One of the most sought after actors in the world of cinema, Sonu Sood has always made his screen presence special in all his films. From playing an antagonist in Salman Khan starrer Dabangg, to becoming a dancer and shaking a leg with Shah Rukh Khan in Happy New Year, Sonu has done it all.

In an exclusive conversation with thestatesman.com, the actor opens up about his initial days in the industry and how he takes on the roles of a protagonist and an antagonist. The actor also revealed that he had initially refused to play Cheddi Singh in Dabangg, and how he tries to make his character interesting.

Excerpts from the interview:

Today’s youth looks up to you as their fitness guru, what is your secret mantra behind staying fit?

Fitness is a lifetime commitment; you can’t eat wrong. You have to be religiously dedicated to a fitness regimen. It is very important to get a strong zipper on your mouth and you can’t eat something wrong. In a place like Delhi and Punjab, where you get the best of foods, it becomes very difficult to control. I always believe that it is 80 per cent of diet and 20 per cent of gym time.

From being a small town common man to working with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, how has your journey to stardom been?

The journey has been tough, but all thanks to the wishes of my parents that today I am sitting in front of you. From working with Shah Rukh to Salman, Amitabh Bachchan and Jackie Chan, it was not possible for a simple guy from Moga with a lot of dreams to make it till here. I started my journey from Delhi, and I remember those inspirational letters that were written by my mom. She always said no matter what, you have to achieve your goals and we are praying for you. And one day it happened. So I think somewhere sitting up there, they are making this happen.

Out of all the films that you have done till now, which movie has been the most satisfying?

I think it was the whole process that really helped me reach here. Starting from my first film Bhagat Singh to working with Mani Ratnam for Yuva or Happy New Year, Dabangg. You grow as an actor every day, you grow by working with all the directors and all co-stars. So I won’t say that there was just one film that did wonders for me. I think all films got me to the other one and this is how I survived all these years.

You will next be seen in JP Dutta’s Paltan and have two Southern movies in Pipeline! How do you manage all these projects together?

We are currently shooting for JP Dutta’s Paltan in Ladakh and I must say that this film is the most satisfying for me. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the director. I remember when eight-nine years ago he told me that Sonu, one day I am going to make a movie with you, and it happened after nine years.

Working in a movie based on the country, soldiers and Indian border feels good. Border is one of my favorite films and I wanted to work in a film like that, and it happened after 12 years. There is less of oxygen when you are shooting in Ladakh. It becomes tough to shoot when you feel breathless every moment. But I think the whole subject and the director keep you on your toes and you give the best.

Any other movie that has been as challenging as Paltan!

Right now I am shooting for two films in South, Kurukshetra being one, which is also one of the most expensive films. I am playing Arjun in that, and living that period is tough. Then I am almost starting Manikarnika with Kangana, which is also a period film and will again be challenging. It won’t be easy riding horses with costumes, but I think that’s something an actor hunts for; doing something that he doesn’t get to do in his normal life. And when they portray those characters on screen, they look larger than life.

You have worked with both Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, who is more comfortable to work with?

Salman and Shah Rukh are both extremely dedicated actors and they know their job well. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with both. Dabangg was very special to me and I got to play what I have lived in my college days in Nagpur. I worked very closely on the project from writing dialogues with the director and lots of other things. Happy New Year was very special because I made lots of friends, including Farah Khan, Shah Rukh, Deepika, Abhishek and the others. We all travelled together to places like USA, Canada, London and performed shows together for one-and-half years; that’s why Happy New Year is so special.

You played an antagonist in Dabangg and second lead in the multi starrer Happy New Year, where your role could have been overshadowed by others’. What made you say yes for these completely comparative roles?

When Dabangg happened, I had said no to the film as I was not really sure of doing it because the role of “Cheddi Singh” was very dark and a little out. So I asked the makers to give me four days and I wanted to re-write my role. I came up with few suggestions, few scenes and dialogues and those were very well accepted by the director who said that those changes were phenomenal, let’s mould Cheddi Singh like that. Happy New Year is a lot of dancing, good clothes and shows; so it was a different experience. Like I always say, no matter whether you are playing an antagonist or a positive role or starring in a multi starrer, every day you learn something new as an actor. You get to know the camera angles, some dancing skills, dialogues. That is why we say that acting is one of the most special careers you can have.

Cinema has changed drastically over the years and has become more content driven now.

It is very tough to get people to the theatres, so you have to make films that are content oriented, scripts have to be nicely shot. Everything has to be nicely put. Word of mouth is the in thing right now. People want to know the right report and then go to the theatres. So it is high time for producers, actors, directors to get the subject right and try to give their best. No matter how expensive the movie is, it will not work if the content in the movie is not right.

Does critics’ verdict affect you?

They write in few lines about something they didn’t like in just 10 minutes, when you know that it takes years and years in making a movie. Sometimes you make good movies, sometimes you make bad. I think they are doing their job. They were always there and they will always be there, but that shouldn’t affect you, though you can learn lessons from your mistakes. You just have to be sincere and give your best and leave the rest to God.