Sidharth Malhotra has a bad bout of cold. Sniffling and teary eyed, he sits in the green room of a suburban studio in Mumbai, fielding questions from mediapersons on his recently released film, Baar Baar Dekho, in which he plays Jai, a commitment-phobe.
‘I must take some medication,’ he says, excusing himself and ducking into his vanity van parked outside the studio.
Five minutes later he is back to join his leading lady Katrina Kaif, who has just come into the studio. The two seem to share a great camaraderie – Katrina is quick to pat him on his back to comfort him when he starts sniffling or coughing during interviews. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get well soon,’ she says.
The suave, debonair actor, dressed in a white shirt and a perfect three-piece blue suit with a smart brown-and-white polka dot pocket square, smiles and thanks her.
Although 31-year-old Sidharth has done just six films so far in his four-year journey in Bollywood – Student of the Year, Hasee Toh Phasee, Ek Villain, Brothers, Kapoor & Sons and Baar Baar Dekho – he has already made a mark for himself, not just for his elegance and simplicity but also for his restrained, mature and sincere performances.
‘I like that kind of restrained acting,’ says the award-winning actor. ‘In Baar Baar Dekho, my character has got that restrained disposition but wherever he needs to be upset or feel any kind of excitement or sadness he does express that. If I’m able to bring out the feel in the narrative then I think my job is done.’
Over the past few years, Sidharth may have come across as a chocolate boy hero, gaining popularity with his romantic roles. But he says he’s actually not fully at ease doing romances. ‘Love stories are not my comfort zone,’ says the former model who began his career in films as an assistant director to Karan Johar for My Name is Khan.
‘I have only done two romantic films. I’ve also done one action film, but I haven’t found my comfort zone,’ says the Delhi boy. ‘What moves me is a good story. If there’s a new story to tell, I’d gladly be part of that. Kapoor & Sons was one such film. It’s a family drama that was very realistic and did not follow the stereotypical storyline of a loud big Indian family.
‘Baar Baar Dekho too is a very unique love story. I guess I’m most comfortable trying out something new.’
It was perhaps his penchant to take on challenges and ‘try something new’ that led him to Bollywood.
‘Initially movies were not on my mind,’ says the actor who started modelling at an early age after being picked up by a talent scouting agency. But it all changed one day in 2008, when he received a phone call for an audition.
‘I thought it was for a TV commercial,’ he says. It was only later that he learnt that it was for a role in a film to be directed by Anubhav Sinha.
Sidharth landed the role and was offered a ‘reasonably good remuneration’.
‘I was on a high. I came to Mumbai and was staying in a hotel in Malad, totally excited about my debut.’
However, the budding actor was in for a rude shock.
A few days after he arrived in Mumbai, he was told that the movie had been shelved. ‘Everything took a nosedive; the film didn’t take off and I hit a low,’ he says. To survive in the city, he returned to modelling.
A year later, Sidharth, using the good offices of some of his friends, joined Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and finally set forth on his film career – as an assistant director in 2010 film My Name Is Khan starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
Set hands remember Sidharth as a clapper boy.
But being behind the camera was but one step away from acting, and a few years later in 2012, Karan Johar cast him in the high-school romance Student Of The Year along with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt.
Being the only rank outsider, it was not easy for Sidharth to connect with films and its workings. ‘As a non-film guy, I was not used to saying lines or singing songs in a certain way. I remember I kept asking Karan several questions,’ he says.
‘Karan used to get irritated with me but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t get melodramatic or dance to woo a girl because I felt such stuff doesn’t happen in real life. It was a slow learning process for me.’ To make matters worse there was the perception that models don’t make good actors. ‘Just because they walk the ramp and pose it’s believed that models cannot emote or do anything else. That’s not true,’ he says.
‘I hope I’ve broken the norm after doing six films. There’s much more to us than being a model,’ Sidharth says. As though to drive home the point, Sidharth also walked away with the Stardust Award for Breakthrough Performance for his debut.
He then went on to underscore his acting prowess and comic timing in the hit Hasee Toh Phasee (with Parineeti Chopra), quickly following it up with a dramatic performance in Ek Villain (with Riteish Deshmukh and Shraddha Kapoor).
‘I feel happy that I have got a chance to act in some nice movies,’ he smiles.
Sidharth says he is now considering bringing ‘some balance in life’.
Is that a hint that romance is in the air?
‘Balance doesn’t come only from romance,’ he replies. ‘It comes from so many other things – family, friends, relationships and of course your loved ones.’
Has the role he played in Baar Baar Dekho of a commitment-phobe, and the theme of the movie – about enjoying every moment of life – influenced his thinking? ‘Yes, I can relate to my character Jai,’ he says.
‘I will put myself in that category. I don’t know if that’s commitment phobia, but I put my career before anything else. When I came to Mumbai eight or nine years ago, my only focus was to become an actor. I started from zero, I had no clue what acting or film-making is all about. I was learning as an assistant director, trying to work on my craft. I am still learning.
‘But now I’ve reached a point of some kind of maturity. Career has its own place but I guess balance is very important. I could be the most successful or the richest guy, but if I don’t have somebody to share [success] with, it is no fun, it doesn’t make me wholesome and complete. I made many friends but there is no special person in my life. I may not be ready as yet and am still enjoying my life without any responsibility, but I’m definitely understanding the value and importance of other things in life.’
Is he worried about losing fans post marriage? After all there is a belief that the popularity of actors begins to wane once they tie the knot?
Sidharth doesn’t subscribe to this view. ‘Marriage is certainly not a hindrance, it doesn’t hamper our stardom. It might have been so in the older generation but that does not hold true now.’
If there has been one woman who Sidharth has been constantly linked with it’s Alia Bhatt. Ever since the two were paired together in Kapoor & Sons, gossip mills have been abuzz with rumours of their relationship. ‘[The gossip] could be because of the films I’m doing with her,’ Sidharth says.
‘As I keep doing more and more films I am understanding the gossip part of this industry, I am learning. There is lesser time now to bother about that.
‘I am just being practical, I won’t say I have become smarter or more thick-skinned; it’s just that feeding into that energy is not going to help me. I only have 24 hours a day. I’d rather use my time in so many other ways. I have movies, I have many other commitments, I am travelling, doing shows, ads…’
Sidharth has a lot to look forward to. He is filming for an as-yet-untitled comedy opposite Jacqueline Fernandez. Also in the pipeline is the sequel to Aashiqui 2 opposite Alia Bhatt. ‘I’m enjoying my work. My aim is to constantly push boundaries and try new roles. I want to keep growing,’ he says.