Hey Darsheel, how does it feel?
You mean to be still called Ishaan (the character in Taare Zameen Par) and to have people tell me the film changed their lives? It feels great. I am so proud of what I achieved in Taare Zameen Par (TZP). Though let me tell you, I had no clue what I was doing.
What do you mean?
I was only 9. All of 9!!! And I had no idea about camera, cinema, acting. No one from my family was part of the movies. I still don’t know why Aamirji (Khan) and Amoleji (Gupte) chose me. But there I was, playing a character whose problems were completely alien to me. So I did what any child would do in my place. I surrendered completely to Amoleji who had written the film and knew the character inside-out, and Aamirji who handled me with kid’s gloves.
How do you feel when you see yourself in Taare Zameen Par now?
I saw the film just a month ago with my parents and sister. And you know what? I could see things that I could’ve done better. Now that I am trained as an actor I know the craft. But perhaps the lack of craft made Ishan so real. I didn’t fake anything. When Ishan cried, I cried with him. Those were real tears.
I remember you were nominated for the Best Actor alongside Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De. You were the youngest best-actor nominee in India?
Looking back that was amazing….yeah! But back then I was clueless. I went through all the experiences of Taare Zameen Par without really enjoying it. When I see Sunny Pawar in Lion on stage at the awards I know exactly how he feels.
Do people still pinch your cheeks?
(Laughs loudly). No no. I put an end to that quite firmly some years ago. Their first reaction on seeing me now is, ‘My God, you’re all grown up.’ As if they expect me to be a 9-year old Ishan all my life. Their second reaction is, ‘You got your teeth straightened’. They say that with disappointment as if they wanted me to have buckteeth all my life.
Curiously you did other pivotal roles as a child actor in Priyadarshan’s Bum Bum Bhole and Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children. But they made no impact. Do you feel Taare Zameen Par became an unbeatable benchmark?
It probably was that, I don’t know. I certainly feel the films you mention were chosen for me by my parents because they seemed right for me. We didn’t set out to beat Taare Zameen Par. And I am glad we didn’t. Because I don’t think Taare Zameen Par can be repeated. None of us knew it was going to have such an impact. Even today I’ve kids telling me they were going to be sent to boarding school. But after seeing TZP their parents changed their mind.
Ten years after Taare Zameen Par how do you look back on the experience?
Have ten years really passed? The movie is fresh in everyone’s mind. Taare Zameen Par is one of those films that keep coming on television.
Now that you’re all grownup whose advice do you take ? Are Aamir and Amole still in touch?
You know what? At some point in your life you’ve to take responsibility for your own future. I decided to do that some years ago. When I knew I wanted to be an actor I started doing theatre. I still do. In fact I’ve a performance in Shillong next week
You are also ready to make your debut as a leading man?
Yes! It a coming-of-age romcom called Quickie, directed by Pradip Atluri. You heard right. It’s called Quickie. Do you want more proof that I am grown up? It was meant to start this year. But we got delayed. We now start early next year.
Lots of phenomenal child actors grow up to be non-starters as adult actors. Any fears?
What about Kamal Haasan and Sridevi? Weren’t they child actors? And look at where they are now. Having said that, no one can predict anyone’s future. Audiences won’t come to see my in Quickie because I was Ishan in Taare Zameen Par. But neither will they stay away from my films just because I was that child in a film they loved. So I stand an even chance.
Tell me about your girlfriend?
Sorry, can’t hear you…Okay I can. I was just pretending. The day I am capable of shouldering the responsibilities that come with a relationship, I am game. Right now I am too focused on my career.