It's rare to read anything on actor Arshad Warsi without a reference to him being one of the most underrated actors in the Hindi film industry. In his 23-year career, Warsi has played several memorable characters in films like MunnaBhai, Ishqiya and Golmaal. And yet, he's often asked if he deserved better. The actor admits that he's rarely offered the few good scripts that are written, but he's not complaining. "I know how to act, so I know I'll keep working," he says. This year he has two film releases, comedies Fraud Saiyyan and Total Dhamaal, but what he's most excited about is the murder mystery Asura, a web show on streaming platform Voot.
I saw Simmba at the theatre a few weeks ago and the crowd erupted for the few seconds you appeared in Aankh Maarey. Were you overwhelmed with the response?
I haven't seen the film yet but this is what I've heard. Tisca (Chopra) called me up and said the moment you entered the whole crowd went ballistic – they're screaming, yelling, whistling. I told her they are whistling not because I came but because they want me to leave really soon.
I was completely shocked with the response. I didn't think anyone will notice that little bit, especially with Ranveer (Singh) around. I guess it's good – it means I still have it in me!
For us 90s kids, the song brought back a lot of memories. In fact a lot of us immediately went to YouTube and looked at the original song in Tere Mere Sapne which was your debut film. What memories do you have of that shoot?
I remember everything. It was my first film and you're like a kid in the candy store. In fact a dancer from the original was in this song too and he was reminding me about that day. He said when we saw you dancing we thought 'kya mast aadmi hai'. The highlight was when the dancers heard that I was going to run above taxis and then do a summersault and land without a mat. I used to be a gymnast so I'm used to landing on a ground with a hard mat. When they gave me those big fat cushions I said 'I can't do this, I'll just land on the ground'.
How often do you have people tell you that you're an underrated actor who deserves better work?
Very often. Just yesterday I had to answer some questions posted on the web and someone asked me exactly this. I'm just glad I'm underrated and not overrated. I don't know how to answer this… as an actor I can only act well. Beyond that there is a whole other business that happens. Once that aspect and the actor is in sync, only then do you get your due.
And that doesn't make you bitter?
No it doesn't. My whole sensibility and the way I live my life is very unlike an actor. Success or failure of a film, being known or unknown, I don't let these things bother me. I've always been like this. Life is far bigger than these trivial things. What's important is family, being content and having the right friends.
I remember you once said – I have two cars, a bike and big house. I work only when my mood makes me.
It's the truth. You see when I started I had nothing. I couldn't even afford a cycle. The first bike I got I had to win in a dance competition. So from there I'm fortunate to have 5-6 cars, houses. Why would I be cribbing? For what? It is the difference between seeing success and not being able to see success. If I give 5 crore to two people, one would probably go and buy land somewhere and build a house. That's my kind of person. The other person may buy a Ferrari. According to people, the guy with a Ferrari must be the one doing really well. I think that's what may have happened to me. If you look at my schedule and the way I'm working, I'm busy as hell. I actually say no to films because I want to spend time at home with my kids. I don't want to look back and think that all I did was work, work, work.
Is this carefree attitude what has helped you survive 23 years of what can be a brutal industry?
I think what has protected me is pure good work. I believe that if you know your job, and you do it well, you have nothing to fear. I know how to act. Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah will always keep working while there are many others who stopped long ago. I know how to act, so I know I'll keep working.
You have the best comic timing in the business but you're not a trained actor. Was there a particular film or director who made you realise you had a knack for comedy?
This will be a shocking thing but I actually learnt I was a good actor after I did Ishqiya and that too because I had Naseer tell me I'm good. Before that I thought all my good performances were flukes… tukka lag gaya. At the end of the shoot I said 'Naseer saab it was such a pleasure shooting with you' and he told me 'Arshad after many years I was on my toes with an actor'. He said 'you have no idea how good you are and what your potential is.' Even Saurabh Shukla keeps saying no one has tapped my potential.
So many of your films are hinged on your camaraderie with your co-actor – Sanjay Dutt, Naseeruddin Shah, Boman Irani… How have you managed to achieve such great timing with all of them?
I don't have an ego- that's how simple it is. The moment you start competing with your co-star the problem arises. When we did Golmaal – Ajay (Devgn) would send the script to me and say 'Arshad ko bol improvise karne ke liye'. So I was writing for him and everybody. Then there was one film where Suniel Shetty was there and he said 'Tu improvise karega na?' I said, 'yeah, of course'. He said, 'Not for you. I meant for me!' So for me the film is most important. I've had great partnerships with all my co-stars purely because of this.
What percentage of scripts offered to you do you actually end up liking or considering?
There's very few that I like. It's very rare that I 100 per cent like a script. It's usually 60 per cent and then you think let's take a chance. Like in Fraud Saiyyan, it had a superb script but I always felt it's a bit slow. So I did it but when I saw it I thought what happened here! I realised that little problem I had was taken care of by the editor. But that doesn't always happen.
And to be honest the great scripts don't come to me. They go to the top, keep getting filtered, and then come to me. By that time I'm like let's choose the best of the worst scripts.
Have you considered writing and directing?
I will. I've written two films. One is a love story and one a quirky action film. I'm not going to act in it. Then there are other scripts I've heard that are very beautiful. I don't know when and how but I will direct. I know I will enjoy it and many people have told me I will be good at it.