The biggest decision I’ve ever taken in my life was to turn photographer after being a shopkeeper. For the first two years, it was terrible in terms of money and success. But I refused to quit because even then, I knew it wouldn’t last forever. There was no way out. Had I quit, it would have shattered me because I put my tail between my legs. I was sure that one day, the light at the end of the tunnel would be blinding, and I looked forward to it.
I believe in God, but I would never pontificate, pass judgements or wear my religion on my sleeve. I feel that’s a private connection.
When it comes to success, there are conventionally many yardsticks, but I don’t believe in them. For instance, your bank balance is not a defining factor.
I don’t know of anyone who is successful and hasn’t failed. You finally go home with success, but it’s thanks to a number of failures. I believe that if you’ve failed, the worst thing is to blame someone else. If my film doesn’t do well, I can’t put it on the director, the unfortunate release date or the audience not understanding it. I might be a small cog in the wheel, but I will still say I didn’t do my job and that’s why I failed.
If I were to be inspired by only one person, that would mean I would stick to just that template. Instead, I learn different things from different people. At times, it’s people who aren’t big names, but their success lies in being good human beings. On the large canvas, I admire JRD Tata, while on the acting front it’s Balraj Sahni. So many people have touched my life and taught me a bit of humanity. I look up to it, because there’s no point being successful and having people speak ill about you behind your back. I learn discipline and about being healthy from Akshay Kumar who is so fit at his age. I admire Shah Rukh Khan for being so alive at even 4am. His mind works all the time to ensure that he gives every ounce of what he can offer. Then there are those whose philanthropic efforts make one feel so small, seeing the way they go about doing things that make a long-term impact. At the same time, one also learns what not to do by observing bad people.
If not an actor, I would perhaps have been a writer, still a photographer and would have tried to be a singer. I can still attempt these things. However, I don’t want to be a Jack of all trades. I feel one should give things a shot and make sure to complete them. But if you fail and if it’s a pain for others to be around while you do it, then spare them.
I would be an ungrateful wretch if I said I wanted to change anything about my life. It’s worked out well, and I’m reasonably happy with how things have turned out. I don’t feel the need for a change.
Money was a huge problem when I was younger. This may sound like just a philosophy, but I would literally laugh when I was down and out. That’s because in my mind, I knew things would change. It must have been my fault if I didn’t have the money. There have been times when I’ve literally placed pennies on my palm and counted them to see if I had enough. It’s sad, but at the same time, it’s also funny how ridiculous life can be. It’s not even ironic.
I was 32 years old when I took my family on our first holiday. In seven years of our marriage, I’d never taken my wife on a holiday, and it was the first for our kids too. We got there, and the hotel was so dingy, I never realised it was possible for it to be so bad. I apologised to them and said it would never happen again, but we all laughed. It hurt that this was all I could afford, but I knew that if we were seeing this side, we would see the other side as well.
The defining moment of my life would be the release of Munnabhai MBBS. We worked so hard, and in the first few days it didn’t do too well. Then suddenly, it became a runaway success. That changed a lot for me. If the film had failed, things would have been very different for me. I think it was blessed. Someone up there stepped in.
Instead of thinking of my next meal, I’d rather relish the current one. I think you should put your head down and work on what you have at hand. You’ll reach your goal without looking up. I don’t set goals like doing a particular number of movies or charging a certain amount for them. I just aim to satisfy my potential and passion.
My mantra is really simple. I also say this to my kids: “Be the hardest working person, but also the easiest to work with.” The rest isn’t rocket science. If someone offends you, don’t let it get to you. Think of it as your quirk and become unbreakable in spirit.