MUMBAI (Reuters) - If you watched the crime thriller "Footpath" nearly a decade ago, and noticed the lean actor playing Raghu on screen, you would be forgiven for not recognising Bollywood's rising star.
When he made his debut in 2003, Emraan Hashmi was hardly considered leading man material, and the film industry was happy to label him as part of the "Bhatt camp" -- where he worked in films made by his uncles Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt.
Hashmi was dubbed the "serial-kisser", thanks to films like "Gangster" and "Murder", which had the tried and tested Bhatt formula of adult content and action. But while the rest of Bollywood was content to put him in a corner, there was one group that wasn't ignoring the young actor.
"They always called me under-rated. But I wonder who was doing the rating? The audience has always rated me well," Hashmi told Reuters in an interview.
Come 2012, the industry seems to have caught on to the Hashmi factor. The 33-year-old is suddenly hot property, working with top film-makers like Karan Johar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Ekta Kapoor and Dibakar Banerjee.
"He is one of the most bankable stars. In the last four years, he has done nine movies, out of which seven were hits," trade analyst Vajir Singh told Reuters.
That's a record even the superstar Khan trio would envy.
This year, Hashmi's "Jannat 2", another offering from the Bhatt camp, was a box-office hit, raking in nearly 500 million rupees in domestic revenues. "Murder 2" and "The Dirty Picture" were among the most successful films of 2011. The previous year, Hashmi's performance in "Once Upon a Time In Mumbai" in a role based on real-life gangster Dawood Ibrahim won him acclaim from audiences and critics alike.
The actor says he was always open to working with various film-makers but never found the right scripts.
Trade analyst Singh says Hashmi has always been popular among single-screen audiences, the majority of India's moviegoers.
"His movies have always done well. The industry is waking up to it now," says Singh.
Hashmi's latest film -- Dibakar Banerjee's "Shanghai" -- opens in cinemas this Friday and sees him play a small-time journalist.
The actor says his strength is that audiences relate to him.
"I try and keep my role and my acting natural -- the way you would in real life, and I think audiences relate to that. I don't like over-doing it," he said.
Hashmi also doesn't mind that recognition in Bollywood is coming his way nearly ten years after his debut.
"Of course I enjoy the attention, but I don't regret that it came late."