Abrar Zahoor made an unconventional debut in Neerja, where he played the leader of the gang of hijackers. SpotboyE caught up with the 26-year-old actor for a quick chat. Excerpts:

Tell us a bit about your childhood in Kashmir.
During my growing up years, I was the ugliest looking kid. I had keloid (an area of irregular fibrous tissue formed under the skin) all over my face. It was difficult for me as people used to judge me for my looks. But my parents were by my side throughout.

Was the idea of becoming a star anywhere on the horizon then?
During those years, I realised how much looks matter to people. So I had to prove a point to people who snubbed me. I started my treatment when I was 14. It lasted for eight months – I couldn’t step out in the sunlight during that period. By the time I turned 16, I had turned into a good-looking guy (pauses)

Go on...
After finishing my school in Kashmir, I pursued graduation in visual communication in Chennai. Around the same time, I started modelling and did a few commercials down South. Finally, in August 2014, I moved to Mumbai to try my luck in movies.

How did Neerja happen?
Neerja was my first audition when I moved to Mumbai. I originally auditioned for the second lead (Khalil’s role played by Jim Sarbh). But then Kanika (Berry, casting director) saw my performance and decided to cast me as the first lead.

From a model to playing a hijacker in your first film, what preparation did you undergo?
Safarini (his character in the film) had to be quite bulky. On the other hand, I was a model – lean and fit. So I had to put on quite a bit, especially on my face. Now, I’m finding it tough to lose the extra kilos (laughs).

How was it working with Sonam Kapoor?
You won’t believe it, Sonam was kept away from the four of us who played hijackers for the first 15 days. We were not allowed to interact with each other as Ram (Madhvani, director) wanted that discomfort between us. On one occasion, Sonam asked me to pass her a bottle of water and I straightaway said ‘no’. We were that rude to her (laughs). We weren’t allowed to be friendly with anyone, not even the passengers.

The hitting and kicking scenes were for real?
All of them! There were many scenes which weren’t passed by the Censor Board because they were too violent. Sonam got badly hit once. Even one of the passengers was badly hurt on one occasion. But they were all prepared for it.

Stars like Aamir Khan, Anil Kapoor, Vidya Balan visited the sets to keep the entire unit motivated... 
Aamir Khan was the first star we met. Initially, we were told that he won’t meet the four of us (who play hijackers) because were kept isolated from the rest of the team. But we pleaded Ram sir to make us meet him. When we first saw him, we were so numb that we just kept staring at him. Aamir looked at us and told Ram, “Itne khaufnaak chehro ko kahan se dhoond ke laye?” We couldn’t meet Vidya Balan, but met Anil Kapoor.

What was the best compliment you received after the film?
I met a lady who was a passenger in the hijacked Pan Am flight. As soon as she saw me, she asked Ram if I was playing the leader of the terrorist group. The lady said that I looked exactly like the real hijacker. 

How are you handling the female adulation?
I don’t think anyone would be interested in Safarini. But yeah, when girls see me, they recognise me and request me for photographs. I am very shy and don’t know how to react to compliments.

What’s in the pipeline?
I have already signed my second film where I play the male lead. It’s a big project and has a brilliant script – that’s all I can say at this stage.

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