“I always wanted to essay a character that made the audience laugh" - Salim Zaidi
In a candid interview, the actor talks about his struggling days and his inspiring journey that made him a household name.
Salim Zaidi has been tickling the audience's funny bone with his impeccable comedic timing for seven years now in &TV's cult-comedy show, Bhabiji Ghar Par Hai. His character Tillu, who works as Tiwari’s shop employee, constantly plots against him to get his six-month unpaid salary. In a candid interview, the actor talks about his struggling days and his inspiring journey that made him a household name.
1. Tell us about your journey to becoming an actor.
My acting journey began in 2013. However, becoming an actor was my childhood dream. Coming from the small town of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh and being the son of a primary school teacher with no connection to the entertainment industry, it almost felt impossible. But my passion for acting kept me motivated. I completed my Mass communication in Delhi. I then worked as a radio jockey for a few months. However, I soon realized that acting was my true calling. To fulfil my dream, I boarded the train and landed in Mumbai.
2. Did you have to struggle like other artists, or did the industry easily accept you?
I used to live in a small house (Chawl) with four other people, so renting a flat was impossible. I remember we distributed household chores like filling the water, cooking, cleaning, etc. And after finishing all the tasks, I had to rush to catch the Mumbai Local and go for my auditions. One day, while rehearsing my dialogues in my mind on a railway platform, I didn't realize a train was coming from behind; luckily, just in time, an older man held my hand and pulled me out. It was an incredibly terrifying experience, and I thank God and that older man for saving my life. For one audition, I climbed ten floors in Lokhandwala, Andheri, since the lift was not working. When I got there, the person told me there was no role for me. It was an extremely disappointing experience for me. Since the lift was not working, he asked me how I reached the 10th floor, and I replied that I had taken the stairs. Out of gratitude, he accepted my audition, saying, "Beta Abhi safar lamba hai, lekin tum bohot aagey jaoge". For many days, I had to survive on a Vada Pav or a glucose biscuit, as affording two meals without work was impossible. After years of struggle, I somehow managed to bag TV ads with Amitabh Bachchan ji, Ranbir Kapoor, and many others. I also did films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Vicky Donor, and Chalo Driver.
3. How did you land the role of Tillu in Bhabiji Ghar Par Hai?
Even though I got to be a part of Bollywood films and work with stars, I always wanted to essay a character that made the audience laugh and connect easily. A famous casting director Rajan Waghdhare Ji who has done casting for some classic television shows, recommended my name to Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain's director Shashank Bali. He offered me the role of Tillu. After getting selected, we both worked on the dialect and voice of my character. He was the one who gave me this catchphrase, ‘Kasam khaa ke keh riya hoon seth ji, meri 6 mahine ki tankha de diyo varna gurde chin lunga', which became viral and by God's grace, the role has become the biggest hit of my life. It has been more than seven years since I started playing the character of Tillu, which has given me a unique identity in the industry.
4. Any popular role you auditioned for that was given to someone else instead?
A lot of times. You all would be surprised to know that in the film Fukrey, I was shortlisted for the role of Pandit. Despite my best efforts and successful auditions, Pankaj Tripathi Sir ultimately got the part. Moreover, I auditioned for the role of journalist Chaand Nawab in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and the casting team liked my clear Urdu and Hindi. But I missed that too, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui was later chosen for the role. But all this never stopped me from trying. I continued auditioning for films and web series. Hopefully, my talent will one day help me reach what I am destined for.
5. What was your family's reaction to your decision to become an actor?
My family has always supported my decision. During this long journey, they have been my strongest pillar. They kept me motivated to live my dreams, and after becoming a household name, they were proud of me. When I received the biggest acting award at Sansad Bhavan, named the Atal Bihari Vajpayee award for acting, my entire family was present at the function to cheer me up. Seeing the happiness on their faces gives me a sense of accomplishment.