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Mustafa Burmawalla: Earned more as an assistant director than I do as an actor

The actor, who will make his debut with Machine, speaks about the challenges of working with his father-uncle duo, Abbas-Mustan.

Keyur Seta

Mustafa Burmawalla, son of Abbas Burmawalla and nephew of Mustan Burmawalla (jointly known as Abbas-Mustan), is set to enter films as an actor with Machine. He admits acting was an accidental choice, albeit a pleasant one. In a chat with Cinestaan.com, Mustafa talks about how he gravitated towards acting, the experience of shooting with his father-uncle duo and being shy of shooting romantic scenes in front of them, among other things. Excerpts:

Did you always want to be an actor?

No, not at all. Actually, I was never trying to become an actor. I always wanted to become a director. The thing is that when we used to have narrations when I was an assistant director, I used to act out all the scenes. I used to give them variations. That’s how I got into it. It was a natural thing. I had never planned to go into acting. 

How did you get cast in Machine? Did you ever think it would be your launch film?

I never thought that. I used to give auditions at different places. But I never felt like telling my dad to cast me in his film. My brother told my dad, ‘Why are you looking for actors? Why can’t you just cast Mustafa?’ But for them [Abbas-Mustan] it was very shocking. They thought about it for a month and a half. Then they told me that as the scriptwriter hadn't come to just narrate the script. As usual, I did it as it was a routine thing for me. The entire direction team was there. When I narrated the first scene, they asked me to try it in a different way. I gave them five different options and they liked one. I finished the whole thing. Then they said, ‘Mustafa, you are doing this film.’ I was like, ‘Okay, wow.’ It was like a shock for me. Obviously, I was very happy, excited and nervous at the same time. 

Most of the times, the launch of an actor happens in an action-romance film. This mostly yields positive results. Was that the reason you chose Machine?

No, I have not chosen Machine for this reason. I liked the subject a lot. Let me tell you when Machine was in the making, I was supposed to be an assistant director on it. But I had this desire of doing this film because the script is such. It has action, romance, everything. And the character is layered, which makes it challenging.

Were you under pressure for working with your father and uncle?

Being from the filmi background, it is very difficult because the stakes are high. People have high expectations to keep up the name. Instead of 100%, you have to give 200%. That’s what I have done. 

How did you prepare for the role?

I didn’t do much preparation. We had worked on the script for four-five months. So, I knew it inside out; the dialogues and every single thing. But despite the narration I gave, they wanted to see how I look on screen. So, I made a 13-minute showreel for them. I shot it for two days. They were very happy with it. Then I went to the National School of Drama (NSD) for six months. I prepared and polished my acting skills. Then I returned and we started the shoot. 

As you have been trained at NSD, did you act in any play over there?

No, I haven’t acted in any play. I had been there only to polish my acting skills. Mr NK Sharma, the director of NSD, polished me well in six months. He had his own way. He never repeated any exercise in six months. If you miss one day, you miss the whole thing. It was not like a normal acting class. It was like 8-9 hours every single day. 

Did you work on your body for this role?

I was very chubby earlier and when I was in New York, I became very fat; like an obese kid (laughs). The food over there was amazing. I couldn’t resist as I am a foodie. I obviously used to eat at wrong times. But just for health reasons, I started losing weight. This is because in my family an uncle passed away because his cholesterol level went high. So, dad asked me to reduce weight. By the time I was assisting, I already had six-pack abs. It wasn’t difficult but it’s very difficult to maintain. I wake up at 5 am and start with gymnastics. Then I workout for an hour-and-a-half. This is followed by dance and martial arts class. Then I start my day. 

How different are your father and uncle on sets from what they are at home?

They treated me on the sets just like they treat other actors. For me, it was not like a father-son bonding. I didn’t get special treatment. Actually, I didn’t get any treatment. They used to say, ‘Mustafa jaldi aaja, shot ready hai. De de fatafat.’ I had to run and give the shot. When I was an AD, I used to earn more. After becoming an actor, I didn’t earn anything (laughs). We used to meet on sets, not after pack-up or before coming on the sets.

How did Abbas and Mustan guide you?

As an AD, I have learnt so much. I have never asked them how to do this or that. I have just observed them. That is the best part of assisting them. Their co-ordination is brilliant. They are on the same track most of the times. What they have always told me is to handle the emotional part. 

How challenging was it to romance in front of your father and uncle?

I ignored them. I completely ignored them (laughs). 

How difficult was it to ignore them?

Very difficult. That was the most difficult part about the shoot (laughs). I started treating them like directors and not like my father or uncle. After giving those shots, I used to walk away. I used to tell them, ‘See the shot and tell me.’ 

You did a one-scene appearance in Players (2012). How did that happen?

(Laughs) I was assisting on the film. The actor who was supposed to do the part called up three hours before the shoot to inform that he is not well. I was told, ‘Mustafa, wear these clothes and get into the car.’ I said, 'I can’t act'. That was my first on-screen thing. And it was a very difficult task and I had to drive the car. It was a left-hand drive, cameras were attached on both sides and the road was so narrow. 

You must have grown up watching Abbas-Mustan films. Which of them have been your favourites?

Lots of them. I love Race. Of course, Baazigar and Khiladi are among my favourites. I will tell you something about Daraar. After watching the film, I got petrified of Arbaaz sir (Arbaaz Khan). I was so scared that I used to run away from him. I couldn’t even go to school for three days. 

Have you shared this incident with Arbaaz Khan?

I told him when we had met for Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon. He still remembers it. 

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I am listening to scripts, but I haven’t finalized anything. I am not looking at any particular genre. I will do whatever I like.