Are you excited for Chennai Express? Are you are you are you? We are, not only for Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone, but also to see Nikitin Dheer, the main antagonist, Tangaballi. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen him before, yes, you’re right – he’s the guy from Jodha Akbar, Ready and Dabangg 2. He’s also the son of veteran actor Pankaj Dheer, and he’s extremely excited about Chennai Express, since Rohit Shetty has been his dream director. We’re told that Shah Rukh is very fond of Nikitin, so when we got the chance to catch up with him recently, we couldn’t resist asking him about all things Chennai Express – like how it was working with SRK, his favourite moment from the sets, and (most importantly) what the heck Tangaballi means.
Team MissMalini (Team MM): Tell us about your role in Chennai Express
Nikitin Dheer (ND): My character’s name is Tangaballi, and he belongs to a small village in Tamil Nadu. He’s a simple guy, but he holds quite a bit of a powerful position in the village. He’s a very self-respecting man, and as the story progresses, he has some kind of conflict of views with the protagonist of the film.
Team MM: What does Tangaballi mean?!
ND: Tangaballi, it means ‘man of gold’ in Tamil.
Team MM: What kind of preps did you have to do? We heard you had to workout a lot!
ND: You know, actually, for my earlier film Dabangg 2, I had to lose some weight. Because this character is a more rural one, they didn’t want a very contemporary kind of a look; it had to be very rugged and tough. I gained some weight for it… it wasn’t that difficult. The most difficult part for me… being from the Northern part of India, I don’t know much about the South or the language. It took me a while to learn it. But I think we’ve pulled it off pretty well and I hope people like it.
Team MM: You keep getting cast in negative roles. Is this a conscious decision or is it something that just keeps happening?
ND: I’ve been offered some positive roles as well. But sometimes it doesn’t work out, and sometimes it’s not as exciting. So it is not that I’m planning to do only negative roles, it’s just the way the ball is rolling… I’m just going with it.
Team MM: So what kind of roles would you like to do?
ND: You know, I’m from a little more older school of thought. For me, I’m a big fan of the dacoit films and that era of cinema. If I get an opportunity, I’d love to do one of those kind of roles, like a Mujhe Jeene Do or a Ganga Jamuna.
Team MM: Everyone wants to know: what was it like working with Shah Rukh Khan?
ND: I’ve said this earlier, and it’s kind of the easiest way for me to explain what it’s like working with Shah sir: it’s like going to school; you come home learning a new lesson every day. The thing with him is he’s a very generous and fantastic person. We all know how good an actor he is. So when someone new like me gets an opportunity to work with him, it’s a fantastic learning experience. You don’t even realise it, but you’re getting better at your own craft.
Team MM: The number one thing you learned from SRK?
ND: The number one thing? I think this is the one thing I’ve learned from all my seniors: just keep your head down and keep working. Let the work speak.
Team MM: So Rohit Shetty is supposed to be a major prankster. Were you ever a victim of one of his pranks?
ND: No, fortunately I wasn’t. I was actually always ready for something to happen, but I think Rohit bhai thought I was a kid so he let me go.
Team MM: Must’ve been a fun film, though.
ND: It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. It was personally a dream come true to be directed by Rohit Shetty. I used to pester him because I knew him from earlier. I used to say, sir I’d like to be a part of your films. Even when he was making Singham, I messaged him, but he said there was nothing in it for me. So when I got a chance to do Chennai Express, it was just really, really nice. You know, the whole vibe of the unit and just the way they are… it’s a lot of fun. You don’t want to come back home. Even after the shoot was over, we all just used to hang around on set for another hour post pack-up and then come back to the hotel.
Team MM: Can you give us an example of a funny thing that happened on sets?
ND: There was this sequence between Shah sir, Deepika and me. It’s supposed to be a very serious scene, but it’s really funny, and we just could not keep a straight face. I think we took three days extra just because we couldn’t stop laughing. It was hilarious. Either one of us would keep laughing, so if two had a straight face, one would laugh. It was really, really fun. That scene, I think, will be a highlight.
Team MM: So you have a lot of scenes with Deepika as well? What was it like working with her?
ND: Ya, most of my work is with Shah sir and Deepika. Working with Deepika was really, really nice. She was the one on set who was more my age and everything. Her experience – even though she is new in the industry – is much more than mine. So you get to share so many things, and the equation was really nice.
Team MM: Your father is an intense actor, and you are considered to be one as well…
ND: I think we all find our own way, but I think intensity is one of my USPs as far as performances are concerned. I like to keep it that way. Whatever little bit I have done, people think of me as an intense actor. I think it’s a great compliment for an actor to get.
Team MM: What have you learned about acting from your father?
ND: You just learn, more than anything else, about etiquette in the industry that you work in. The little bit that I have learned is that… my father always says that, in this industry, good actors may not last, but good human beings last. So you genuinely should just try to be a better human being rather than just focusing on your craft and leaving that side out. Because that reflects in the face, and in the eyes.
Team MM: Did you always want to be an actor?
ND: Actually, I wanted to be in the armed forces. But as a child, my father was doing a television series and I went on set. I felt this feeling.. it’s hard to describe in words, but it was this exhilaration. I just thought at that point that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. So if it was not acting, I would definitely be in the armed force.
Team MM: Since you’ve worked with Shah Rukh, Salman and Hrithik, how would you say they’re different?
ND: I think the way all of them approach the same scene is different. But the most common thing I’d say is that they don’t take their position for granted. They work hard, they work so hard, every single shot – it is inspiring. You kind of realise that becoming a star is one thing, but staying a star is a whole different ball game.