Your mother, Sharmila Tagore, said in an interview that like all non-conformist parents, who want their kids to conform, she wanted her children to settle down but she added that you always preferred the sea to the comfort of the harbour. After your education abroad, you wanted to be an actor.My dad (Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi) said he can send me to a good school and university and that’s what he did. Sadly, after a while I lost all interest in academics and pursuing anything that would lead to a 9-5 job. When the late Mr BR Chopra visited Delhi and offered me an ad and something to do with movies, for the first time it gave me a sense of purpose. I was also fortunate to come into movies at a time when the audiences were quite forgiving. I had just returned from England, I used to speak Hindi with a little bit of an accent. But people and the press were kind. Even though I loved my profession, I felt no connection with the characters I played in the 90s.
But Dil Chahta Hai changed that. For the first time, I wasn’t playing a version of Amitabh Bachchan or Shashi Kapoor but a guy in a t-shirt and shorts. Being a part of such a film was liberating. At a time when identities are becoming an issue, do you feel boxed in by your or your wife’s name, or by being a product of an interfaith marriage?
Things are changing, becoming a little more right-wing, and not just in India. On one of my recent travels, I was having a drink and met an Italian filmmaker. We started chatting and he said to me, ‘You are Muslim, don’t tell anyone else’. He lives in Paris, and he’s seen some trouble there. But honestly, I feel it less in my own country than outside.
At such a time, is there something more that art should be doing? We have recently seen Hollywood speak their mind. Do you long for that kind of freedom? Do you see a day when that will happen here?
We all would like to be as honest as possible and we strive towards that. But maybe we are still developing and changing as a country. I don’t think a country should be judged based on what’s happening elsewhere in the world. We have modernised because of TV, fashion and a few other things but our thinking is still a few years behind. Other countries have seen their share of such times, the McCarthy era, for instance, and have come out more mature. Maybe we need to go through it, stir things up, say things, get in trouble and then find a level playing field.
How do you feel about the kind of India we will leave behind for our children? Are you happy with the kind of world we live in?
I think we have a schizophrenic growth. There are some things we do really well and there are some things that need to get better. There are some very backward people in this country who aren’t educated. There are some very backward people who are educated. It’s very diverse and it’s always been. It will be difficult for everyone to feel the same way about the same thing. I’ve lived in England and spent a lot of time in Europe and America. But we’re first class citizens of this country because it’s our home, and I’ve never felt more at home or at peace. I think all this talk about intolerance is a little blown up.