NEERJA is taking box-office by storm! While the industry wallahs and audiences alike are going gaga over Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi's sterling performances, newbie Ali Baldiwala has also grabbed the attention for his portrayal of a ‘hijacker (out of the three) with a soul' on the ill-fated PanAm Flight. Interestingly, Ali is not only a new actor on the block, but even in the film he seems to be a new entrant in the hijackers' gang.
Though his acting stint began with an Ad film with Saif Ali Khan few years ago, he made his debut as an actor with Ram Madhvani's NEERJA.
As we caught up with the actor, Ali Baldiwala, an interior designer by profession, talks about accomplishing his childhood dream of becoming an actor, his experience working with the talented ad filmmaker-turned-film director Ram Madhvani and being a die-hard fan of Karan Johar.
An interior designer by profession, what attracted you towards acting?
Well, honestly I wanted to act from the age of 9 and now after 19 years I have got that chance. Yes, I am an interior designer but acting has been my passion always. I love entertaining people. Acting lets you play different kinds of characters which gives me a high. You give something to every role and take back something from it too. I just hope I get more offers after NEERJA and I can live my dream to the fullest.
How you bagged Sonam Kapoor starrer NEERJA?
I got a call from Kanika Berry (casting director for NEERJA). It was the first film I auditioned for and I was so nervous. She made me do some crazy exercises to get into the role before the audition. The audition was shown to Ram Madhvani, he loved it and immediately asked me to come on board and hijack the plane!
How was the experience working with Ram Madhvani?
Ram had the confidence in me that even I didn't have in myself initially. During the shoot he said to me 'Ali, don't be intimidated by what you see around, I believe in you and you need to now believe in yourself,' that confidence that he showed in me encouraged me and I never looked back.
He's a perfectionist and I love that. He is the most patient person I have come across, especially with his actors he makes sure that they're comfortable and are in the right space of mind. When I worked with all the assistants before the shoot, I always wondered how these people are so efficient and hardworking and compared them to my staff in my interior design studio, till the day I met Ram and realised they were only a reflection of him! Today whatever it is, this film is a directors' film by all means and it's his vision that we have worked on with a little input of our talent.
Everything he made us do in this film was real; we've shot for long hours without cuts being called for to make it as authentic as possible. Ram had a different brief for all his actors which he would share secretly with each, and we were told during the shoot googlies will be thrown at you and you will have to react keeping in mind what your character would do at that point and that's exactly how it happened during the shoot.
If I can say this, Ram is my father who has given me birth in this industry and I'm grateful to him.
You've shared screen space with Sonam Kapoor, if you can share any anecdotes from the set?Also how was it working with her?
Sonam is a lovely human being. I don't have many scenes with her. She is a simple girl extremely hardworking and has the best dressing sense in the industry. When Sonam learnt I'm an interior designer she was pleasantly surprised and advised me to manage both simultaneously.
I had loved her performance in PRDP and in her next film I got to work with her. The film was emotionally taxing so we didn't play any pranks on the set but yes we all were one unit. We had not met Sonam before the shoot, so the first scene where we hijack the plane is when we met Sonam, after which the shoot would drain us out it was exhausting.
We were isolated during the shoot and kept away from the passengers and other crew members as Ram wanted the fear to be there in the passengers every time they had to interact with us on the plane. I did that for a while but as my character had to be a little vulnerable and less scarier than the other three I would actually talk and share light moments with the passengers specially so it helped me be have a certain connect and feeling when it needed to be portrayed on camera.
Your performance is being appreciated, but any one compliment or adulation that made you most happy and cheerful?
I am very over whelmed with the response I have received. I am actually thrilled for everyone who worked on the film. I have been getting messages on the social networking platforms, text messages few from the industry as well and it's a wonderful feeling. In fact I have been tagged by people calling me 'Hijacker with a soul', which is actually what my character Mansoor is and when the audience registers it you know you've done well. I am humbled and it's difficult to say whose adulation mattered the most. My father loved the film and conveyed to Ram about how deftly he has etched the emotions emitting from each character- be it the crew, the passengers or even the Hijackers that meant a lot to me.
After working with Ram Madhvani, which other directors are on your wish-list?
I want to work with a lot of directors since this is my first I want to experience it all but one guy I have always wanted to work with and be on his chat show is ‘Karan Johar'. I love his films and am a diehard fan of his movies.
Tell us about your future projects. What next after NEERJA? Have you signed on anything?
Yes, I did get a few calls from which one script is very interesting for a big ad that's happening in a few months, I can't talk about it right now but I would be happy if it comes along.
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