Bhatt Sahaab learnt that the well-known actor Govinda was pulling out of a film opposite Ameesha Patel (then a rising actress) due to issues with dates. [Mahesh] Bhatt Sahaab leapt at the opportunity and simply said to the producer, Mukesh Bhatt, ‘Emmi will do the film.’ I was scared out of my wits. I wasn’t mentally prepared to star in the film—Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar. When I voiced my concerns they decided to conduct a photoshoot with Ameesha and me. The results of that photoshoot were appalling. I looked worried, out of place and downright awkward. Ameesha too told Bhatt Sahaab that I wasn’t cut out for it yet. Understandably, she didn’t want to work with someone who would drag down a movie, after coming fresh from a super-hit like Kaho Na Pyaar Hai with Hrithik Roshan.

‘Do you want to do the film, Emmi?’ Bhatt Sahaab asked me solemnly. ‘We could find another actress who’d be willing to work with you.’

As much as I may have appreciated the thought, it wasn’t in my book of ethics to oust someone else just to get a role. I turned him down.

‘Besides, I’m not ready yet,’ I argued.

‘You’ll never be ready at this rate!’ he exclaimed. ‘Not now! Not after six months! You’re simply unwilling to get out of your comfort zone.’

I kept quiet. Even though I refused to act in the film I would frequent the sets of Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar once it had gone on floors. I was replaced by Jimmy Shergill.

At that point, Bhatt Sahaab had just started writing a thriller called Footpath. It had drugs and cops, and he was assembling all his research material together. He was already done with writing a few scenes and was planning to go with Vikram to Ooty for a schedule of his horror-thriller Raaz and finish writing the script. I was hopeful to star in Footpath.

‘I’m going to Ooty later this week,’ he continued. ‘I want you to come along. I’ll prepare you. Just twenty days.’ Those last three words resonated in my ears. Just twenty days.

And it wasn’t as I had imagined. It was much, much worse. ‘Emmi! Stop moving!’ Bhatt Sahaab yelled from his bed at 3 a.m. I was lying on an uncomfortable sofa in a suite at the Monarch Hotel in Ooty. A little light leaked into the hall where I was sleeping from his room. There was always a light on in his room. But that was the least of my problems.

I had landed in Ooty the previous day and realized that I had goofed up majorly. While leaving from Mumbai, I was supposed to bring along some research documents pertaining to drugs and some other papers, which were going to help Bhatt Sahaab write the script. I picked them up from the office and headed towards the airport. Whilst getting off, I forgot to take that entire folder of papers with me. Bhatt Sahaab was furious and promised himself that he would discipline me.

Living with him was tough for me, to say the least. If indeed there is such a thing as reincarnation, I am pretty sure Bhatt Sahaab was a bat in his previous life. He used to sleep very little. He would stay up all night, reading or discussing work on the phone. And if I as much as moved a muscle on the sofa, he would sense it and call out! He would be writing the script and would be in his zone. When I did fall asleep, he would come and wake me up every day at around 4:30 in the morning by throwing pillows at me. All of this, just so that I could accompany him on a walk down the serene lanes of Ooty. We would never speak a word. He would think about the script, and I would walk along like a zombie, tired and sleep-deprived.

Sometimes, he would urge me to go on the sets of Raaz and watch the film being shot. I enjoyed the idea of being an actor, of being in the limelight, as I watched Bipasha Basu and Dino Morea shoot the scenes.

We returned to Mumbai with Bhatt Sahaab having finalized the script. The good thing with him is, as soon as he’s made up his mind to shoot a film, everything goes on floors right away without any delay. Same was the case with Footpath. It was an interesting premise. Vikram was going to direct it. He offered me the lead role of Arjun Singh. But when I had read the script, I read it very differently. I could see myself playing the role of the second lead. It was a character named Raghu. A dark, devilish guy who grows to be a gangster. With Raghu I discovered my penchant for playing grey characters.

Take 45. I stood in front of the camera again. Yesterday was a disaster. I had spent the entirety of last night practicing that one dialogue more than a hundred times. Today isn’t going to be bad. I’m going to seize the moment.

I had learned that Mukeshji had called up Vikram after my disastrous performance the previous day. ‘Do you think he’s got what it takes to deliver?’ he had asked. I had to prove myself.

Vikram was on his chair, leaning forward. He saw me stand on my marker, a lot more confident than I was yesterday. I looked at him and nodded.

‘And . . . ACTION!’

‘Batti bandh kar! Battery down ho jayegi to dhakka marne waala yahaan ayega nahi!’

I had delivered the dialogue perfectly. It was a three-page scene—I remember knocking it off in just three takes. There was thunderous applause on set.

After pack up that night, Praveen Bhatt—the cinematographer of the film—texted Bhatt Sahaab. It was a message that he forwarded to me. It read:

‘Congrats, we have a star in the family!’

Excerpted with permission from The Kiss of Life, Emraan Hashmi with Bilal Siddiqi, Penguin Books.