Once in a way a film comes along and elevates an actor to the next level. Maximum is that film in Sonu Sood's career. In his 12 years in the movies, the six footer with an enviable physique has worked with some mainstream pashas: Yuva ( Mani Ratnam); Jodhaa Akbar (Ashutosh Gowariker); Singh is Kingg (Anees Bazmee); Dabangg (Abhinav Kashyap). But no other role he's done can quite match up to the intensity of his Pratap Pandit, a power-hungry encounter specialist modelled on the incarcerated cop Pradeep Sharma.
Naturally the 39-year-old actor is elated. Between radio interviews and a family lunch break, the actor talks about how he's finally got a shot at some memorable roles.
One heard you are so happy with the praise you got for Maximum that you returned Kabeer Kaushik's cheque?
Yes, I did. It's a gesture of gratitude. I waited 12 years for a film like this one. And since I was very happy with what I saw, I didn't want a fee for it. He had given me something far more valuable than money.
Is it also true that Pradeep Sharma's family came up and complimented you?
Before I started shooting Maximum, I had followed Pradeep Sharma's life through the media. Actually Kabeer's script was very well researched. He had tweaked it 52 times before he brought it to me. So in a sense the screen characters felt very life-like. But I hadn't met him. Two nights ago his parents, wife and two daughters came to the film screening.
Post the screening, I got a hug from the family, who were moved with my performance and my portrayal of the character modelled to some extent on their father.
A mainstream reviewer called it your Dabangg?
This is not my Dabangg. Dabangg was Salman Khan (Chulbul Pandey's) film; not to forget I had a memorable role (Cheddi Singh) in it. I would say Maximum is my Zanjeer. I'm hoping it gets me recognition as an actor.
Like Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Manoj Bajpayee, you've chosen to be a villain first and a hero later. Not everyone's career goes according to their choices. I'm too humbled because you've taken the names of some legends here. But yes, I knew that for a small time guy from Moga Punjab to get a break as a hero would be near impossible. Unless you're very lucky, the audience is not ready to see an actor till they get familiar with his face. Once that happens then the transition from villain to hero happens quite smoothly. I started with character roles, moved to playing the high-profile villain and finally after a decade, I got a shot at being a hero.
But you're still not in the straight hero mould. First you played the notorious Pradeep Sharma and next you're doing Dawood Ibrahim in Shootout At Wadala. What can I say? Both are two sides of the same coin. When you research about the cops, you get familiar with the underworld. All I can say is I'm as excited about playing Dawood as I was about playing a cop.
Is it time to rest on your laurels? Or like all actors you want to be in that elusive 100-cr club.
(Laughs) My Dabangg with Salman Khan is already in that club. For me as a leading man ,the journey has just begun. I can tell you it has been a tough 12 years to get here. I've made many sacrifices. Like most strugglers who come to Mumbai, I too stood at the promenade near Juhu Beach and vowed one day I will have a hoarding there. That is now a reality. But the waiting period seemed endless. Post Jodhaa Akbar and Dabangg, I've refused around 25 Bollywood films because I wanted something substantial in Hindi. I'm fortunate that I have a good career going in the south. That has kept me afloat and paid for my lifestyle.