Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (better known as Murari from Raanjhanaa or Chintu from Tanu Weds Manu Returns) has had one of the most interesting journeys in Hindi cinema, in the last few years. Beginning with a few scenes in No One Killed Jessica back in 2011, he now rubs shoulders with names likes Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. This Delhi boy ended 2018 and began 2019 with a bang, acting alongside Shah Rukh Khan in Aanand L Rai’s Zero and with Kangana Ranaut in Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi.

 

 

The industry could have easily lost an actor like Ayyub to engineering, if the planets had not had other plans. As a youngster, he wanted to be an engineer, but luck had something else planned for him, which made him gravitate towards dramatics.

Engineering to acting – how did that happen? 

I was an engineering aspirant and I wanted to get into computer engineering. Back then everyone wanted to do it. But I wasn’t good at chemistry, and hence I wasn’t getting admissions in any good college. I was planning to take a drop year, so I could prepare well and try again. My brother, who was studying engineering, suggested I take up a course in a regular college, just so that I don’t lose my touch with studies, so I joined Kirorimal College, in Delhi. I thought I’d do a Bachelor of Information Technology, and suddenly the government announced there won’t be a BIT course anymore, so I continued my regular college – by that time, I was already into dramatics, and I did that till I completed college. After that I completed a three year course at the National School of Drama.

Though you have been a part of very successful films like Raanjhanaa and Raees, do you still feel that there is a struggle to find good characters? 

Even now, people don’t come to you with good characters. They try to use you or your last role to project their hero and film. They go like ‘Oh, we have a boy from Uttar Pradesh, let’s cast Zeeshan, as he was good in Raanjhanaa, or if you need a slimy guy, then cast Zeeshan as he was good in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. After Raanjhanaa, it came down to me if I wanted to earn a lot of money or choose the films I want to work in. Even now, people tell me I’m doing less films than what I should be doing. I think I’ve done enough, and I’m already tired of it – I’ve done about 18-19 films in the last 9 years. I’m fine with it.

There also came a point when you supposedly wanted to quit the industry, and rumour has it that it was Shah Rukh Khan who convinced you to not take this step.

This is only partly true. Yes, I wanted to quit acting, as I was fed up of whatever was being offered. But I was committed to Raees, and nothing can be achieved if you run away from your commitments, so I told myself this is the last one and then goodbye. Back then, I wasn’t friendly with Shah Rukh Khan, and didn’t even share any kind of rapport with him, for him to convince me. But when I met him the first time, and the way he shook my hand, a certain current passed through my entire body, and my eyes lit up. At that moment, I realised I have to do a lot of work, so he’s the reason I didn’t quit.

You have also decided to not be part of a big film for some time now. Why so? 

When you do a big film, you get stuck in the system for long, but there are not enough returns, be it monetary or creative. Your character doesn’t get explored much, and you don’t benefit even after the release of the film. If you look at it, in the last three and a half years, I’ve only done four films (Raees, Tubelight, Thugs of Hindostan and Zero). I anyway do less films, and this took my average further down.”

So, you will not make an exception for any actor or producer?

Acting is all about energy, and Shah Rukh Khan is a ball of energy who believes in sharing it with his co-actors. If you are improvising in the middle of the scene, he will improvise with you and not cut the scene. It is fun to work with him. Another reason to work with him is the time you spend with him on the sets. Those days are going to be some of the best days of your life.

In recent times, you were in the news when you replaced Sonu Sood in Kangana Ranaut’s most ambitious film to date, Manikarnika. What was it working with her, now also as a director? 

Even as an actor and now as a director, I had a great time working with her. I shot for 16 days for Tanu Weds Manu Returns, but most of my scenes were with Kangana – she is a very good co-actor, who believes in sharing on-screen with other actors. As a director, I was completely satisfied (with her). Though people were not sure what kind of environment there would be on the sets, everything was sorted. Being an actor, she was very clear about what she wanted as a director. Though my take could have been different for the character, I was convinced by what Kangana was saying. She wanted the character to be of a particular style, rather than making it more dramatic. She knew how to control a set.

You have had a wonderful equation with Aanand L Rai. Tell us more about that.

When I had first come to Mumbai in 2003, I was on a different high. In Delhi University, it is said that I still hold the record for the highest individual acting awards – I had 17 at Kirorimal College. I had come down to become a star, but after I saw Manoj Bajpayee’s performance in Aks, I realized I knew nothing about acting. It was during this time that Himanshu Sharma (Rai’s long-time work associate) took me to Aanand to understand the different approach to acting here. He later saw me in No One Killed Jessica and liked my work, and then Raanjhana happened. He is like a mentor and an elder brother, rather than a director I’m working with.