#BigInterview: Saqib on becoming an actor
After making his big Bollywood debut with ‘Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge’, Saqib Saleem broke away from his boy-next-door image and featured in films like ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’, ‘Hawaa Hawaai’, Bombay Talkies’ and others. He garnered immense love and appreciation for the same. The actor has also been exploring various genres and roles in several series on the OTT platforms of late.
ETimes caught up with Saqib for an exclusive interview where the actor opened up about various topics ranging from his nine glorious years in Bollywood to sister Huma Qureshi to how he tackles trolls on social media and more. Excerpts from the interview:
You recently completed nine years in Bollywood. How does it feel?
I feel like I have just about entered the film industry. It feels like yesterday that I walked into YRF (Yash Raj Films) office and signed my first film. It is still very fresh. I hope I have another 19 years to go. This is what I enjoy doing and what I want to do for the rest of my life. I even want to direct and produce films. All in all, I just want to be part of this industry. I am grateful for all the love I have received from the audience in the past nine years. I hope this continues.
You made your debut with ‘Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge’. How did that happen?
I gave multiple auditions for the film to casting director Shanoo Sharma for eight months. She just wanted to take my auditions for everything. The auditions went for a lot of films and finally, ‘Mujhse Fraandship Karoge’ happened. It was a long and taxing process but at the end of the day, it was YRF films so it was all worth it.
How was your first time in front of the camera?
I was very nervous to be very honest. I had only done two or three ads before this. I did not have much experience being in front of the camera. Now I can joke about it but I was really tense at that time. I used to be very comfortable during wide shots but when it came to close-up shots, my hands used to tremble. Out of nowhere, I had bagged a film with such a big production house and it was my first film so I was quite anxious. I was just starting out so I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was right or wrong. To top it all, I was amongst many important people and that made me all the more nervous. I was in that state for a little while but my director Nupur Asthana got me through it. I still call her ‘Captain’. She led from the front and told me how it is done.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I used to play cricket before this. I have played cricket at the state level. I never aspired to become an actor. I am an accidental actor. I became an actor after a heart-break. Back in the day, my girlfriend wanted to become an actress and she had shifted to Bombay. I followed her here. Later, she broke up with me. But I didn’t go back home. I fell in love with Bombay.
You have played some versatile roles in films like, ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’, ‘Hawaa Hawaai’, or Bombay Talkies for that matter. Do you still feel your potentials are still untapped?
I won’t lie. I used to get upset a lot initially. People praised me a lot for my performance after each film. They appreciated me for all the versatile roles I have played. I also got appreciated for playing a gay character in ‘Bombay Talkies’ such early in my career. I still get messages from people saying, ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’ is their favourite film. But despite all that, I did not get the opportunity that I felt I deserved. I felt if I did such good work then why am I not getting more such roles and opportunities?
Until a few years, I was under the notion that if I do good work, I will get more of it followed by appreciation. However, I realised that this is not how the industry works. When I started, I had a lot of anger about the way the industry functioned. I was very young then. I used to compare myself with others and get upset when my contemporaries succeeded.
Then about three years ago, I sat myself down and I reminded myself of the advice that my father had given me when I used to play cricket. There was once an under-15 cricket team trial. Pointing at a boy, I told my father, ‘
Papa woh ladke ka nahi ho, mera ho jaye’. To this, my dad said, ‘
Aise kyu bol rahe ho. Bolo ki uska bhi ho jaye aur mera bhi. Kisi ke liye bura kyu wish kar raha hai’. That is when I learnt that I need to stop worrying about what others have or will get. Even now, I don’t care about how many films somebody else has got. All I need to do is focus on what I am doing.
After this, I have been very happy with myself. Now, I am not only happy for myself but I also take time to appreciate the good performances of other actors. If somebody I know does a good job, I am the first person to call him and tell him, ‘Dude, I loved it!’.
Your sister Huma Qureshi is also a part of the film industry. Have you both been subjected to comparisons ever- by your family or somebody else?
This is India. Even Virat Kohli is compared to someone or the other. We both have fun banters where Huma and I pull each other’s legs. We don’t take it seriously though. We know what we mean to each other. We always try to look out for each other. We not only praise each other when we do good, we also tell each other when we are bad so that we can do better. We both operate in that sense. At no point do we get bothered with comparisons. Ultimately, what we are trying to do is better ourselves.
You are quite active on social media. How do you deal with trolls and negativity?
I recently conducted a troll meet on social media. I wanted to know where are this hatred and anger coming from and why. I am somebody who readily accepts my faults and apologises. We as actors are subjected to trolls quite often. We get trolled when we talk about something, we also get trolled when we refrain from talking. I don’t have a problem if somebody has to have a conversation with me. I always interact and have conversations with my fans on social media. But if some random people with no profile picture or proper name, come and badmouths my family, it is not acceptable.
I got irritated a few times but then I thought let’s find out the reason. So I organised a virtual troll meet. I put out the link and invited people to come and tell me why they have so much hatred towards me. I was of the view that maybe their opinions will make me a better person. I wanted to know if I was doing something wrong. Trust me, not one troll turned up. All the people who came were my fans. That day I realised that love is greater than hate. The people who are spreading hate have fake profiles. Now, I don’t bother myself with these things. People who love me are the only ones who matter to me.
How has your OTT experience been?
It has been fantastic. I think it is great for the actors. The content that is being made is very different. As an actor, you get excited because every time there is something new and challenging.
You said you once aspired to be a cricketer. You got an opportunity to be one on screen in ’83. Did you enjoy shooting for the film?
Shooting for ‘83’ has been the best experience of my life. All I wanted to do in my life earlier was play for the Indian cricket team and here I was the vice captain of the 1983 World Cup. I am playing Mohinder Amarnath who won ‘Man of the Match’ in the final series. In some way, I feel I have lived my dream. Even if I would have played for the India team, I can’t imagine picking up the world cup. I was able to do that in the movie. It has been a very fulfilling experience. I have made some great friendships on the sets of the film. I have had a great time with everybody and just can’t wait for the film to release in the theatres.
Who are the directors you would love to work with?
I want to work with everybody who wants to make a film. No differentiation. Of course, like everybody else, I too want to work with bigwigs like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Karan Johar, Shashank Khaitan, Vishal Bhardwaj, and others. At the same time, I also want to work with new directors. I was also a newcomer once and somebody gave me a chance.
Nachiket Samant, director of my last film on OTT is a newcomer. He is such a brilliant filmmaker that I would want to work with him again. The guy I made ‘Rangbaaz’ with, Bhav Dhulia, I want to work with him again. In fact, I am already planning something with him. With exposure to so much content, I feel people have so many unique and new ideas.
To be very fair, I don’t know when Sanjay Leela Bhansali or Karan Johar will offer me a film. I am sure they have their requirements and limitations. They have their own decisions that they have to make while making a film. They are definitely on my wishlist but I really want to invest my energies into newer talent. I just want to collaborate with interesting minds, whoever that might be.
Who did you idolise during your growing up years?
I am a huge Khiladi (Akshay Kumar) fan. I had posters of Akshay sir all over my room. I started doing Martial Arts. I used to do Kung Fu as a kid because he is a Martial Artist. I have seen films of Akshay Kumar that even he might have not seen, ones that were superhit and the ones that didn’t work. I am a massive Akshay Kumar fan. I have seen ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’ more than 50 times.
How was your experience shooting in the new normal?
I was very nervous, to begin with. There were people with PPE kits and, masks. I was initially nervous but at the same time, I was very glad to be back on the sets. We took as much safety precaution as we could. But the fear of the virus was always there. So I told my director that if I had to stop worrying on the set then I will have to get the COVID test done regularly. Every four days, I used to have a COVID test done. I had about eight COVID tests done while shooting for the film. That was the only way I could keep my head sane. As an actor, you have to touch certain things, do certain things and there is always a fear in the back of your mind and that fear then affects your performance because you are unable to concentrate and give your 100 percent.
Do you miss watching films in theatres?
I most certainly do. I am eagerly waiting for the theatres to reopen. To be really honest, watching a film on the big screen is different and there is no alternate for that experience. Yes, OTT is giving people a great platform and content but the fun you have in theatres is something else.
I watched myself on the big screen for the first time when my debut film released. I had tears in my eyes after I saw the opening credits which introduced me. I thought to myself if I had gone back to Delhi after doing two ad films, I would have just been a hero of my colony. But now I am here as a part of the mainstream Hindi film that was produced by one of the leading production houses. I was overwhelmed with all those thoughts.
What is the first thing you want to do when things go back to normalcy?
I want to be able to fly to my parents’ place whenever I want and hug them without the fear of harming them in any way. I don’t want to go to restaurants and parties. I just want to go back to my basic life.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors?
First and foremost, there should be clarity on why you are here in this industry. Do you want to act because you want to become a superstar or because you love doing it or both? It can be anything but one should be clear about that.
If I talk about myself, I love acting. Give me a good script and I will do it. I don’t care if it is on OTT, theatre, or films. I will work hard and give you good performance. Earlier, people used to just shoot for the film and then wait for its release. People hardly thought about the in-between time, the process of shooting. That is something I enjoy. Of late, I feel I have come to understand myself much better.