How has this film adapted the Punjabi folktale of Mirza-Sahiban?
Mirza-Sahiban is one of the greatest romantic tragedies in Indian folk history. It’s not about societal complications like other folktales are. It’s about the characters themselves and how the dynamics between them determine their fate. Mirzya is written by Gulzar — his first in 15 years — and there’s a line that says the love of Mirza-Sahiban doesn’t die but rather lives on for generations. In the film, the story of Mirza-Sahiban echoes into the present and plays out through lovers Adil and Suchi. The idea is: if Mirza and Sahiban existed today, maybe their story would have panned out like this.
How does Gulzar use music and poetry to tell this love story?
Gulzar is, in my opinion, the greatest poet ever. He’s over 80 years old but still managed to write the most progressive and intelligent new-age romance I’ve read. It’s not fluff, or poetry for poetry’s sake. It’s beautiful and emotional. And the music, composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and written by Gulzar, is breathtaking. It carries the viewer through the worlds of the story.
Why did you choose this to be your first film?
I see myself in both warrior Mirzya and stable boy Adil. I can fit into the awe-inspiring physical landscape of Mirzya’s world and bring out his fierceness and flamboyance. I also relate to Adil, who, like me, spends a lot of time in isolation. Also, like me, he doesn’t say much but is very expressive with his eyes. He seems very intense on the outside, but is actually quite vulnerable on the inside.
What sort of skills did you have to learn for the film?
There were a lot of things I had to work on. If the actor does everything, rather than a double, it has a much greater visual impact. For 18 months, I practised horse riding and archery. At the end of my training, my riding was better than those who had been riding for a decade. I also had to learn how to play polo, which is what Adil does with the guests of a hotel in Rajasthan.
How was it working with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra?
I hope Mirzya works, so that Rakeysh and I can do an even bigger film together. Mirzya is a rebirth for him; he has told the story in such a new way. As a director, Rakeysh believes so much in your ability and uniqueness. He had great faith in my physical and facial features, and what he thinks is a very unique presence on screen. Once he trusts you as an artiste, and believes you’re adequately prepared, he leaves it to you completely to just go out and express yourself. It’s very emotionally stressful for me that I don’t know how I’m going to top this experience.
Are you apprehensive about how the film will be received?
The two pressures that come into play are the creative and commercial. I don’t feel creative pressure. As an artiste, I’m so happy with what I’ve achieved. I believe in my ability and originality and I don’t think I’m contrived. Although the film is exciting to me, I have no idea whether it will excite anyone else. I also don’t know how the commercial aspect of the film is going to play out. The commercial pressures are unfair sometimes. You’re trying to get people’s attention in just a matter of minutes or even seconds, but not everything can be explained in a minute. Some things need to be felt. But at the end of the day, filmmaking is a business, and I’m learning that now.
Does coming from a film family make it easier to plan your path?
No. I have no idea what my next steps are. The path that I’ve taken is so different that I can’t look for any reference points or pull out any case studies. I’m playing a Rajasthani stable boy and a warrior from a folktale, and these characters are presented in a radically different way. I have a huge beard and a man-bun — a look I love, by the way. As Adil, I’m tanned and have dirt on my face. People are not used to seeing that. How many newcomer films can you think of like that?
Are you ready for the publicity and attention you might receive?
In the first place, I hope I get some. I love being seen and being appreciated. The whole reason why we artistes work is for the appreciation we receive. I’m a sucker for people coming up to me and saying that they liked a certain moment in the film or how they felt when they watched it, how it moved them. I’m very open to that. I don’t mind the intrusion, I welcome it.
What do you want to say to your audience?
I would request people to watch this film with an open mind. Don’t come with any preconceived notions. At the end of the day, I might be somebody’s son, but I’m still a new actor, right? You’ve never seen anything I’ve done. Just go and experience a very simple, beautiful artistic love story with phenomenal music and action. Hopefully, in the first 10 minutes, you’ll lose yourself in that world.