Talking about Asoka There are people who believe that Asoka was tall and charismatic. Others who insist that he was short and the ugliest of his brothers. What was your conception of the emperor from your reading of history and mythology? Nowhere have I found a historically factual representation of Asoka's physical appearance. There are no pictures, no vivid word descriptions. Many assume him to be a tall, good-looking and muscular man which I'm not. The only description I've come across of him paints him out to be short, dark and ugly. If that's true then I fit the bill (Smiles). I see him as a physically attractive man who could invoke power. My Asoka is a man who doesn't wear the elaborate costumes of a king but wraparound dhotis and trailing stoles. His hair is long because while researching the subject we discovered that during the time the common people had short hair but the kings grew their hair long. We've added a dramatic black tilak because we thought it signified power and evil. We wanted to make the Mauryan king attractive to the youth of the country. With so little historical data available on the man how have you traced his journey? You'll see Asoka through the four phases of his life. The young prince, the commoner, the vicious king and finally, the Buddhist monk. We've taken into account everyone's version of him. The people of Magadh saw him as a great ruler, the conqueror of the world. For the inhabitants of Kalinga he was a man who ravaged their land but was eventually put on the right path by his Buddhist wife. The Buddhists see him as an evil man who reforms. And finally, there's the myth about his love for Kaurwaki and how that relationship dictated his life. They say that there is a bit of the actor in every character he plays and by the end of the film the actor takes on some attributes of the character too. Was that true of you when doing Asoka? I don't know how much of me is there in Asoka. The one clear take I had from Santosh (director Santosh Sivan) was that he wanted his Asoka to be very childlike. He felt that would make his anger, impulsiveness and even his narcissim endearing. Help us forgive him the mistakes he makes because they are the mistakes of a child who doesn't know better. I tried to keep that in mind when enacting my role. (Thoughtfully) I think I wasn't successful in capturing Asoka's childlike innocence but I could match his arrogance. And we have managed to retain the dignity of the historical character even though this meant cutting out on some of the comedy. We didn't think that fun and that streak of mischief that I'm sure was in him, would go down well with the audience. Wouldn't that make him less interesting? Oh, he's interesting and intriguing in his own way because he's neither black nor white but streaked with shades of grey. Santosh describes him as a "twilight" character. Though there's not much we know of Asoka as a person, I think in his own way he was a superstar too (Smiles). He was rich, famous and had the world at his feet. If he was impulsive and selfish at times, then from his point of view it was because of circumstances. You can be misled when you are very big. The greatness of the man was not that he gave up everything for goodness, kindness and love but that the goodness and love he found turned him into a better human being. Is that what your learnt from Asoka? The most important lesson I learnt was to live for the moment. You never know what will come next--tomorrow or the next life. So you have to do everything now. Asoka had just conquered the world, when he renounced everything. He could have waited... one day, one month, a year. But he gave it all up when he was there, right on top. Will you do that too? Quit when you're at the peak? It takes guts, goodness and belief to give up so easily. I'm not Asoka, Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa. I'm a lesser mortal. Don't expect from me what you would from Asoka. Asoka was best known for the battle of Kalinga. He was a king and a warrior. Yet your film projects him as a lover.We know Asoka as a king, a warrior, a killer and a monk. It made Santosh wonder about the man who goes through so many transitions and turmoil without losing himself. In the end he was convinced that despite all the bad things he had done Asoka was inherently good. While recreating his past, we discovered his attachment to his mother, his strange need for his father's love, his passion for Kaurwaki...Somewhere along the way he felt let down by these relationships and that turned him bad. But in the end it was these relationships that redeemed and reformed him. His was an intriguing journey that we have travelled through the medium of a love story. How different a lover is he from Devdas? Oh, completely different (After a thoughtful pause). No, actually they weren't all that different. Devdas gave up the world for love. Asoka also sacrifices all material attachments to become a Buddhist monk in the end. But Asoka was known as a strong man while Devdas was always weak. I've played Asoka as weak and Devdas as strong. You have to be very strong-willed to give up everything for love. And you have to be very soft-hearted to be so affected by the spoils of war.