Video: Meet the UAE resident who played the lead villain in 'Tiger Zinda Hai'

Video: Meet the UAE resident who played the lead villain in Tiger Zinda Hai

Iranian expat Sajjad Delafrooz took Bollywood by storm with his role in in the Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif starrer.


Nilanjana Gupta

Published: Fri 30 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 7 Sep 2019, 9:16 AM

After watching the superhit 2017 film, Tiger Zinda Hai, many of us were left wondering, who's that villain? Some booed him, some hated him and some loved to hate him, while others rooted for him and even drooled over him.

The frightening Daesh leader 'Abu Usman' in the Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif starrer won many hearts with his atrocities, including that of Bollywood's bhai. In an interview after the movie's release, Salman Khan applauded his riveting performance and even compared it to that of Amjad Khan in Sholay as the legendary 'Gabbar Singh' who stands ever-present in the halls of Bollywood cinema's best villains.

However, contrary to his high-octane onscreen persona, Sajjad Delafrooz, a UAE-based Iranian expat, says he hardly gets angry, loves to cook (and eat) and write romantic poetry. The actor was born in Iran's Lamerd city in November 1983 and, two years later, his family moved base to Sharjah. When he was 18, he went to Northern Cyprus to pursue a BBA and MBA, following which he returned to the UAE to work as a public relations manager in Abu Dhabi. He grew up in a conservative setting where watching and discussing movies was not encouraged. "Our idea of being successful was to have a job, get married and own a house. If you also have a car, then brilliant. That's what I grew up believing and, when I started working in Abu Dhabi, I had achieved all of those dreams, but I was so bored. My life had become so monotonous. I decided to quit my job in 2011 and take up acting professionally," the youngest of six siblings said.

What followed was an uphill battle, many years of rejections, struggles and failures. Delafrooz said he would send bulk emails to agencies and leverage his research skills from his MBA to contact the right people. "I reached out to so many agencies and requested an audition. I would never ask them to take me for the role, but would just humbly ask for an audition. At that time, my friends and family were worried and they would ask me what I was doing with my life. I had no source of income and they would urge me to get a full-time corporate job. But that further strengthened my determination to pursue acting. I have always been a stubborn person. If you tell me not to do something, I will make sure I do it," he added.

Delafrooz started modelling for photoshoots and TV commercials. He landed his first Arabic short film The Orphanage in 2011. "When I finally got a call for an audition for the first time, the casting director told me clearly that he was looking for only professional actors. I said, "Of course, I have been on stage all my life." The truth is I hadn't acted before. I had to lie to get the audition and, funnily enough, I got the role," Delafrooz laughed.

The actor has also worked in Emirati TV series Justice and many other short films. His primary strength is he knows five languages - Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, English and Hindi - and for that he credits the UAE. "I was exposed to diverse cultures and nationalities while growing up here. It helps me today in portraying different characters on screen. Moreover, knowing so many languages helped me find work, not only in the UAE, but also in Turkey, Jordan, Thailand and Malaysia. I can speak Arabic in various dialects and I am also quick in picking up new languages. I even spoke Italian in one of the short films," he said.

Delafrooz had his eyes set on Bollywood ever since he decided to become an actor. He got his big break in 2015 with the movie Baby, starring Akshay Kumar and Taapsee Pannu, where he played the role of a doctor. "I remember I was shooting in Bangkok when an agency told me that I quickly needed to send a video of me speaking Hindi. At that time, I had a very thick accent and couldn't speak the language well. I sent my video to the agency and their initial comment was that I was too young to be a doctor. I told them I could easily fix that problem by growing a beard. That's how I managed to get the role in Baby. Even though it was a small role, it made me realise that I needed to work much harder to get other roles in Bollywood."

A few years later, Delafrooz auditioned for Tiger Zinda Hai. "I got an email from Yash Raj Films that said they were looking for a particular character in a movie and there were no other details. I sent my video in Hindi, English and Arabic and then something amazing and unexpected happened - I got a call from Shanoo Sharma. After so many years of disappointments and rejections, when you get a call from one of the most popular casting directors in Bollywood, it takes time to sink in. She said she liked my video and wanted me to do a scene from the film. I did so and soon after she called again and confirmed me for the role. I was overwhelmed with joy but considering the calm person I am, I didn't react. I just sat in my living room and said to myself that it was my chance to prove what I have."

After the release of Tiger Zinda Hai in 2017, the actor moved to Mumbai for a career in Bollywood but continues to visit his mother and siblings in the UAE. He recently worked with Raima Sen on Zee5 original Parchhayee, a love story directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and played the opposite of his character in Tiger Zinda Hai. He's currently working with director Neeraj Pandey for a web series.

Delafrooz said he hopes to work with superstar Amitabh Bachchan someday whose films he grew up watching. He's also fascinated by Pankaj Kapoor for his work in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and Maqbool, and hopes to share the screen with him.

"In future, I definitely want to remain in Bollywood because it's an honour to be there. I see so many talented people who work hard to be there and I feel so blessed to be part of that industry."

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