant actress in Phhir, Roshni Chopra?
A Roshni has a lot of experience as she comes from the television medium. She has done a few tele soaps. So she knows how to face the camera. It is always a pleasure working with a debutant because they bring in a lot of new inputs into the film. Their suggestions are also taken seriously on the sets.
Q What's your role in Phhir?
A I am playing a doctor who is based in Newcastle. He is a surgeon. Me and Roshni are in love but somewhere down the line I lose her and how after that his graph goes up and down forms the part of the story. It's the whole struggle to get his love back. There is this cop in the film and Adah's character who helps me get my love back.
Q There is this SRK, Salman and Hrithik brigade led by Aamir Khan and then there is Rajniesh, Hurman, Sameer Dattani - all new comers led by Farhan Akhtar. Are you guys going to match up to the standards of all those others?
A It's a whole new breed of actors coming together. When Hrithik started, SRK was on the top. When Amitabh started, Rajesh Khanna was on the top. When Aamir, Salman and SRK started, Govinda was on the top. Everyone has to start somewhere. And as you just mentioned, Farhan is our leader. So if we are led by a good leader, I'm sure we'll be fine and our team is very strong. Competition is always good and healthy. If you have talent, if your head stays on your shoulders and you stay grounded, I'm sure there is no stopping you.
Q How good is the music of Phhir going to be?
A We will be missing the likes of Adnan Sami, Pandit Jasraj, Shubha Mudgal and many more great singers who were a part of 1920's melodious classical music. Phhir has a 2009 feel of music. It's young, peppy and vibrant. Phhir has jazz, funk, club house number, love song and a sad number. It's varied. Raghav Sacchar is the music director who has previously composed for films like Kabul Express and One Two Three. I haven't heard all the songs but so far we've shot four and all have come out very well on screen. But I am a classical music guy. I like the sufi kind of feel. Jagjit Singh, Kailash Kher, etc top my list.
Q Phhir is a thriller we all know now. You have to give away something else. Who's the baddie?
A There is a cop who is doing an important role as I mentioned earlier. His name is Parag Tyagi. Then there is me. One of us is a bad guy.
Q Are you fooling around with me?
A (laughs) I'm not fooling around. Ok, if you say so...you've met the baddie. That's for sure. It can be me, it can be anyone.
Q How would you sum Phhir up in one sentence?
A What you sow is what you reap or what goes around comes around. These two lines could actually sum it up.
Q How important is your wife Pallavi's contribution towards your career and success?
A A lot. She is my biggest critic. She is very active as far as our work goes. She is very involved in what I do. Both of us love watching films. We both had our own assumptions regarding 1920, be it my performance or the film as a whole. No one is flawless. No matter which film you see, even if it's Slumdog Millionaire, you will find flaws. And that's how I've learnt and will keep on learning. She was with me in the UK when we shot Phhir. I'm glad that I have two passions in my life. One is work and the other is Pallavi.
Q Didn't you like Slumdog Millionaire?
A I was shocked to know that a chaiwala who works in a call centre had an accent. If he is from the slums of Mumbai who has grown up in the slums, how can he have an accent? It's a very small observation. But that's how a critic should be, right? At the same time, I'm not taking anything away from the film too. It has been nominated at the Oscars and the Bafta is a great thing. I'm proud.
Q I'm sure A R Rahman has done you and the entire India proud?
A No doubt about it. He is the best music composer in the world for me. He was long overdue anyway. I wish him all the best.