Maharaj' story felt inherently dramatic: Junaid Khan on 'unconventional' acting debut

It was a lovely script and a story that was "inherently dramatic", says Junaid Khan about "Maharaj", a social drama that marks his debut in the Hindi film industry.
Maharaj' story felt inherently dramatic: Junaid Khan on 'unconventional' acting debut

New Delhi | It was a lovely script and a story that was "inherently dramatic", says Junaid Khan about "Maharaj", a social drama that marks his debut in the Hindi film industry.

While it was always meant for a direct-to-digital release on Netflix, the Yash Raj Films project landed quietly on the streamer on Friday night, without much fanfare and pre-release promotion.

Directed by Siddharth P Malhotra and produced by Aditya Chopra, "Maharaj" features Junaid, son of superstar Aamir Khan and producer Reena Dutta, in the role of the real-life 19th century social reformer Karsandas Mulji. His debut comes almost four decades after his father burst on the scene as a romantic hero in 1988's "Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak".

"I don't know about it being an unconventional (debut) because YRF is a big banner and Sid sir wanted me (in the film). The story is inherently very dramatic. I have been doing theatre in Mumbai since 2017. Sid sir asked me to come and test for this film. I didn't think of it as conventional or unconventional," Junaid told PTI in an interview when asked if the film was an unconventional choice as a newcomer.

Asked whether he thought a romantic story would have been a safer bet, the actor said, "I guess producers and directors didn't see me in romantic dramas. You do the work you get but it was a lovely script. It is such a wide medium, I don't think there is any protection in films." "Maharaj", based on an 1862 libel case involving Mulji and a Vaishnavite religious leader, briefly ran into legal trouble with the members of the sect filing a petition in the Gujarat High Court against the film. While the premiere was delayed by a week, the high court cleared its release after a brief stay, observing that it did not target any religion. Junaid, who has two more films in the making, one of them with Aamir Khan Productions, is happy the matter was resolved sooner than later.

Also starring Jaideep Ahlawat, Sharvari, and Shalini Pandey, the movie was previously scheduled to be released on Netflix on June 14. It is based on Saurabh Shah's Gujarati novel of the same name. "It is a sensitive topic for sure but I think Sid sir and Adi sir made it very sensitively. Certain things happened before the release of the film without context. But all's well that ends well. I don't think the film was intended to hurt anybody. And I don't think it has hurt anybody who has seen the film," he said.

The actor studied at the Los Angeles-based American Academy of Dramatics and Arts for three years. Upon his return in 2017, he honed his skills on stage.

Aamir, Junaid said, has known about his aspiration to become an actor for almost a decade.

Asked whether he discussed his debut project with his father, he said, "Film ke baare mein itna discussion nahi hua Papa se'. It is not his film and he is busy with his work. Sid sir and Adi sir showed him the film. He liked it and had some suggestions. They took some of it and didn't take the others.

"He would normally give advice if you have specific questions for him. But beyond that, he does not get too much into our lives. He lets us be. If you have a specific question, then he is very helpful actually." Junaid is currently in Delhi shooting for a project.

"I don't know how much I should talk about those films because producers haven't announced them yet but one is being made by AKP and another by Phantom Films. "For now, there are these two projects and then we will see. I am supposed to be on stage in September. I keep myself busy. I have the year pretty packed," the actor added.

Malhotra said he fell in love with the subject when he read the novel and then watched its theatrical production. The story was not widely known but is a popular one in Gujarat, he added.

The director, known for YRF's "Hichki", said he essentially saw it as a "David vs Goliath" story of a powerful man and a young reformer who challenges his ideology. "We are fools when we start falling in love with a subject without thinking that it is going to fall into trouble. When you realise it is going to fall into trouble, then you double check your intent and you realise your intent was correct because I am not going against any religion or community," Malhotra said, referring to the delay in the release "Maharaj".

"People from the community are my writers, they are working on the film as actors. So let people see the film and find the context. My wife is from the community and I have never disrespected anyone in my life then why would I do this story? I didn't think that this would happen before the release," he added.

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