You are the first Indian actor to be starring in a Marvel series. How excited are you?
Can you talk about your character? I being chosen as the first Indian actor to play in a Marvel series sprung out of the blue by a tweet. This was pleasant surprise and my team ratified the news - and it seems like I am the one. I have always believed to keep it simple and let my work talk for itself.
The series is a comedy. The story revolves around a Pakistani middle-class immigrant family in New Jersey, the US. I play the father, Yusuf Khan, whose family consists of his wife Muniba Khan and their two children – Amir and Kamala. The show is a representation of Asian culture and actors. It’s the first time that one of the world’s biggest production house has weaved in the fabric of diversity. My character is warm, loving, affectionate, encouraging, animated and a poetry-lover. My daughter in the series, Kamala, plays the role of Ms Marvel, and she’s 18 years old.
Yes, it’s exciting! The enormity is yet to hit me because while filming I looked at it as a job. And more than that, I look at it with humility because many people are sitting at home during the Covid-19 crisis, and I get a starring role in one of the world’s biggest production.
Do you see a shift in the working ethos between Hollywood and Bollywood, especially with the pandemic protocols?
In Hollywood, the Covid-19 protocols are insane. Whether we are shooting or not, we get tested thrice a week. Directors, actors, camera personnel, production personnel - all come under the red zone.
The blue zone personnel, which include the rest of the crew who are not required to come in daily, get tested twice a week. A mask and a shield has to be worn at all times by the actors except when the director goes ‘action’!
This is my experience with Marvel, which has a huge budget to back this vision of safety. But they’re fortunate that they have the budgets to back that vision. The protocols aside, being a science fiction fan and growing up watching films of Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron, the experience was amazing!
Indian web series are becoming hugely popular globally. What’s your take on it?
I think the onslaught of web series/OTT is a boon for a lot of good actors who are not getting roles in mainstream cinema as it works on popularity (without giving it a negative connotation). Web series has given these actors a very good opportunity to shine and find their voice in the craft. Additionally, these series do not cater to box office demands, rather to storytelling. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff that’s happening on the Indian OTT scenario, which is brilliant.
Your professional journey has been diverse. How did that happen?
I started my career in an advertising agency. During my time there, I was servicing an international confectionary brand at the time and it so happened that another international brand was coming into India with one of their very famous chocolates. So my client wanted to counter that entry. We created a concept and presented it to the client. During the course of discussion and script presentation, my name was recommended to do the commercial since the role was very close to my ‘crazy sense of expression’. As I was privy to the client research, I took on the role. The weird thing is now no one remembers the ad, but they remember me. The brand that I was servicing was Cadbury.
That brought me fame, and I started doing commercial theatre. However, I moved on from one ad agency to the next as by then I had creative independence.
This was the early 90s in India. The next big step was the onset of satellite television ns India. ZEE TV conceptualised a show called ‘Saanp Seedhi’ and my ex-boss was directing it using a multi-camera setup, a first-ever in India. He asked me to be a host for the show. So Voila! I was doing that every weekend. The show had mixed reviews in the beginning ,but became hugely popular later on. As I became a popular face, I started to pursue acting more seriously – I got offered films, TV series and even dubbing for Hollywood stars. But dubbing is not as easy as it seems. Voice is not everything; you have to time your dialogues according to the character’s mood, the situation and base your tone on that. Having a baritone alone is not enough.
So, would it be okay to call you the ‘accidental actor’?
(Laughs) I’m an accidental everything. I’m an accidental ad man, accidental actor, accidental voiceover artist. Everything has just happened to me. Looking at the trajectory of my career, it all makes sense to me now — from advertising to theatre, modelling, game shows, TV and films and now doing live events as well. All in 30 years!
That’s a huge curve. Tell us about your visit to the Dubai.
I’ve been coming to Dubai since 1993. Through ‘Saanp Seedhi’, I got a show in Dubai’s India Club. And because I was ‘famous’, there was a huge turnout. It was my first live event. Now we are working on a quiz show for schools in Dubai that I will be hosting. Children in this country take education very seriously, and quizzing is sort of a challenge that keeps them going.
You have worked alongside a lot of Bollywood big names. Who is your favourite?
I am a fan of all the big stars – Amitabh Bachchan, all the Khans. But in their company, I have never felt overshadowed by them. In my experience, bigger the star, the more humble they are. It’s amazing!
How would you describe yourself in nutshell?
I am a homebody. I am also humble because I truly believe that if I am doing a Hollywood project today, I must have done some real good work. It’s cliché to say this, but what made me realise the extent of my humility is the Marvel series. I learnt a new term when I was in Hollywood from one of the junior actors. She asked me how I received the role in the series to which I promptly replied that the universe has given me this role. She responded by saying, ‘It’s called the survival complex. You feel like you don’t deserve it and its luck that has played its part. How can you not deserve it? Something has added up to you being here at the right place and at the right time’. It got me thinking that since the intangible force cannot be quantified, you have got nothing else to look towards - you turn to the concept of God, the almighty, the omnipresence, the creator. So in a nutshell, I’m a nutshell.
What are your upcoming projects in the next couple of years?
I am starring in a movie, which launches actor Danny Denzongpa’s son. It’s an action-packed, big budget film where I play a very interesting character. I am a little kicked about that one. As well as that, there is Ms. Marvel that will release in 2022.