Actor Dino Morea is having a busy week. DisneyPlus Hotstar period epic The Empire, in which he plays the villain Shaybani Khan, released last Friday. This Friday marked the release of ZEE5 comedy Helmet, which the actor has produced. He talks about dealing with trolls, marketing himself on social media and what the taste of long-awaited success is like:
Sneha Menon Desai: Dino, you're having a really exciting week – The Empire is out on Hotstar and you've produced Helmet, out this Friday. What is your mindspace right now? Which of your two babies is vying for more of your attention?
Dino Morea: These are both my babies and I intend to give them both equal attention. They say when it rains, it pours and that's exactly what's happening. The Empire released last Friday, Helmet releases this Friday. I've got one project as an actor, one as a producer, I've been waiting for an opportunity like this for a really long time and I do believe that the universe conspires to give you what you want. It's all coming together and I'm excited.
SMD: When The Empire released on Hotstar, the stats showed that nearly 3.5 million people in India watched it, but at the same time 'uninstall Hotstar' was the top trend in the country. You'd seen this storm during Taandav as well, how are you processing it now?
DM: That was being trended by people who hadn't watched the show. We've said in several interviews that the show based on a book, which is a work of fiction. It's not Emperor Babur's biopic, it's a story. It talks about how a king acquires and maintains his throne, what politics are involved, which family are involved, the deceit, the betrayal. That's the saga we're telling. We're not glorifying anybody. A lot of people who trended 'uninstall Hotstar' seemed to have this impression that we'd glorified him. It's silly, maybe watch the show and then make a decision? I was reading some of the comments that said, 'Oh, you are glorifying Mughals, terrible show, uninstall Hotstar.' But these people hadn't even watched the show. If they'd understood what it was and then formed an opinion, then I'd be okay with that. Don't form an opinion without knowing what you're complaining about. I've seen the storm and I try to detach myself from lot of these things because I'm here as an actor. I'm here to do what I do best and impress everybody who is watching. I don't let it bother me. The positive feedback we've been getting is far more overwhelming than all the crazy stories.
SMD: So you've turned off Google alerts?
DM: No, that's on. I want to know everything that's going on, good or bad. I want to be aware of who is saying what and when. I have an elephant's memory – I remember names, who the person is, I'll find out where they came from, I know everything.
SMD: You've been around nearly two decades and there have been some memorable films, some not-so-memorable films, but you've hit a sweet spot in the last two years with Hostages, Taandav and The Empire. What is it that you feel you're doing differently?
DM: I'm not the one doing anything differently, people are now looking at me differently. I'm so grateful to (The Empire director) Mitakshara Kumar and to (creator) Nikkhil Advani for seeing me this way, as as a new idea, as a new concept. It takes guts for someone to do this. I was knocking on doors and saying, 'Hey, give me work. I'm capable of doing it, just see me differently. Don't look at me as this sweet romantic hero you've always seen me as, look at me differently.' And this is what they did.
I haven't been doing anything differently – I'm always prepared and right now, I'm even more prepared as an actor. The past 20 years of living in this industry have given me experiences that have helped my acting. Life experiences make anyone a better actor, so I think that's what it is. The feedback that I've been getting from the industry is, 'Oh, we didn't see you this way.'
Open your eyes, think, get creative, that's the whole point, that's why we have the beautiful space of OTT platforms. We want to raise the bar, we want everyone to get more creative, otherwise what are we going to live with – just the same 10 actors in every film? People need to start just expanding (their mindset) a little and taking off their blinkers. Invest in brilliant actors and they will shine. I was given an opportunity for the first time when I did Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi (1999) and Raaz (2002). I was a newcomer. There are many other newcomers who need to be given an opportunity. Somebody has to take a risk and invest in them. As a producer, I see the whole business side of making movies when I'm casting roles but at the same time I think that if I had a little more power and money backing me, I'd definitely take risks with the casting.
SMD: I think a big factor that's contributed to people seeing you differently is just how you've been using your social media. You've been playing to the gallery with your fitness videos and, for lack of a more refined word, hot selfies. Are you having fun?
DM: If nobody else is going to market me, I have to market myself, I have to blow my own trumpet. If I take my t-shirt off, I get about 10,000 more followers. That's great, I love it. Because of those 10,000 new followers, some brand will say, 'Hey, here's the money.' I need money, so bring it on. You have to stay alive, you have to survive. It's a deadly sea out there and if you're not a smart shark, you're going to get eaten.
SMD: You saw super stardom as a supermodel when you were so young. Does it taste different when it comes later in life? Do you savor it more?
DM: Quite honestly, it's been beautiful every time it's arrived. It's nice because I know that I've worked hard and earned it, whether it was modelling and winning Gladrags, then going abroad and winning the International Gladrags or even was coming back and modelling and doing music videos, ads and then movies – I knew that I'd worked hard every time and so it felt sweet.
SMD: What's it like now?
DM: Right now its's fantastic because this is the opportunity I've been waiting for. I want to savor every moment of the feedback and adulation I've been getting for playing a role in this humongous, epic show. I want to enjoy every second of it, I don't want to skip a single moment. It feels good and what feels even better is that people who I'd asked for work in the past are now calling me and saying, 'Hey, that's great, that's nice, we're seeing you in a new way. I need the industry to wake up and see me and that's what's happening with this. Ultimately, I want to do really well as an actor and as a producer and I think this sets it up for me well. I'm thoroughly enjoying this. When you work hard and people like what you've done, it feels good.