Sooraj Pancholi and Tiger Shroff have been best buddies since they were 15. Sooraj joined the gym when he was 14, his eyes on the prize — a big Bollywood break a few years down the line. A year later, he met Tiger in the same gym and ever since they have been training together. Although work keeps both of them busy, they still try to make time to meet up time and again. “We met last week in fact, and we keep following up on who’s doing what next,” Sooraj says of his Bollywood buddy.
Tiger, Varun, Shraddha, Alia, Sonakshi and Sooraj are part of the same gang. While much like his contemporaries, he was training hard to be an actor, life threw a curve ball at him when his then girlfriend Jiah Khan committed suicide in 2013. All fingers were pointed at him, as he was eventually charged with abetment to suicide in the case a year later. Sooraj spent 21 days in Arthur Road jail in Mumbai. It was from there that his mentor Salman Khan picked him up and gave him a new lease of life with Hero. Sooraj would accompany Salman to his shoots. The superstar ensured it was that way.
“What could he do? I didn’t expect him to do anything and I didn’t want him to get into it. He had his own set of problems. But he was around, he had committed to me two years before that incident, that he would make Hero with me. Had it been another producer in his place, he would have backed off, but Salman stayed true to his commitment. I have never signed any papers with Salman sir. It’s only verbal. The film is complete now and I still haven’t signed a single document. That is Salman for me.”
When asked to describe Salman in one word, Sooraj said, “Saviour”. “Not just for me, but for so many other people. He put me back on my feet.” The day of the trailer launch of Hero, when the first-time actor was called on stage, he broke down. It took him a good 10 minutes to gather himself and Salman Khan calmed him down with a hug, as he joked, “Sooraj is the heroine of the film.”
Now that the film is so close to release, what’s on Sooraj’s mind, we ask. “Right now, I am not tense or nervous. If I made mistakes, they are in the past now and by stressing about them now, I cannot fix them.” His mother Zarina is yet to see the film, but she will soon do and that’s a nervous thought for him. If Sooraj had to pick the perfect debut by a star kid he would choose Hrithik Roshan’s Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai. “I think that was the biggest debut ever. It was a very good film and he became the biggest star overnight. That film is actually one of the reasons why I even thought of wanting to be an actor. It gave me that click. I wanted to build that kind of body and dance like that. It was a big step in every newcomer’s life be it me or Tiger or Varun or whoever else. If Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai hadn’t been made I don’t think competition would have been ever gotten so tough. It set a benchmark for newcomers.”
His father Aditya Pancholi has often had bad press for his anger management issues. Does he ever talk to him about how to go about it? Sooraj doesn’t shy away from replying candidly. “Yes, my father has had bad press. But I can never tell him anything because I think a son should be a son and should stay within his limits. There are times when I feel like going and talking to him but I think it could worsen things. He has his own reasons to get aggressive. It surely is not right and it can cause a lot of harm, not just for him, but also for my mother, my sister and me. It won’t be right to preach to him and I know my boundaries. He is my father, he knows better.”
Coming back to his career, even though Sooraj is making his debut with an action-romance, he’d like to do more romantic films in the future. He says, “Taking your shirt off has become so clichéd. I’d like to do more romantic films rather than action films where one gets to show off their physique.” As of now Sooraj, who is neck-deep in promoting his film, is yearning for some time off. “I haven’t had a break since I came out of jail. I haven’t got any time for myself. I hope my team gives me at least two weeks off after the release.”
Not wanting to take any more of his time, we ask him one last question. What is that once piece of advice given by Salman Khan that he always follows? “He had said to me before the shoot began, ‘Make sure your pants fit your butt. Otherwise you won’t be called a hero’.”...