With Varun and Alia both coming from film families, did you ever feel like the odd one out?
Not at all! I am very happy with my parents and because of them I am where I am. My mother is a very big Yash Chopra fan. She kept on watching Silsila, Lamhe, Kabhie Kabhie, etc. She used to watch these films on the VHS tapes. Her impression is my impression of my childhood films. I was born on YRF films (laughs). She also used to watch a lot of Pakistani plays like 'Bakra Qisto Pe', etc. But I wasn't ragged by Varun nor Alia and nor Karan. They were too professional (laughs).
So how did your journey from the bathroom mirror to the sets in Mumbai start?
I came to Mumbai to be an actor. I was modelling in Delhi with my agency and then came to Mumbai for a film to be directed by Anubhav Sinha after Cash. It was being produced by Adlabs. My parents were surprised and I had to show them my contract but luckily that film never took off. Then Anubhav started Ra.One. That's when I thought to stay back and try a bit out in the B-town. If it wasn't for the money I earned from my first producers for the film that didn't take off, I wouldn't have been here in Mumbai. That had to happen for me to come here. For me to try, I had to know how the film fraternity functions. So that's where assisting came up and I got My Name Is Khan. Modelling for me was always part time but to be an actor was always at the back of my head. I now understand pre-production, post-production, shot breakdown, etc. I am now more aware of how a film is made and I knew I had to be in Mumbai for good to be in the profession that I always wanted to pursue – acting.
I was always the quiet one around on the sets and used to observe the proceedings. So one day Karan came up to me and told me what his father, Mr. Yash Johar told him once, that goes, 'If you ever have to invest in something, invest in people.' That was very interesting. I was an AD at that time. I've heard that Yashji (Johar) had so much goodwill. I understood that it's not about the money you are making or what your future holds for you. It's about working with the right people. Karan Johar does the same thing. He lives by it and so do all the directors who work for Dharma – Tarun, Punit, Shakun, etc. It's brushed on all and I hope it brushes off on me too.
You come from Delhi. But did you incorporate something that was inherently Delhi by nature for you? Some slang words, etc?
Yes! Karan did ask me if I knew any words that were widely spoken by today's youth in Delhi, barring the bad words (laughs). He made a song on the word 'Velle'. He also had some inputs from Shah Rukh Khan. He too is from Delhi and he told Karan that in the capital people hang out a lot outside the Jama Masjid. I did share my inputs with him but the film is Karan's imagination throughout. Yes, I have to say this that the college of SOTY was a lot happening than what it used to be in my Delhi college. I used to get more attention in St Teresa's from SOTY (laughs).
Marlon Brando, James Dean, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, etc., were youth icons in their own way. Have you seen their movies?
A few years ago I just saw a James Dean movie – Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. What movies! He died young doing five films but I understood what everyone was talking about – his energy, his attitude, etc. Everyone keeps telling me that I am not a rebel (laughs). But I have my own niche I believe. Good for them that they didn't have song and dance. In Bollywood we can't escape that. I had a tough time dancing. I do partying but it's more social partying. I did break a leg or two more than shaking one.
Now that you are an actor, do you still see movies as an audience?
I think I'm still an audience when I see movies and I will be when I see Student Of The Year too. I am too critical about movies. Karan tells me that I get excited but I keep saying I can do ten times better. There was a comfort zone that increased while we shot the 'Disco Song' and a few people who've worked on the song know how comfy I got doing that song. The reason was I kept on improving myself. I am not so attached right now seeing my persona onscreen and on the posters of the film. That will take a year more (laughs). Right now I am the audience.
So what's the power of youth aka today's audience? You represent them, right?
Yes! Audience has the ultimate power, especially the youth. If you are not liked, no matter by whom you are backed by or whoever's son or daughter you are, it's game over for you. But then you either are born like Salman or Shah Rukh Khan. Having said that, these both were liked for a reason – their first or second film or their off screen persona. It's also about your sustenance off screen too. Everything written in the media should not be taken seriously. It's a mental game. You need to detach yourself from reviews, media, etc. How to survive before and after release too matters a lot. So the audience is finally the one who gives you the green signal whether you will survive in this industry or not, and nobody else.