Bobby, it’s amazing to see you, after what feels like twenty years, I think. I have to say, you look as good right now as you did all those years ago. What has happened?
I guess the way my life moved on, the way my career moved on… I wasn’t working for four years. And things were not falling in the right place. And I would wonder why. But Tanya, my wife, would keep saying, “You have to look after yourself. Look at you, how you’re looking!” I said, “What do you mean, how I’m looking? I’m looking fine.”
See, when I started my career, I was from a traditional way of working in cinema. And when I came into the industry, it was changing. I was so used to work coming to me instead of me going and asking for work. And then things just slowed down, because I didn’t do that. And others would take the same roles which I would have got; I didn’t realise that. And slowly, slowly, everything slowed down for me. And then I was low in my life, I didn’t care about things, about myself. And I suddenly started to lose it all, you know.
And you don’t realise it, till one day it just dawns on you, and you understand it yourself — no-one can keep telling you you’re wrong. You have to realise it yourself. And then when my kids started growing up, I started looking at them. And I looked at them, and I kept thinking that their father sits at home all the time. Then I didn’t realise that social media’s become so big and strong that whatever it says, people start believing that.
People were talking about me as if “Oh, he’s happy; he doesn’t need to work; he has a lot of money; why would he need to work? He’s lazy…”, things like that. So I’m like, “How do I fight this? How do I make people understand that I need to work?” I look at my kids, I want to work, I want to work for them. I want to keep working every day of my life, and I want to do what I can the best… Like how my father did it for me, I want to do it for my kids. So that suddenly made me realise, and I started looking after myself. And I wanted to be prepared, because work can come knocking on your door anytime. And in these last two/three years, I went and met people. I went out; whoever I thought I could meet. Because it’s very difficult to break that, that whole system you’ve been following, and go up to people to ask for work.
Yeah, that’s hard.
It is hard. Everybody looks at me, “Aapko kya kaam chahiye? Haan, haan, sochenge, sochenge!” Because everybody thought of me as a star, who’s doing so well, and you know, he’s not working. So finally, all those people I met… it worked.
Like Salman, for instance. I’ve never met someone like him in my life, who’s an outsider and yet he treats me like a family member. I remember I used to play cricket (I love cricket) and I started playing Celebrity Cricket League (CCL), and I used to bump into Salman. Not that I didn’t know Salman from many years back, but it’s just that you don’t meet everyone in your industry everyday.
So when I bumped into him, he said, “Kya kar rahe ho? Yeh daadi ugalee tunay”, because I was thinking of doing off-beat films. Because as it is no-one expected anything out of me; so I thought, might as well take the advantage and do something which I really want to do. Because people always thought of me as a commercial actor; they never see me doing an off-beat film. But that didn’t work: only thing, I grew a beard like Ramdev Baba. But I wasn’t bothered about how I looked at that point, I just wanted to play the character. And then Salman told me, “Dekh, jab mera career theek naheen ja raha tha to main tere bhai kee peeth pay chadh gaya, Sanjay Dutt kee peeth pay chadh gaya.” So I said, “Then, Maamu” — I call him Maamu — I said, “Maamu, mujhay teri peeth par chadhnay de.” You know… give me work.
So you said, “Maamu, teri peeth pay chadh loon?”
So he said, “Definitely. Tu yeh daadi shave kar de.” He keeps it in mind, you know. He remembers everything! And he did try to work something out for me. And that didn’t work out. Then finally I did Poster Boys and I was very excited. Because here again I was playing a role which no-one expected me to play. It was a schoolteacher from a small town. The last time I played a small-town boy was in Kareeb. I really enjoyed doing that film. Every schedule of that film, of Kareeb, was a memory. And a beautiful memory.
So when I got a chance to do this again, I was really excited. And Shreyas, being an actor-director, for the first time directing, it was great fun working with him, because we used to do workshops. And the first time I ever did workshops was with Vinod (Chopra). Every evening, we used to sit and go through scenes. And it really works, it really helps. So we did a lot of hard work. Worked through all the lines, because I had to speak in shuddh Hindi. And the film didn’t do so well at the box office! But people called and appreciated my work.
And that gave me more energy, because I said, “Doesn’t matter! At least people have started noticing me again and started appreciating my work.” Then I just got Yamla Pagla 3. I was really happy again, working with my dad and brother. But I wanted to get out of that whole thing..that I’m working with my brother and my dad always. Because people start thinking of that new term they’ve started using nowadays…
I was working out with Prashant, who’s known as Shah Rukh’s trainer. Then suddenly one day I get a phone call… Salman on the phone. I’m like, “Salman calling me?”) I said, “Haan, Maamu?” He says, “Shirt utaarega?”
Yes. I didn’t understand what it meant first. Like when I started my career, I didn’t know what “genre” was. “Yeh genre kya hota hai?” So this was another word which came in my life. And then I understood what it meant; and it’s not like that, you know. It’s just that when you don’t have work, who else will work with you? Apne hee kaam karengay na. So while that was happening, I started working out a lot. In fact, I was working out with Prashant, who’s known as Shah Rukh’s trainer. Then suddenly one day I get a phone call… Salman on the phone. I’m like, “Salman calling me?” I said, “Haan, Maamu?” He says, “Shirt utaarega?”
That’s how roles are cast! “Shirt utaarega”!
No, you know what happened? I remember when I did Soldier with Rameshjee, they wanted me to go shirtless. I said, “Why should I go shirtless?” I don’t understand the logic behind it, and I’m a very shy person. I guess they must’ve discussed, and Rameshjee must’ve told Salman that “Vo shirt naheen utaarega.” And Salman really wanted me for the film. So I said, “Maamu, I’ll do anything.” So he said, “Come tomorrow and hear the script.” And that’s how Race 3 happened.
And one-and-a-half years back, I had met Sajid Nadiadwala also. You know, the strange story about me and Sajid is that all those years back, he wanted to work with me and somehow it never happened. That time, he used to come; and this time, I went and met him. But it doesn’t make a difference to me anymore. And he still remembers that; and I said, “Look, now I’m coming to you, please give me work.” So that’s how Housefull 4 happened.
People started noticing that I’m changing, I’m more positive, I have suddenly this energy in me, which I always had, I just didn’t know how to portray it. I’m just happy everyt hing is falling in place. And I only see good things happening. Even if good things don’t happen, I’m not gonna give up this time. I’m just gonna keep at it and see to it that I work every day of my life.
But Bobby, did you give up earlier?
I kind of did. You don’t really give up; you just start neglecting yourself.
You just let go.
Yeah; and you start fighting in your mind, fighting against things which you start believing. And suddenly you realise: what are you doing all these years? Koi aapka naheen hai, aapko kuchh karna hai to aapko apnay-aap karna padega. No matter how strong a family you have… they give you the strength to exist, but to work and to move forward in life, you have to do it on your own. How much can they give you that support? In fact, by working hard, and doing your best, you give them support. Financially; but [also] just that mental happiness. Everybody’s happy around you then. Kyunki gharvaale dekhtay hain chehra har din aur boltay hain, “Tu udaas kyun hai itna?” I said, “No, I’m fine.” “Naheen, tu chup ho gaya hai.” Living in a joint family, how do you even hide your emotions?
I’m blessed with a great family. I’m just blessed that people love my family so much, and they want me to come back. Everybody in the industry wants me to come back. And that’s so nice to see and to hear.
So when you do a film like Race 3 — where it is Salman Khan who is so outsized in his presence — as an actor, how do you make your presence felt?
See, as an actor, I don’t let myself get affected by people around me. I’ve never thought that there was competition. And the best thing about Salman is that he’s the most selfless actor I’ve met. He is the most giving actor I’ve met. And he’s a humongous, huge star; and he’s got no insecurities. I’ve never met someone like him. I’m not praising him because I’m working with him; but I see it.
I wanted my kids to see their father in his best. I wanted them to not look at him and say, “He’s a loser”. Or “he’s given up”. I wanted to be their inspiration, as my father is to me. And that’s the most important thing for me
Bobby, when you were at the bottom of this dip, you said you almost became an alcoholic; and you talked to directors and producers, and many of them said, “Yes, hum kuchh karengay”, but they didn’t. At that point, how did you actually keep faith? How did you get up and move again?
As I said, my family, my kids. I wanted them to see their father in his best. I wanted them to not look at him and say, “He’s a loser”. Or “he’s given up”. I wanted to be their inspiration, as my father is to me. And that’s the most important thing for me. And my wife, who believes so much in me.
Bobby, you said in an interview, “All actors today are commodities, and we need to sell ourselves”. Do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing?
I don’t see a choice in that. Because you have to make people want to see you on screen. And for that you have to really work hard and take care of yourself. I guess nowadays it’s become a full package thing. An actor has to be not just an actor: he has to dance, he has to have a great physique, he has to do all those things. Earlier on, it was an actor. That’s why you have to make yourself be attractive so that people want to see you. You have to move like that, with times, you know. I’m just trying to live a healthy lifestyle, basically. And that’s all you need to do. Be honest, be true and be healthy. If you’re not healthy, there’s no point being honest and true. What’ll you do with that?
In terms of roles, Bobby, what would you like to do now?
As I said, good characters. Good subjects make a good character. I’m just looking… if I get something like that. Main lead, why not? But it doesn’t mean it’s just main lead. I just want to work with people who are honest and dedicated. There are a lot of new kids nowadays, there are so many people who are doing some great work. I would like to work with them, I would like to work with people who’re already there in the industry. And I am gonna go out and meet all of them. And ask for work. And I will do that.
That’s amazing. That’s very admirable. I don’t know why there should be any embarrassment–
No, there is not embarrassment anymore.
Yeah! Why should there be?
I was just shy. I don’t know why I didn’t do all these things before. There were so many people I wanted to work with, and I thought they’ll work with me. But it doesn’t happen that way. I know them! It doesn’t happen that way: you have to keep going out there and telling them.
And Bobby, would you be open to roles that are not heroic necessarily? Because there’s a lot of movies now being made that are not about the traditional heroes and villains.
Definitely. It’s the new world… new way of thinking. So there are a lot of subjects written like that. I’m open to all that. All the experience in my life helps me now, as an actor. You know? So I’m open to all that. It’s gonna be fun, I’m just hoping. The sad part is that even till date, even now, this one thing hasn’t changed about an actor — once you have an image, you can’t break that. You try so hard. There are a lot of films that are made with big actors, which are not mainstream. They don’t work. But if you make the same film with not such a big actor, who’s not that “commercial actor”, it works! You’ve noticed that as well. And that’s the sad thing because as an actor, you want to do so much work. You want to do different kinds of films, but it doesn’t happen. So right now, all the films I’m doing are in the commercial space.
But you’re open to absolutely anything.
I’m open to absolutely anything as long as I believe in it. I can’t be part of a film where I don’t believe in it, just because I have to do a different kind of film.
The nineties are now this great nostalgia space for millennials. What is your memory of the nineties? What’s the funniest thing that happened to you? Or the craziest thing that happened to you?
You know, with every passing generation, the innocence is leaving it. There was more innocence in everything we did in the nineties than there is now. There were ways of being, and things you do, the clothes you wore. Those were funny, if you look at them now. That was that generation, that was how it was. The nineties had its own charm, and it had its own silliness.
Bobby, what about when you were this massive star? What was it like to shoot movies then? Was it crazy?
You know, I never thought of myself like that. I honestly didn’t. I never realised what level I had reached as a star, nothing.
You were just oblivious.
No-one believes me when I say that. I just wanted to work, you know. I wanted people to love me as much as they loved my father; and I would see that happening. I just didn’t ever realise that. Maybe I should have realised that. Maybe I would’ve worked harder. I just didn’t realise it. But it’s never too late.
And do you feel, Bobby, that you’re a better actor today?
I’m definitely more experienced in life, so it makes you a better actor. It definitely does. When I was younger, my brother always said, “Don’t worry. You’re younger, so you don’t understand things, so it’s fine. But when you have more experience, you’ll start realising.” And that’s what happens.
And in your house, what is it like with you now gearing up for this great second innings and your nephew, Karan, is being launched?
I know. I’m very excited: he’s like my son. Though you know how it is, when you reach that age, you start staying away from the elders. All the kids do that. So he always avoids the elders. I’m like, “Dude, I’m a cool chacha, just come to me, tell me anything you want.” But they’re still scared of me. I don’t know why! I said, “I’m not like your dad! Your dad used to be like…” When my parents used to not be at home, I’m like, “Great, I can go out now.” Suddenly I see my brother: “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going out.” “No. You can’t go out.” I said, “Why? Why can’t I go out?” “I say you can’t go out.” And I was scared of him. So I used to not go out.
He was quiet, but very intimidating. Very intimidating.
Yeah! Now I tell him, “Why did you ever stop me from going out?” Because he didn’t like going out; he didn’t understand what it was about, going out. So… My brother’s totally into that film. I don’t interfere with it, because it’s his son, it’s his jaan. And I don’t want to give suggestions, because it confuses a person. So I just want him to believe in what he’s doing, and he’s really at it. And I’m so sure, because when I worked with him in Dillagi, when he directed me for the first time, and he directed for the first time, I think that was one of my best performances. And he’ll get the best out of Karan. So… Fingers crossed.
So it’s all good.
It’s all good.
That’s wonderful to hear, Bobby! All the best. Thank you.
Thank you. It’s so nice meeting you after so long.