Battle Tested - Emraan Hashmi

He’s tasted some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in life. From being touted as the next commercially viable star to fighting it out when back-to-back films of his tanked, Emraan Hashmi has battled ever since he started his career. His starry lineage could not help him much, and before he could resurrect his own career, he faced the biggest challenge of his life – his only son Ayaan being diagnosed with cancer. His world came shattering down. But fortunately, today, Ayaan is healthy, hearty and happy. Following this extreme challenge, Emraan came out with a book on his son’s struggle with the disease, titled The Kiss of Life. Appropriate on Fathers’ Day, this committed dad talks about his relationship with his son.

“Ayaan is my best friend”
From the day I stepped foot in the industry, I knew that here, everyone was battling against everyone else. No one takes up for anyone; everyone is on their own here. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make too many friends and, honestly, I probably didn’t even try much (smiles). But the best thing is my son is my biggest critic and my best friend. I can talk to him about anything. There’s a certain comfort which I get only when he’s around, and that’s very special.

“People wrote my obituary”
There was a time when I was being hailed as a commercial star and then, boom, there was a string of four flop films and the industry didn’t even want to look at me. It’s a vicious circle. Everyone was busy writing my obituary. Here, no one really waits or has the patience to wait for someone to resurrect himself. I remember most of them started writing me off, and that’s when this personal tragedy also tore my world apart. At one point, I felt completely directionless.

“The world came shattering down on me”
When I got the reports that said Ayaan had cancer, it felt like the whole world came shattering down on me. I was numb for sometime and I broke down immediately. But I knew I had to look and behave strong, and so I did. I grieve alone. I am very good at covering up my grieving. I have cried when no one was watching. But in front of everyone, I knew I had to put up a brave front. I think women are emotionally much stronger than men. When we came to know that our child had cancer, my wife did not cry, while I burst into tears. Even while he was undergoing treatment I had to occasionally come back for shooting. But my wife Parveen was there throughout, and I don’t know how she managed to be so brave. Hats off to her!

Parveen and I decided that we settle her in Toronto, get the chemotherapy going and a month after his operation, I return to work. Ayaan is a fighter and, thankfully, his body took the chemo very well, without adverse reactions. I flew back a month later on Valentine’s Day and we started shooting. It had been a tough call for me to say goodbye to Ayaan and take a flight back. I had to lie to him that I was going to get him gifts, but I knew that I was actually going away to shoot for three and a half months. I tried going to see him in Toronto between my schedule, but unfortunately I couldn’t. I was shooting here, but my mind was constantly there. You understand that nothing really prepares you for something like your son having cancer.

“Ayaan’s the bigger fighter”
Everyone here has his or her own share of battles which they have to fight on their own. You have yours, I have mine, and Ayaan had his as well. And I have to tell you that my son was the bravest. People tell me I fought well, but they’re absolutely wrong. Ayaan’s a bigger fighter than I am. He has given birth to a new me. He made me a better person and taught me that life will hit you, it will knock you down on the floor. But you have to get up, stumble, fall again and then get up but never give up.

“Failing is fine”
Ayaan taught me that it’s okay to fail. After he started chemotherapy, we were having nightmares! During a race at school after returning from Toronto, Ayaan fell after two steps, and then fell again after three steps, but he reached the finish line. That was what was important.

“I think I almost know it all now”
After visiting hundreds of oncologists I became half a doctor myself. The main thing I was battling against as a parent was that no one really told me that my son would be okay after six months of chemotherapy. My wife still thinks I need a shrink.

“Ayaan acts better than me”
I realised that my son is a better actor than me during the photo shoot of the book with Rohan Shrestha. He ate me alive in front of the camera and spat me out. A six-year-old usually has an attention span of eight minutes, but after 30 minutes of the photo shoot, he told me, “Dad, is this what you do for a living, this is so boring!” He’s also got a better pout than me. Who knows… he might just do a Murder 9 (laughs).”

“No forcing Ayaan”
My son can choose to be whatever he wants to be. He loves dancing; he’s learning this dance form called Paco Vera. He’s also learning the piano and kickboxing. And it’s all his choice. I haven’t forced anything on him. Let your kids be what they choose to be.

“Parenting is really difficult”
Parenting is the most difficult job in the world, and for a single person it is even more difficult. I seriously bow to those who do it single-handedly. I think more than the school, it is the home environment that is important, as ultimately, your child will come back home. Create a pleasant environment for your child. For me it was my son who made me a real father. When you have a crisis at home, you become a real caregiver.