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Soni Days
A popular face in the ad world, Samir Soni made his debut with the film China Gate and went into oblivion save for a music video here and there. His role in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi where he plays a heart-warmer and soul searcher to Jassi has resurrected his career. A chat with the good looking actor...
After Mouthful Of Sky which was ages ago, why have you taken so long to make a foray into television?
It was a combination of many things. First of all, I wasnít too comfortable with the scenario that existed about five years ago though offers for serials were coming in even then. Secondly, I had just made my debut in China Gate. Like it or not, even today the film fraternity has a condescending attitude towards the small screen. I was part of that too. But now, I feel the scene has changed. Television has become a powerful medium in India. Besides (with a wry laugh) I canít say my stint with films has been so successful. So when the call from Jassi. .came, I gave it a serious thought.
You were initially offered the role of Armaan(now played by Apoorva Agnihotri) werenít you? Do you regret not taking the part now, in retrospect?
I have no regrets whatsoever. My character Purab is the best thing to happen to me so far. I must say my job is easy. The show is already such a rage and the channel too has promoted my entry in a prominent way. All I have to do is to add good value (laughs).

Still, would have have preferred Armaanís role to Purabís?
See, the way I look at it is, Armaan is popular today because of the way Apoorva has played him. I would have brought a bit of my own personality had I played the character and then it would have been a different Armaan Suri.Irrespective of how the character turns out in the original Columbian production, Purab is my interpretation. (After a pause) You know, when the makers offered me Purabís role, I told them, ĎThis will land you in trouble. He is a lovable chap and perfect for Jassií. And my prophecy has come true.

In what way?
Well, the character has created a huge impact on the audience. People have started calling out to me as ĎPurab; on the road. The result being that my role has been extended. Initially I was to come in for a cameo of about eight episodes. Presently, I am shooting day and night for the show. There is no saying where the story will go now.

You have been brought in as the romantic element in Jassiís life? How does it feel, romancing everyoneís favourite ugly duckling?
Beauty is not skin deep. My character Purab buys into that. Also, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Given these three things it would not be difficult at all to fall for someone like Jassi.

Would you fall in love with a plain Jane in real life?
(smiling) I have been asked this question too many times. The truth is Ďyesí, I might. Going by my own personal experiences I have learnt never to judge a book by the cover. The cover might catch your attention but if a long term relationship is the goal then sometime you have to open the book and read the pages. I feel that irrespective of outward appearances, if you give yourself the chance to look beneath the surface, you could fall for an apparent non looker.

So you think the serial is sending out the right messages?
I think so. Purab is nice to her regardless of her looks. Also he does not think that her lack of good looks is an issue.

Do you get the girl in the end?
(Grinning) See, now that is something nobody knows.

You are not being serious..
No I am. The thing is, I donít know what happens in the original story, but here, the channel can decide anything. It is a tough call, to stick with the intended plotline and also to cater to audience likes and dislikes. But I have made it very evident to them right from the beginning that I donít want to be the guy who hurts Jassi. Thatís too big a risk to take as she is so loved by everyone.

Tell us about your role in Saakshi.
I play the strong and silent type in Saakshi. A guy called Shekhar Gupta who heads an anti-terrorist organization - Astra. He is this infallible character who never fails, has all the gadgetry and information he needs. (grins)

Do you think that this espionage and hi fi-machinery kind of genre will go down with the audience?
I am not too sure. Deep down, we are simple people. We like playing good guy, bad guy or cops and robbers with regular dishum dishum. But as an experiment Saakshi is interesting.

Why are you wearing a suit in the show considering your line of work?
(Grinning) I donít know. ...directorís call. You know there was a time when I used to get so personally involved with my character that the nitty gritties used to bother me. Now I have realized that I canít bring into account my sensibilities. The director has a vision and I must respect that. Also I have to trust the writer; he knows what he is doing. I have high hopes from Saakshi. The character is interesting with lot of shades and will be developed as the story progresses.

Did you agree to take up this role because it is so different from that in Jassi..?
I donít consciously plan anything. I play it by the ear and do what I feel best. It is a coincidence that two very good roles have come my way, all of a sudden, at the same time and from the same channel. It has nothing to do with any strategy I have worked out.(grinning)

Does it feel good that in a women-dominated medium like television, you have got fair deals instead of standing around like a prop?
It definitely feels good. But if you see there a balance is being maintained. Films are a male dominated arena, so it is only natural that television should be a womanís medium. I am glad I have roles that are well etched out. But you know, as an actor one should always strive to give an extra something- even to the most mundane roles. That is the only way to stand out.

Are you aware that the spotlight is on you suddenly, after so many years. People are beginning to take notice finally.
Yes. It is amazing. The kind of visibility that television brings for an actor is mind-blowing. It is a great feeling and at that the same time disturbing.

Why is it disturbing?
I have always put in as much of hard work and sincerity in each and every project, thatís why! I am the same person and the same actor. Only peopleís perceptions have changed. So it leaves me wondering whether I left any mark at all earlier. It is almost like being rediscovered.

You made your debut in China Gate. Why didnít you cash in on being part of such a prestigious project?
My marketing and PR skills are appalling. I canít sell myself. All the work I have done so far has come to me because someone saw me in this role or the other and liked me. You, know during the making of China Gate, I was poised at the top of a pinnacle. I used to be deluged with offers, all of which I refused. Kya Kehna was one of the first projects that came my way and I turned it down. Ramesh Taurani wanted to put me on a six film contract and I backed out. I had this idealism that I would make it on my own and not let all the hype go into my head. After China Gate released there was a dead silence. There were no offers or roles coming my way. It was like a fairytale that ended abruptly. But I have no regrets.

Why did you take up the sonís role in Baghban? It was not a role which would put you high on the popular list.
I know what you mean. Playing the selfish son in Baghban has been good and bad for me. Even aunties in my building used to come up and chide me, Ďarre beta, apne papa ke saath aisa kyon kiya.í But I had my own reasons for doing the show. No producer was going to sign me in the main lead anyway. I thought that if I could make my mark in a big opus like this, it would work to my advantage. You know, I had made it very clear that I wanted the role which had the maximum scenes with Bachchan, otherwise I wasnít going to do the film.

Some of the actors in the film mentioned that they found it difficult to be rude to Amitabh Bachchan. Did you face such a problem?
Not at all. It is a role. I am playing the character. Infact I was very excited because it was ike a challenge. In boxing you can fight anyone, but you are not the champion till you have beaten Mike Tyson. Similarly I thought that if I could pull it off with Bachchan in the same scene, I would do myself proud.

Are more films coming your way?
Itís early to say. An English film Dance Like A Man with Anoushka Shankar is ready for release. I play her fiance in the film. I am on tenterhooks. This is my first Ďcrossoverí film and I canít wait.

Tell us more about the film.
Well, it is about two couples, the parents and then Anouska and me. She comes from a very dance oriented family and I am a rich guy who owns a mithai shop. Basically the filmís punchline is - Ď A woman in a manís world is considered progressive, but a man in a womanís world is patheticí. Actually that is a dialogue from the film.

How was it working with Anouskha Shankar?
Anoushka is young and bubbly. It was quite funny because she has a heavy American accent and was supposed to speak Indian English in the film. So the director Pamela Brooks told me to help her out. What happened was that since I had lived abroad for a while, I got back my phirang accent after talking to her. So before every scene I would tell her not to come anywhere near me, and go off into a corner and sing Hindi songs to get back my normal accent. (laughs). It was hilarious.

What about your theatre scene?
I love doing theatre. I last acted in Insomnia which featured at the Prithvi festival and it actually gave me sleepless nights. I had to perform a 40 minute monologue.

So, things are finally looking up for Samir Soni.
Yes, I am thrilled with the way my career is shaping up. But I would love to do more and more crossover films. From Mouthful Of Sky to Dance Like A Man, it is a dream come true.