I've seen Gali Guleiyan and Aligarh – in these films I can't recognise you because your immersion into the character is so complete. Then I see you in Satyameva Jayate and Baaghi 2 and these seem like such one-note characters. How do you both?
I think it's clarity. I exactly know why Satyameva Jayate is required if I have to do a Aligarh, Gali Guleiyan and Bhonsle. I know the Hindi film industry is heavily box-office oriented industry and this will not change. So I should continue doing these films and get the strength from Satyameva Jayate. As an actor, you just surrender to the director. On the set of Satyameva Jayate, the director Milap Zaveri used to shout 'Sir, mujhe Aligarh nahi chahiye. Yeh bahut lamba pause ho gaya'. Yes I can add more to Satyameva Jayate's character but in that parameter not so much space is given to you as an actor. So what should you do? Have a conflict on the set or flow with the vision of the director? I'm very happy with the second option. At the end of the day, I just want to wrap up and go home! So I'm willing to do it and with no apologies. At the end of the day, I'm very happy when people clap at my dialogue. At the same time, a film like Gali Guleiyan is my space. This is where my skills are tested.
Once Naseeruddin Shah had told me that he could never be a mainstream actor because he didn't have the conviction that an Amitabh Bachchan did. Is that true?
I relate to him and, at the same time, the times are different. The problems that greats like Mr Om Puri and Naseeeruddin Shah have faced, by the time we came in we were aware of the workings of mainstream cinema and the problems you go through and we didn't want to go through the same kind of frustrations they have gone through. We wanted to learn from their experiences and make our lives easier on the sets of mainstream cinema. At the same time, when we were doing our kind of cinema we wanted to give it our all – this was our zone and what we were educated in. I had the chance of meeting with Om Puri and that frustration I don't think I was ready to go through. So I had to come to terms with it. I had to be clear as to why I had to do a Satyameva Jayate and be counted in the commercial arena.
I know you've always said that you don't care about the box office. You've said, 'I'm an agent of change'. But does this get tiring? Do you ever get frustrated when you see people with far less talent than you enjoy the perks of fame – the endorsements, big cars…
Firstly, if you really look at yourself as the agent of change, you have to keep your needs limited. You should be able to go to Sanal Sasidharan who has made S Durga and say 'If you ever have a script, please give it to me'. And I do it because I enjoy being a part of their creativity. I feel working with such directors who could make me a better actor. But if you're going to do that, you can't be passing by a Mercedes showroom and looking at it with greed. Believe me I have everything, thanks to the mainstream cinema I have done. But once the greed seeps in, then you're done.
From 1993 to now, what's the one essence on acting you've understood or learnt?
The marketing. Acting I've learnt – it's a part of my education. But if you are an Indian actor you have to learn how to market yourself and your film. You have to put it out there that you're a force to reckon with. It's a very hard lesson. I used to hardly speak and because of this lesson I started speaking non-stop. I'm constantly talking about myself or my project and if I'm not talking, I'm typing it on Instagram or Twitter. So at times I get exhausted.