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"I would like to associate myself with the likes of Santosh Sivan, Ramgopal Verma and E Nivas."
Rahul DevChampion releases next week and Rahul Dev is as nervous as a schoolboy sitting for his first exams. He appears for the first time on screen in Champion and in a way this film might decide his fate in the industry. He's not yet seen the film, and is waiting for the first copy to come from Madras. Lots of tension! Butterflies in the belly! But he's trying hard to divert his attention to other things. Amidst the flurry surrounding his debut release, he takes out a few moments to chat.

You are very nervous, with the release of Champion just round the corner.
Yes, I'm damn nervous. After all it's my first film. But I'm sure that my role will be appreciated. I play a gray character in the film, not a completely black one. There is a justification in the end for his behaviour. It's a revenge story. Something like what Shah Rukh did in Baazigar. My character loses his family after his father shoots all of them because he has undergone a major problem in his business. But Nadir (my character's name) thinks that Deepak Parashar framed his father and his only mission is to eradicate Deepak's entire family. He thinks that his father was a victim of frame up. So basically, it's a tale of vendetta against Deepak Parashar's family.

What about your role in Santosh Sivan's Ashoka?
I'm very excited about Ashoka, which should release around April. I play a supporting character in the film; it's a very positive role. I'm playing the Senapati of Kalinga in the film. I was very excited because it's a period film, and very different from the other films being made. Also, Shah Rukh will be showing the film at the Cannes and the Berlin film festivals but without the songs. Only one song will be retained, the traditional Oriya dance number.

Doesn't Indra Kumar's Aashique have you as he villain once again?
In Aashique I'm playing the main bad guy. It's a completely black role. I did Aashique only because of Indra Kumar. He's a huge director, having given so many jubilee films. It's a completely commercial film. Indra Kumar has a different school of film making, once you accept that, it's a pleasure working with him.

Aren't you doing Sunny Deol's next home production as well? go?
Yes, I'm doing Sunny's Indian, which is being directed by Maharajan. Once again, it's a completely positive role. Initially, they wanted to cast a big actor for that role, but later they decided to go for me instead as I have no image as yet.

Are there any other films in the pipeline?
Yes, I'm doing Mukt, which is being produced by Mohan Chabbria and directed by Adeep who was earlier, assistant to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Namrata Shirodkar and Aditi Govitrikar are my costars in the film. I play the leading man in the film. Shooting will complete soon, and the film should release by August. Other than that, there are other films, but they are still not finalized as yet.

Do you feel bad that Dus will never get released?
I did feel very bad initially, but I never look back. Or else I'll always be depressed and down. In a way, it was good for me that Champion is my first release because in Dus, I played a totally black character. At least in Champion, I have gray shades to my character. Once you start off with a completely black role, it's very difficult to get out of that mould.

What sort of films do you want to do at this stage of your career?
I want to do characters, which have been well thought off by the director of the film. The director has to be excited about my role and the film. I'm extremely choosy whom I work with because I only want to work with good makers. I would like to associate myself with the likes of Santosh Sivan, Ramgopal Verma, E.Nivas, and the young whiz kids like Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, because these makers are really good at their job. I'm working with Maharajan who's making his debut Hindi film, but I was really impressed by his dedication, involvement and that's why I took on his film. I'm not looking at slotting myself from any angle. I want to do good work and create a right mix so that I create a niche for myself. I know I have a limited face to play the commercial film actor, so I'll try to do varied roles to suit me. I want to be like Sanjeev Kumar, Nana Patekar and Naseer- they played such diverse roles with so much conviction; they are my idols. I will be happy if I can achieve a bit of what they did.

--Umesh Jivnani