Speaking to Digital Spy, the actor talked about starring alongside his real-life love interest, his journey in film, and why his latest outing as an international spy is more than just a cheesy James Bond rip-off.
Agent Vinod is your home production and sees you in a James Bond incarnation. Is this your dream project?
"I think the press picks up these things and we don't contradict. I wouldn't say it's a dream project. That smacks of some kind of obsession. It's not a James Cameron movie. It's a good film, and we (he and Dinesh Vijan, producer) formed our professional partnership to produce a film. The idea I brought to the table was to make a film like Agent Vinod. They probably wouldn't have let us make it then quite the way we wanted to, given the market and my standing at the box office, so we opted for Love Aaj Kal before that. So that's how we came together. So, dream project? No. I just thought that India has a large market for even a cheesy James Bond rip-off. There's a huge market for it."
How would you describe the character of Agent Vinod?
"I think the character is key to this film. There's a real character there. It's not just like a posey cool dude. There's a definite quirky kind of personality. He's quite a quirky character. He's not what you'd expect. He's kind of odd. He's a little unconventional in the sense that he is irreverent and a little mean, and he has a slightly cruel sense of humour as well. He's evil and he's a good guy. Most directors lend their personalities to the movies they make and this is no exception. Sriram (Raghavan) likes to write for me and we understand each other well, but there's more him in Agent Vinod than there is me. Before, I found it interesting to be a little darker, but now I think I'd like to do more of that."
It is, as you say, a homage to Bond. Who was your favourite Bond?
"Sean Connery first and then Roger Moore. As for Bond girls: Jill St John was amazing, and Maude Adams, who is the only one who has done two Bond films - The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy. Ursula Andress, though, I think she's quite stunning."
It's an action film and there are a lot of stunts. How did you train for this?
"I've suddenly become very accident prone. Seriously. Even with the smallest stunts - it hurt. I became used to it. But we try to make it as real as possible - no CGI and this computer stuff. I went to Vietnam to train for a couple of weeks with harnesses and cables. It's not easy and quite painful and there's a lot of commitment required. It was also lots of fun."
What was it like shooting in St Petersburg?
"I thought it was a really lovely place. I didn't get a chance to see The Hermitage because it shuts at 5pm. I stayed at this amazing hotel. I was in Bulgaria once. It was incredibly desolate and I was the only person in the whole hotel. But in St Petersburg I'd wake up happy every day."
The film also stars Kareena Kapoor. Were you at all concerned how your off-screen relationship might translate on screen?
"It has a danger of being not very interesting for people, but Sriram and I have tried to write that into the script so that this actually works. This was one of the biggest fears, and it's not like a romantic comedy, but naturally it would help a lot if people appreciated the relationship in the movie. And it's a subtle relationship and well presented; and, having seen the film, Dinesh and myself know were a bit critical about this, but it's fine."
Do you hope this will become the first in the franchise?
"I hope it becomes a franchise, depending on how well this does. I get a bit worried when people say we're making a franchise. You make a movie and then you see if it does really well. Ideally, the sky is the limit for something like Agent Vinod if it does really well, but that's really ambitious, because there are some smart guys in my line of work and some big stars as well. To say that it will be the benchmark is hard, but we should at least try for that."
Piracy continues to be a problem in India. How do you deal with this problem as a producer?
"If we start previewing films to the press it will be on the internet. India's the only one with this crazy piracy problem. I don't know if people are as concerned about being featured in the national press or reaching 100 crores. That's why they haven't dealt with it. Our films should also be subtitled well. When you take a Indian film song and literally write the lyrics, it's really bad - 'You come come. I go, go'."
Do you anticipate that this film will gain you entry into the '100 crore club'?
"I don't know about a club, but we'd like to make as much as we can and I think that it's a film that appeals to single screens and multiplexes. Of anything I have done so far, as a candidate for that kind of thing, this is it. It will certainly be value for money. How much value for how much money, we have yet to see. Sriram is such a good director that sometimes I feel, if it is a really good movie, it could be a problem. You should be able to watch a film three times, but if it's really complicated it will tire you to watch it three times. It's like a pop song or classical music. It might tire you to listen to classical music over and over, so it's funny that balance."
What is your primary motivation as a filmmaker, and how do you preserve your creative integrity in the quest for commercial success?
"A film has to be for commercial success as well as earn you respect as an artist. You don't want to do only things that are designed to run commercially, and neither do you want to do things that get acclaim but don't run. I think, looking at my mother's career, you want something that can give you longevity and respect, and that's a combination of the two. So it's a case of using your star status to promote slightly more thought-provoking films."
What is your view on the current trend for remaking classic films?
"It depends on the movie. Don was always considered to be a Bachchan movie. It was a good film to remake if you get the right person. I don't think you can remake a classic. Agneepath is not a classic. It didn't run. Bachchan's performance was classic. A classic is some super-hit like Mughal-E-Azam. Don was a huge hit. It works if you choose the right film. Scarface was remade. A lot of these films that Hollywood makes today were made in the '30s. The acting was bit louder. So if you're going to remake them you have to do it like Sanjay Dutt's done it with his Kancha Cheena. You have to blow away the original with your newness. Ram Gopal Varma's Sholay was a mistake."
There was a period where you were largely absent from our screens. Why was that?
"I had a bit of a quiet couple of years, but that's in the past already. I don't know why. I didn't feel like doing more work. But the last two years have been financially the most rewarding two years for me so far. It's a strange thing. I seem to have done less, but made more, which isn't bad. But actors should act. You should see them most often rather than just not. I should work more and I am. I have lots of films now. Cocktail, Race 2, Go Goa Gone and Agent Vinod."
We're celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema next year, and both your family and Kareena's have made a huge contribution to the history of Indian cinema. How would you describe our cinema to anyone as yet not familiar with it?
"Indian cinema has been respected in times gone by, apart from the '80s and the '90s, when things were not very good. We are a great country. We're just a little crowded, disorganised or corrupt, but the traditions we have in dance, theatre or literature are as ancient as the Greeks', and cinema also has represented that."
Which of your films is your personal favourite?
"Love Aaj Kal or Hum Tum. I was going to say Omkara, for the performance, but it's a bit dark. Great cinema though."
Agent Vinod will be released on March 23.
Watch the trailer for Agent Vinod below: