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Exclusive Interview: Saqib Saleem on taking risks, isolating himself, and everything about Dobaara

By Armin S. Monday, Jun 05, 2017 05:09: AM

You seem to be very sure of the projects you take up, from Bombay Talkies, which was very risky, to now this…what gives you the courage to experiment so much early on in your career?


The courage comes from the fact that I don’t come from here (chuckles). I don’t have a lineage to live up to. I want to work and do the kind of films that I would enjoy watching. So, all the decisions I make, I want to do something that nobody else would. Like, I knew for a fact that not a lot of people would be comfortable doing Bombay Talkies. Then, I did Hawa Hawai, in which I play a skating coach, and I don’t think any actor my age would have wanted to do that. I think they may have wanted to do something more heroic. And I was okay playing a coach.


I think the passion I have for acting is what makes me take these decisions. I work on every film like it is my last film. That’s where the courage comes from. And again, I don’t have a lineage to live up to, so I will decide what films I want to do and I will do them.



For an individual who took some chances with Bombay Talkies, Dobaara is an official remake that is also risky. It is a genre that we see seldom unless it is highly sexualized. The horror genre is either highly sexualized or extremely tacky. From an actor’s perspective, how do you keep a horror film true to its core and ensure that it delivers?


You know, I am a huge lover of horror films, but not Indian horror. Like you said, they sexualize the film and add a lot of sleaze to them. I am not comfortable with that. It is the “horrex” genre we have in the Indian cinema that I don’t enjoy. I have nothing against it but that’s not a genre I am comfortable with it.


When this film came to me, I was sure of it. It is based on Oculus, which is a film I really enjoyed. I said “okay, you can’t screw up a film like this by adding sleaze to it or an unnecessary soundtrack to it.” If we stay true to the original, and Indian-ize it as much as we could, then it works. That’s what we tried. So I was sure that it would not be tacky and sleazy. My family will watch this film. We were clear about this from day one – that we are making a genuine horror film. There is no sex, there is no sleaze in Dobaara. Everybody involved in the film were all on the same page. India has not had a genuine horror film in a very long time. In the last five, six years, they have been sexualized. There have been unnecessary songs in those films. According to me, you don’t need those in a horror film. You need suspense, you need to spook me, not seduce me – that is not going to work. All of us agreed to make a genuine horror film, which is how Dobaara happened.



I heard you locked yourself up for a day to see how your character would react to being isolated. Tell me a little bit about your preparations.


You know, we all live such urban lives. Like, I’m on my phone right now. I can speak to whoever I want. I can do whatever I want. For the first time, I was playing a character that was very isolated, very detached from the world, who had not seen the outside world. He had spent twelve years of his life in a juvenile cell. Usually, I have played very chirpy characters who would always have one-liners ready. So I wanted to get into this guy’s psyche – like what would he do? I made sure that I had my phone outside my room. I made sure there was no television in my room. I made sure there was no human connection in my room. I locked myself in my bedroom for a day. The only connection was when I got food, and I made sure I didn’t speak to that person. I was actually getting spooked (chuckles). That I can’t talk to anybody. It became so difficult for me to even spend time with myself. Like I wasn’t even comfortable with myself, I feel. I had to do it to understand what this character has gone through – who has done this for twelve years.


I made sure I visited a juvenile home in Delhi. I made sure to spend some four or five days just to observe how they spend their days. You will see a lot of that in the film. It was important for me to see how my body language will be. I had to break myself. Sometimes, you have to learn a lot of things. I think this film required me to unlearn a lot of things. Hence, this whole process.



Is there an unlearning that happens when acting with your real sister – unlearn the dynamics with Huma, unlearn who she is as a person?


Mhmm…yep. I had to be very sure that I disassociate the fact that she is my sister. I want to give her her own space as an actor. I wanted my own space as an actor. We decided at the beginning that we would treat each other as another co-actor. We would try not to take advantage of the fact that we knew each other. What happened after a few days, when we understood our characters, was the fact that we knew each other so well that played off each other. Like our relationship in both worlds is extremely different, but even then, the fact that we knew each other, I knew what to say or do to get a particular reaction from her. It would really help. It helped create the dynamics properly. Both are there because of love – but in the film, there is a past that both don’t share, both are running from the past, but also running towards it. But it really helped, the relationship we shared.



Huma said in an interview that she discovered new aspects of your personality that she didn’t know – did you discover new aspects to Huma that you weren’t privy to.


See, it’s a known fact that Huma is a good actor. But the whole process – preparing for a scene, and rehearsing – I witnessed it firsthand. She is so alive in a scene. I would improvise or say something that was not in the script. Huma would not stop. She would give it back to me. Some actors do not listen to the co-actors. They just wait for the cue and then go ahead with their lines. But Huma is always alive in her scenes. She is not corrupted. Because everyone figures out their devices in a particular scene after a few films. But she is very spontaneous in the entire process. She follows the script but also does her own thing.



Now, turning to your future projects, tell me a little bit about your upcoming film, Makhna, and what we can look forward to with you in the future?


See, Makhna is a very fun film. It is a departure from Dobaara, which is very intense. Makhna is very light and fun and I’m playing a Delhi boy. I’ve never done that before and I am a Delhi boy. So, there was no preparation for that film. I just went on set. I don’t need to prepare for this. I need to play myself. I had a lot of fun on that film. It is very precious film. Taapsee is also a very dear friend. It’s been a fun ride, that film. I hope people enjoy it when it comes out end of this year. And I wanted to do a light film. My last few films have been very intense. I enjoy doing something fun here and there. And we end up coming out with a very sweet love story. Come end of the year, hopefully, you will say you like the film.


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