Prem Chopra: Saif Ali Khan’s acting skills have improved drastically

One of the most notorious baddies of yesteryear is making a comeback as a villain named Kazaan in Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod

In a candid conversation, Prem Chopra speaks of the changes that he has seen in the Hindi film industry, the phenomenal rise of the movie business in Punjab and more…

Do you think that the misconception people have regarding a villain’s off-screen persona has changed over the years?

Yes, there has been a sea change in the way actors who play negative characters are looked at. These days, thanks to the exposure people get from the Internet, television and other such mediums, people can easily see what is on-screen and off it. It feels great to be playing a don after a long time in Agent Vinod.

Tell us more about your role in Agent Vinod…

I play the character of an Indian who is a don in Morocco. I had to learn the local language and it was a big challenge for me as an actor. In the film I speak to Saif and Kareena in Hindi, but with others in my gang, I had to communicate in Moroccan. As of now this is all I can reveal about my role, but I am sure people will like the film.

Sriram Raghavan is a seasoned director and though he is young, he has complete control over the way the film is shaping up. He has been eating, drinking and living this film for the longest time and this type of dedication is a rarity in Bollywood. He is highly inspired by the pulp thrillers I used to be a part of in my heyday, and you can see his tribute to that era in Agent Vinod.

What was the experience of working with Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor like?

Saif has evolved as an actor and I see a drastic improvement in his acting skills. I remember working with him in Yaar Gaddar back in 1994; now when I saw him perform in Agent Vinod, he comes across as one of best actors in recent times. Not only as an actor – even as a producer, he is very hands-on and very generous. One thing that works for actors these days is that they take on just one film at a time, unlike in our times when we would be doing five-six films simultaneously. Today actors can stay focused on the one character they are playing and give it their all in terms of physicality and mind space. Kareena is a fantastic actor to work with. In Agent Vinod she plays my nurse-cum-assistant and the way she picks up cues is very impressive. She stays with the character and her involvement in the film is infectious. To sum it up, I had a great time working with them and wish them well.

Your recent appearance as Ranbir Kapoor’s grandfather in Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year was highly appreciated. Did you expect the bouquets coming your way?

I was pleasantly surprised on receiving so many compliments for that role. It helped that the character was an endearing one and I had a great time shooting the film. Being a Punjabi myself, I could add more to the role from my personal experiences. I remember I was abroad and Yash Chopra called me to congratulate me for doing the role with such subtlety.

You aren’t doing many films these days; is it a conscious decision?

I am doing my share of films, only I am being choosier about the films that I agree to do. You would be surprised to know how the film industry in Punjab is flourishing. I am doing a lot of Punjabi films and the production values there are on par with Bollywood. The content as well as the presentation is equally impressive. I don’t think the day is far when Hindi films will face serious competition from Punjabi films.