‘I Didn’t Expect To Be Away For 12 Years’

‘Personal reasons required me to take some time off.’

IMAGE: Fardeen Khan in Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar

“When you’ve been away for so long, you have all these fears and insecurities of whether people care to want to work with you or if they are even interested. Then suddenly you get this call. It was all like a dream,” Fardeen Khan tells Ronjita Kulkarni/Rediff.com.

The “call” was an offer to play a role in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Web series, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar.

Fardeen will be seen as Nawab Wali Mohammed, stepping into a period zone he has never attempted before.

As the actor returns to acting after 12 years, he tells us just what the experience was like.

How did you land a role in Heeramandi?

As you’re probably aware, I’ve been away for a long, long, time.

I get a call one day from (casting director) Shruti Mahajan. She had seen me at an award function — I was at IIFA — and she said she’d like me to go and meet Mr Bhansali.

I initially couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Any actor worth his salt would give an arm and a leg to work with Mr Bhansali. Just the way he presents his characters, the way he writes his characters and the complexity of the emotions that he writes his characters with. It’s an actor’s dream.

When you’ve been away for so long, you have all these fears and insecurities of whether people care to want to work with you or if they are even interested. Then suddenly you get this call. It was all like a dream.

So I went over to Mr Bhansali’s office and had a meeting with him.

Of course, I have met him over the years, but I hadn’t met him in a long time.

He took a look at me and thought I would suit one of the characters called Wali Mohammed.

We did a look test.

Then, a call comes in: ‘Fardeen, you’re on, you’ve passed the look test.’

I still didn’t believe what I was hearing. I still didn’t believe my luck.

I was so, so, so grateful.

At the same time, I was extremely nervous by the prospect of working with him, working in this epic saga that he had envisioned.

I was very grateful for the opportunity to work again after such a long time with probably the best film-maker we have today. And probably the only film-maker who can present a project like this on this scale.

IMAGE: Fardeen Khan with his children. Photograph: Kind courtesy Fardeen Khan/Instagram

Wasn’t it daunting?

Daunting would be an understatement (laughs).

You’re working with this man, this creative genius, who’s given us some of the most memorable films and characters and who strives for perfection. That is one aspect of it.

For me personally, I’m stepping into a world I have never done before — a period drama.

The first day, just stepping on the set, I was so overwhelmed.

You’re stepping into another world!

That’s the first time you’re hit by the scale and scope and magnitude of the task ahead.

So it is extremely daunting.

But Mr Bhansali works really closely with his actors.

If he’s not happy with a shot, he will spend the whole day doing it. So you feel that comfort that he’s looking out for you.

For example, there was a scene with Aditi (Rao Hydari) and me. We went, I think, Take 12, Take 13 but something was not working.

Eventually, he realised there was something wrong in the dialogue. So he tweaked the dialogue and started all over again, and everything just fit into place perfectly.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Fardeen Khan/Instagram

What is Sanjay Leela Bhansali like?

He is the most intuitive director I have worked with.

He knows what he wants but he has to feel it.

He has his own process.

Music plays an important part in the way he conceives scenes. Even his editing patterns are all done musically.

He uses that to invoke his emotions. Until he actually feels it on set, he doesn’t let go.

It’s not like he is true to the written word. If he thinks something is not working, even if he’s written it himself, he has that confidence and humility to himself say, Hey, this is not working. Let’s try it differently again.

He listens to his gut.

As an actor, you just have to surrender to his process.

It takes a certain degree of courage to be able to do that because you’re just there bare and vulnerable, and that is what he tries to capture. That is why you rarely see the performances he extracts in any other project.

On one level, you have your own ambition to excel and your own standard, and you try and achieve that and then you see this auteur work in every aspect of film-making, whether it is set designing, choreography, music, writing, editing… you do not want to want to disappoint him.

I have never worked with anyone who was so knowledgeable and passionate about every little pixel that you see on screen.

IMAGE: The cast of Heeramandi — Fardeen Khan, Taha Shah Badussha, Sharmin Sehgal, Richa Chadha, Sonakshi Sinha, Manisha Koirala, Sanjeeda Sheikh and Aditi Rao Hydari with Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Photograph: Kind courtesy Netflix

Did you miss being in the movies? Why did you quit?

Of course, I missed it a lot.

Personal reasons required me to take some time off.

Obviously, it was not intended to be for 12 years. Initially, it was meant to be for two or three years.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to put my foot in the door again. It’s not very often that you get chances like this.