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Daunting to come back to changed landscape: Fardeen Khan on 14-year hiatus, 'Heeramandi' and more

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Mumbai, May 1 (PTI) Actor Fardeen Khan is happy to be back at work after a gap of 14 years as it gave him an opportunity to silence his "inherent fears" and start afresh like a newcomer.

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After "Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar", Sanjay Leela Bhansali's sprawling period drama series on Netflix, which reintroduces the actor to the audiences, Khan has two more films -- "Khel Khel Mein" and "Visfot" lined up for release.

"It was very daunting, making that decision to come back. So much had changed in itself that I had inherent fears and apprehensions. But what kept me going and gave me encouragement is the warmth and love that I received. People who like my work, my audiences, my fans, they've been consistent with that over the years," Khan told PTI in an interview.

Looking back, the 50-year-old actor said he needed to focus on his personal life after the death of his actor-producer father Feroz Khan in 2009. Khan's last release was "Dulha Mil Gaya" which came out in 2010.

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"I needed some time to myself after I lost my father. I had a bit of a health scare back then. Also, we were looking to have children. I just needed to take some time off but believe me it wasn't planned to be this long. When my daughter was born in 2013, my heart just melted, and I said, ‘I would like to spend some time with her, and enjoy being a father full time’. Then, my son was born," he added.

Khan, who was launched by his father in Hindi film "Prem Aggan" in 1998, was a star in the 2000s and worked in movies such as "Jungle," "Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya," "Bhoot," "Dev," "No Entry," and "Heyy Babyy".

The actor, who was welcomed with cheers and applause at the trailer launch of "Heeramandi" in Delhi last month, is curious about how the audiences receive him as Nawab Wali Mohammed in the show, set in the world of courtesans in the pre-independence India.

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"Fourteen years is not a small amount of time. I'm coming back to a whole new landscape, the way films are written, the way the protagonists are thought of, the kind of stories that are being told, the platforms on how films are distributed and broadcast and brought to the audience, everything has changed. I feel like this newcomer, who's got this most amazing opportunity, and I'm happy to be back at work," Khan said.

If he had to do it all over again, Khan said probably the gap would be shorter as he missed being at work but nothing can match the experience of seeing one's children grow in front of their eyes.

"...That's also a very different joy and probably the most profound thing that gives you life meaning and purpose, at least for me," he said, adding that it was "daunting" to return.

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"People who like my work, my audiences, my fans, they've been consistent with that over the years." Recalling his early years of stardom, Khan said movies at that time were "designed to entertain and most of the films were exactly that" but somehow they have stayed with people, making him realise what cinema means to  people.

"I still find it difficult to explain it to myself, I still pinch myself but I'm just extremely grateful. It's not often that you see this happen (love from fans) and I'm very cognizant of that and you want to do good quality work.

"You are at a certain age and stage and it's at a time in filmmaking, in the industry where there's such amazing work happening, the kind of stories being told, the kind of films being made, it's such an exciting time." Khan said having an attitude of a newcomer helped him navigate the uncertainty of the business and also helped him go ask for work from former collaborators.

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"I didn't know whether I would get work or whether people wanted to even see me. These are things that are there in your psyche. I went and met a lot of people I had worked with in the past. I said, ‘If you’ve something, please keep me in mind’. They were happy to see me back. They were like, ‘You're looking good, you’ve changed, you’ve transformed’." Khan credited filmmaker Sanjay Gupta, with whom he worked in 2009's "Acid Factory", for being the first person to sign him up for "Visfot", which gave him a lot of confidence.

"I'm very grateful to Sanjay Gupta. The second project that came along was ‘Heeramandi’ but it so happened that ‘Heeramandi’ was the first project that was released. For any actor to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Bhansali is a dream.

"There are not many directors that present their actors and write the kind of characters that he does. And your first release to be on a platform like Netflix, which is out there in 192 countries, this is going to be India's biggest international launch in the web series space." Khan, who was trolled on social media for weight gain in 2016, said he decided to take charge of his health in 2019 as he "wasn't in a great space". "At the time, I was overweight. There were certain lifestyle choices I made that definitely were working in my favour. So, I made some serious changes and that started off my journey. I started training in June of 2020, I have a picture from the first day of training. In those six to eight months, I lost about 18 or 19 kg." Asked about the moment when he realised he was ready for a comeback, Khan said it was in 2020 during the pandemic when he was stuck in London, UK.

"After I came back to Bombay, I knew this is where I belong, and this is where I wanted to be, which is being part of the storytelling process. It's a very unique profession and even though it's all consuming, and it demands that you risk everything, it's a beautiful profession." On Khan's wishlist is films in the action and comedy genres.

"I’m very curious to see how writers, directors and producers respond and what kind of material is going to come to me," he said. PTI KKP BK RDS BK BK

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