When he gave up the world of modeling and moved to Mumbai eight years ago, never in his wildest dreams did Delhi-born Sidharth Malhotra think that he’d be where he is today.
Even given the success of Karan Johar’s ‘Student of the Year’ – for which he was nominated for a Filmfare ‘Best Male Debut’ award – no one really expected the now 30-year-old to survive in a Bollywood that is resplendent with hot young male talent.
But Malhotra has defied expectations and has successfully transitoned from an “outsider” to being the nation’s heartthrob, proving that if you want something bad enough, you can achieve it.
Part of the reason for his success has been the care he has displayed with his work. After the huge success of ‘Student of the Year’, he’s treaded carefully and won plaudits for ‘Hasee Toh Phasee’ and ‘Ek Villain’ – two very different films both of which saw the actor delve deep into his talent reserves.
His latest is ‘Brothers’, in which he plays the part of an angst-ridden street fighter alongside Akshay Kumar. The film, directed by ‘Agneepath’ helmer Karan Malhotra, is an official re-make of the critically acclaimed 2011 Hollywood flick ‘Warrior’ which stars Tom Hardy and Jole Edgerton.
I caught up with the actor to find out more.
Divya Rao: ‘Brothers’ seems like yet another re-incarnation as an actor for you, the beefy boxer. Tell us about the role.
Sidharth Malhotra: I playing a character called Monty Fernandes. He’s the youngest in the family and we have a family of fighters where Jackie Shroff, who is an ex-fighter, is our father. He’s an alcoholic and I’m the stepson, with Akshay Kumar playing my elder brother. So, this character Monty has a lot of personal angst and wants to take part in this competition. This, in fact, is the first time in India where we show a competition of mixed martial arts, which is a very new format for this part of the world. And then, everybody joins in for various reasons like monetary reasons – people that think they can make a lot of money, people that think they can win. My character actually comes in not for the financial reasons but for his personal angst, so that his father or his family thinks that he’s am worth something. He does not have a love story in the film. It’s a personal journey I have with my father and my stepbrother after a very rough childhood. That lends to a lot of aggression in his way of fighting. I think he has a very distinctive way of fighting because Akshay’s character uses a lot of technique. That’s also a big difference in the way my elder brother and I fight.
DR: The film is an adaptation of the Hollywood hit ‘Warrior’. How similar would you say the two films are?
SM: It’s an official adaptation, so the premise is very similar but we’ve changed a lot of things. For instance, my character, which is played by Tom Hardy, is no longer from the army. I’m not an ex-military person. I play someone much younger in age, less disciplined, and I also have issues with curbing my anger. We’ve also upped the anger a lot more here than the original one. Secondly, we’re stepbrothers in the film and in the original they were real brothers. In this one, we also show the back story of what happens in their childhood and how traumatized this character was. In the original there were only references to what they share and of their father being abusive. Here, we’ve gone back to the story and incorporated that in the screenplay, which really helps to bring out the emotion, which is required for our side of the world, yet, we’ve not over-dramatized it. You won’t see the typical high drama and emotions with fake dialogues. It’s a Hindi film yet very subtle in its way.
DR: As evident from the trailer, you’ve put in a lot of work into looking like a boxer. Tell us about what went into achieving this look.
SM: When we signed the film, Karan Malhotra had a very clear image of how he wanted this fighter to look and showed me an image reference of a 6-foot-5 inch bald wrestler who weighs 120 kilos. So, at first I got scared. My first reaction was “I’m not going bald, bro!” He later told me he doesn’t want me to go bald but get to the size of him. I realized that it was a lot of work and effort. It’s very tough to change your body unless you have to only do that. So, that’s what I did. I took off three or four months from my schedule and all I was doing was eating, training and sleeping. We kept working on increasing my weight. At the same time, I also had to incorporate getting a fighting style, which was kicking and punching. I did a lot of jujitsu, grappling, wrestling, which is all part of MMA. So, that process was itself the most hectic that I’ve had so far. It was four months of gruesome boot camp, training, gaining weight, injuries, and then coming back, working on your flexibility, kicks and punches.
A lot has gone into it. I haven’t had a release for a while either. So, I’m hoping that all the months that I’ve taken off for purely working on this project should pay off. But, otherwise I think in retrospect I’ve learned a lot. Even if I can’t beat somebody up, I can scare them off with one or two punches! I thoroughly enjoy physical fitness anyway. We got this excellent team all the way from LA, who came in to train us in different martial art forms. They taught us how to cheat in front of the camera to get the impact but not hurt the other person. There was a lot to learn in terms of how to play with my body. I gained about ten kilos of muscle in about four months. That was a lot of training and it also teaches you that your body can go through that. I like to keep things natural. So, barring some health supplements, I haven’t gone to the chemical side of it, which is very easily available today. People are abusing their bodies, which in turn has a lot of internal repercussions. I stayed away from that. The journey was much tougher to recover from. We’ll see on the 14th of August if it pays off. If it does, then it’s all worth it. In fact, people don’t recognize me now!
DR: That’s a compliment then…
SM: Oh yeah, it is! I look like a different person. I’m thinking of growing back my beard again because it takes people a while to connect when they see me now. They say “Oh, that’s you?” I’m ten kilos lighter now, no beard and my hair has grown out. It’s new for India, I feel. People don’t associate actors with changing their looks so dramatically. They like to see them the way they are. So, this is a first. And also, it does take time. I wasn’t working on any other project during the months I was working on ‘Brothers’. My director even wanted me to keep my look under wraps but that, in India is not possible. I hope it pays off looks wise when you see the film.
DR: Starring opposite you is one of India’s biggest action heroes – Akshay Kumar. What did you take away from your time with him on set?
SM: It was very nerve-wracking to stand in the ring and have that posture with this man, who has done action in Indian cinema for over a decade. There’s loads of body of work behind him, so it was quite daunting for me to face him on camera. A lot of prep went into that. I was very conscious of how his persona is so that’s why the director and I decided that firstly, I have to look like someone who is physically capable of hurting him. This is where the weight gain came in. Akshay has a lot of experience in safety. He was very aggressive and very specific with his shots, yet very gentle with the other actor. He was extremely considerate when it came to kicking, punching or wrestling. Fighting with somebody in the ring, when we rehearsed, was a lot like a dance form. So, Akshay was a great dancing partner! Off camera also, he is disciplined.
I was most intrigued by his lifestyle and what he follows. He’s totally a morning person so he has early morning call times and sleeps early too. His discipline has influenced me in a very positive way. Even on set, the way he carries his work and his stardom is inspiring. He’s come up with a new thing where he doesn’t want to take any stress and wants to have fun. So, that energy for somebody like me, who is way junior, really calms you down. You realize that you can reach that level of stardom with also having fun on set even if you’re doing an intense and an extremely hardcore film. Also, because I’m not from the industry, this was a very good impression for me to have. He’s the first one to faff about or play a prank. Thanks to him being a hardcore Punjabi, my Punjabi has improved too. That was one of the reasons we connected so well. I’ve learned a lot of adult Punjabi jokes, which I won’t tell you now! ‘Brothers’ is a film where on-camera, I’ve picked up a lot of things in action and martial arts. Off the camera, I’ve learned both from Akshay and Jackie sir about how to handle certain situations and how they’re very relaxed. It was something good for me to see at such an early stage. I can try to probably get that relaxed way of functioning on set. Most of the senior actors influence the energy on the set, so this was fantastic. He connected with me over the fact that I’m not from the industry and I’m a Delhi boy. We’ve genuinely bonded on various levels. He took me under his wing and taught me to constantly aim two notches higher, whether it is personally or professionally. So, I thought this was very encouraging and very sweet of him. It has actually been a fun shoot, which is quite contrary to the tone of the film!
DR: I’m intrigued by the promise of such strong character angst, which is rare in Bollywood. Must have been a challenge to capture and portray that.
SM: Yes. The kind of anger and angst that this character has, I personally at my age, haven’t gone through those feelings. All the angst and things that have happened to him are part of the back story, which was played by a child artist. Even when I was on set, apart from getting the physicality of a fighter right, getting the emotional bandwidth of having that angst and hatred against your brother and father wasn’t easy. Having had a very traumatizing childhood where your father has been abusive, I had to come up with a lot of things and Karan Malhotra is a director who doesn’t settle for anything which is even one notch lesser than a great take. It was emotionally, far more challenging than a film like ‘Ek Villain’. Here, he is an older character who has lived a certain amount of life, he has been traumatized and he hates his own family. In ‘Ek Villain’, I was dealing only with a lover and falling in love, which we all have, at some point, experienced. Here, hating your father and brother was fairly new to me. So, I needed to get the motivations right for that and also had to go through a rigorous routine to become physically stronger. I still have scars on my forearm and foot from the shooting! I used to get tendonitis because of all the boxing. I’ve lost count of the number of ice baths I’ve taken during this film because that was the best way of recovering. So, apart from the physical pain, there was an emotional motivation that I had to get. You’ll understand what I’m talking about once you see the film and hopefully, the audience will like it.
‘Brothers’ is in UK cinemas 14 August.