Jackie Shroff may be Bollywood's most famous laid-back drifter, but he sure knows how to keep journalists on their toes. Ask him an innocent question about his plans for the evening he is in town for an Indian wedding and he answers with a sly smile: "Darling, are you asking me out? In that case, my answer is yes."
Despite acting in over 150 films and winning a host of awards in a career that has spanned almost 30 years, it's evident that Shroff, who once set many women's hearts aflutter, still refuses to be taken seriously.
"People call me a drifter because I don't really focus, nor do I plan. For instance, if I like you I will even do a film for you. I don't have to really like the script," says Shroff with disarming honesty.
His catalogue of films, a mix of both prestigious A-list projects including Parinda, Rangeela, Yaadein and Devdas and cheap Bollywood potboilers, provides ample proof.
"The actors these days are such blood professionals [following in actor-parents' footsteps] and they take themselves very seriously. Me, I come from a street in Mumbai. I was born on the street and my mind is like a hippie. I consider myself half-cowboy, half-hippie," he says.
"Where I grew up South Mumbai film culture wasn't really there. Bollywood films were not our reality."
Shroff, 50, was born into a Gujarati family and entered films by sheer accident. In 1982, he made his debut in a small role as a villain's henchman in the drama Swami Dada.
"At that point, I had I no idea that I could ever step into the role of a hero. During that time, there were such good-looking guys around me, like Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. So my first thought was: these guys don't have a good enough villain and that's the segment I wanted to tap into."
But his next big release, Hero (1983), in which he played an anti-hero, catapulted him into the big league. Bollywood had found a new heartthrob.
The next few years saw him play both romantic and villain roles. But Shroff is still self-effacing about his achievements,
"I have taken on roles that many people have rejected. For instance, my role Chunni Das in Devdas was rejected by so many actors because they feared that they will not be noticed because Shah Rukh [Khan] is in it, but I had no such fears."
That role, in which he played Khan's character Devdas' college friend Chunni Das, earned him a Filmfare Best Supporting Actor nomination.
But Shroff, after all these years, is not one to rest on his laurels.
"I have a long way to go. I still feel as if I have just entered college and am going through that learning phase.
"Even now, I get excited when I get a good script. "
Shroff's take on …
His most memorable role: "I enjoyed playing the father to three daughters in Yaadein."
Turning producer, which landed him in financial troubles: "I am a terrible businessman. I am not brutal, nor am I ruthless. And I can never say no to people. So yes, I have [gotten] into a lot of trouble over all this."
What brings him into Dubai: "I [came] to attend the Dhanak-Dhakan wedding. They are my friends and no, I have not been offered money for it."