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Exclusive Interview of Abhishek Bachchan with Sarita A Tanwar

Mumbai,Sarita A Tanwar(dna): Says Abhishek Bachchan, an actor who knows his mind, is a constant learner, is passionate about his craft and astute in his Says Abhishek Bachchan, an actor who knows his mind, is a constant learner, is passionate about his craft and astute in his business decisions
Rohan Shrestha

Exclusive Interview of Abhishek Bachchan with Sarita A Tanwar

It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. But Abhishek Bachchan succeeds in doing the opposite. He manages to stand out and shine in a crowd — and by that, I mean in a multi-starrer or a film with an ensemble cast. Look at the Dhoom series, Dostana, Bol Bachchan and Happy New Year now. He was clearly the highlight of HNY, but Abhishek doesn’t like to hear or even talk about that, “Thank you, but that’s not good for the film because we wanted to make a team film. The intention was to make a good collective film and I think we achieved that and complete credit to Shah Rukh and Farah because it was their vision. They made the rest of us feel part of the family, but it was more like executors of their vision but yeah, no complaints.”

Abhishek, in all humility, would not admit it, but even his harshest critics have appreciated him as Nandu Bhide. He mocks, “Critics? I have critics? What rubbish! I thought everybody loves me.” I insist that they very much exist and none of them liked the film, but they all loved him in it. He shrugs, “The way I see it, if they haven’t liked the film then I failed. I don’t think it’s possible for any actor to stand out in a film. That’s my personal belief. I feel that if I was that good, they would have liked the film.”

I believe what endeared everyone to his HNY character is because it came so naturally to him. And he seemed to be having so much fun with it, and enjoying himself. He surprises me by saying that it is one of the toughest characters he has ever played, “Somebody asked Farah, ‘Why did you think of Abhishek to do Nandu Bhide?’ And that question is valid. There is no semblance whatsoever. You know, I have done my education abroad, I don’t think I have met anybody like Nandu…I had no reference point. And I think that was a huge compliment for me from Farah when she said, ‘Well, I knew he could do it’. So, maybe she had confidence in me as an actor… I think you have to challenge yourself. I am the kind of person who, if I am not challenged, will become complacent. That’s my character and after 15 years, I have realised that. So I need to do stuff I am really uncomfortable doing. I have to do stuff that gives me sleepless nights because I know that if I can do this with my eyes shut, I’ll literally sleepwalk through the film. So I want to do stuff that really makes me uncomfortable to give it that extra 100 percent. Maybe the reason, I was so energetic as Nandu. Because I was trying to give it my best. So I really hope I don’t find my comfort zone. I know the minute I find my comfort zone, I am only going to do that and I will hate that.”

One has always assumed that he chooses to act in films with multiple stars because he enjoys doing such films. But you would not be more wrong. He doesn’t quite see films like that “I am one of the few actors who doesn’t believe in this multi-starrer/solo-hero concept. I think the industry itself is very conflicted and confused as to what is a solo-starrer and what is a multi-starrer. They say you should do solo films like Guru. I say ‘Hello, you have Aishwarya Rai, R Madhavan, Vidya Balan and Mithun Chakraborty in the film, so how is it a solo film?’ I believe every actor who is in front of the camera with you is a co-star, the size of the role really shouldn’t matter. They have as much at stake, they are giving as much an effort as you are, so why don’t they get as much of the credit? I find that a bit weird. And it’s something that I feel very strongly about. Very honestly, actors don’t think like this, the industry forces them to. As far as I can remember, I have only done multi-starrer films. You don’t choose a film because it’s a multi-starrer because you’re secure in numbers… For me, a solo films means I am the only person in the film and I think that will be terribly boring, not just for me but for the audience as well. I think these are classifications that we in the film industry. I am not blaming anyone. But we, in the film industry, have to find this classification or have to define a film. I have a problem with defining a film in the first place.”

Defining a film is an irritant to him, but it isn’t the only one. He doesn’t quite understand how people critique a film, “I respect journalists — especially critics — because they face the challenge to talk dispassionately about a subject which is a product of passion. If I ask you to write a critique about the last film you liked, you have to break it down. A film is an emotional experience. When you go to see it, you either get taken away by it’s emotion or you don’t. But when I ask you for a detailed review, I am asking you to go against the very grain of how you watch a film. You have to pull away from that world of cinema and looking at it in bits. Editing, songs, scenes, acting. So what I am saying is, it’s a very difficult job to be able to classify.

In our quest to classify everything, we come up with these denominations. It is said that if a film is too long, the editing is weak. That could not be the case. Maybe it’s the script which is too long. Editing is not to make the film short, that’s not the function of an editor, it’s to piece the story together. So I think there are a lot of these misconceptions that we have.”

One misconception that has been floating around is that Farah offered the role to John before it came to Abhishek. He sets the record right, “Farah had told me the idea of Happy New Year right after Om Shanti Om. And her narration… I don’t know if I should take it as a compliment or be upset about how she offered HNY to me. She said, ‘Junior, you have to be in my next film’. So I said, ‘Okay, Farah Bia’ and she adds, ‘It’s the story of the world’s worst dancers.’ I don’t know if she thought that I am a really good actor and can play the part of a bad dancer or she considered me one of the world’s worst dancers.”

While some actors like to read scripts, others like to listen to them. How does Abhishek consume a film offered to him? “I prefer listening to them. And later, I read the script. Because see, I believe that the first time you hear the narration, you should hear it from the perspective of the director. If I read it first, I’ll read it from my or an actor’s perspective which should not be the case because the film has to be made with the director’s perspective. So once you hear it from the director, and later read it, you are already fashioned how to see the film.”

All actors have a plan for every year. But sometimes the plans go awry for no fault of theirs. His film All Is Well has been delayed because Smriti Irani pulled out of the film to honour her political commitments. He seems strangely unaffected by it, “Well, such is life. It’s not intended, it is unfortunate but these things happen. You know Smriti has been given the great honour to be made a minister in our government. She has a huge responsibility to the country and I think that has to supersede what we are doing and everybody who is part of the cast understood that and supported that. It was very gracious of her to agree for the film to go on without her because not only as a politician but as an actor, I am sure it’s a difficult choice to make.”

Speaking of choices, his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan returns to the big screen and has started shooting for Jazbaa, after a long break for mommyhood. But doesn’t this change mean that he will now take out time from his schedule to be with their three-year-old daughter to make up for the missus’ absence, “Aishwarya is very sorted that way. Anyone who works with her knows that she is very organised. Now that she is back on the set, she has thought out everything and planned out everything. She is very particular and is immaculate as an actor and in all her other roles.”
He further adds that though she may have been away from her film set as she was working otherwise, whether it is her brand commitments or the causes she supports all the time balancing being a full-time mom, “She has also been busy with her commercials and all that. It’s not like that she hasn’t faced the camera at all…. She is going to be doing a film after Guzaarish, so it’s been almost five years now, about four-and-a-half years. When Sanjay (Gupta) pitched her the story — she has been listening to a lot of scripts — she went for it. At the end of the day, as an actor and a creative person, you can never shut shop. I think it’s very difficult because it’s pretty much part of your DNA. It takes that right catalyst or that spark to bring one back. Sanjay’s script is very nice. She told me the idea and the basic screenplay and it sounds very interesting. I think it’s a very interesting choice to make for a film for her and I think they will make a fantastic team.”

As do he and Aishwarya, one might add, make a great team as parents. He admits that parenthood has changed them, “I think any parent will say that they change on a daily basis, because you learn something new every day. The biggest change is that your sense of responsibility goes up. Before Aaradhya was born there was… ‘careless’ is the wrong word, there was a carefree attitude that Aishwarya and I had. You are married, you are a couple, you are doing your job and leading your personal life… It’s great. But when the child comes into the whole mix, he or she person becomes the focus of everything that you do, personally and professionally.”

Aaradhya is already a celebrity in her own right. Does he realise she is the daughter of celebrities? “I don’t think she realises that; she is too young. But she sees us on posters and points out. However, I don’t think she has understood what that means. I get that because I went through a similar thing in my childhood. I mean, till I was seven or eight, I thought everybody had 100 people standing outside the house, because that’s the only life I knew. A lot of people think that it’s arrogant to think like that but you have to see from the child’s perspective. There is no other world they know of. Also, I am pretty sure Aaradhya thinks that the people standing outside her house are for her. She loves to wave at them.”

Amitabh Bachchan is a model son and parent. I ask if he has picked up a parenting tool from his dad and has applied it to bringing up his daughter? “My father has never ever raised his voice or his hand in my childhood. He made it a point to explain everything. He gave me a lot of dignity that way. If I think like a child, I would not like to be told to do something; and get to hear ‘Because I am telling you’ when I ask ‘why’? Explain it to me. So I use that with her. I wouldn’t want to just order her around. If I tell her to do something, I explain this is why you have to do this. Children pick up tone, so you have to be sensitive to tone as well.”

Over the last one year, one has seen him getting involved in other activities like kabaddi and football. Is it pure passion or business? “It started from passion but I always knew it would become a business. I’d be a fool if I did a project out of a passion where I was just spending tons of money. There has to be a business model which there was in place before I went into it. So the reason for doing it was passion but the reason to sustain it has to be business.” So how good is he at running a business? “I don’t think I have a good business head, but I think I’m okay. I did A-Level in Economics, so I know the basics and the rest you learn on the way.”

Economics is all about supply and demand, how can we not talk about the sudden supply of newer and younger lot who are now making their presence felt. Suddenly there’s not just competition not just from his seniors, but his juniors too. How does he cope with that? “I don’t think about competition or about any of them. And I don’t mean that in a brash way. I genuinely don’t because the way I look at it, if I am doing, for example, a Nandu and if I am only thinking about my competition and how they can do this role, I am not going to be thinking about how I am going to do this role. I have to concentrate on how best I can do it and convince myself to do it. At that point of time, you don’t really think about anybody else. You’re on set, you have got the job, you are doing it, and doing it to your best. I have huge respect for all my colleagues, my seniors and the juniors. What’s wonderful about the younger lot that are coming in, is that they have a different approach and it’s so refreshing to see that. As an actor, you need to be receptive to all of this. You learn so many new things. They have new expressions, a new approach to a role, they essay or portray a character in a way which you might not have thought of because there are different thought processes. I think you have to respect that.”

He explains his live-and-let-live theory, “So in terms of competition… I don’t look at acting as a competitive field because I have never really understood… I hate to put it in the context of awards, but let’s say if I am nominated for Nandu and Shah Rukh is nominated for Charlie and Sonu is nominated for Jag and Bomsi and Vivaan for their characters. Now if they give the award to Shah Rukh. What I don’t get is: In an exam, everybody gives the same paper, right? In a film how can you judge that Shah Rukh did the best Charlie, but I could have done the best Nandu. Could Shah Rukh have done Nandu? Or could I have done Charlie? You don’t know. So there is no real standard in that real sense that is everybody is doing different different roles.”

Speaking of different roles, his father is having the most exciting phase in his career — with films like Shamitabh and Piku, I ask if do they discuss films before signing them on? “No, not before. We inform each other, but we have never asked each other, ‘Should I do this film or should I do that?'” Why would you not take advantage of someone’s expertise in the family, I ask a little surprised. “I try not to go to him. Also, I try not to ask him for tips for my role, but there are times when I just have to, but I try not to. I don’t know… somewhere there is a son who has got to prove to his parents that I have done it on my own and you should be proud of me. It’s not about an ego trip of mine. Maybe I want to give an opportunity, to them — as a son — to say ‘Hey, look! He did all this by himself’ and I think there is no greater moment as a parent. Today, as a parent, I get that. I still remember I taught myself how to swim and how to ride a bike. I was seven-year-old. I rode my bike without the support wheels and I remember I called my dad to see me riding and he was so happy and asked me when I learned it. He still says, “I remember when you rode a bike by yourself.’ So may be somewhere that as a son, you want to give your parents that moment to say that to you.”

The biggest lesson he’s learnt after spending 15 years in this industry? “Stay true to your own cause because along the way there will be many speed breakers and hurdles which will almost force you to question yourself. Many a times where I doubted myself, I still do. There are many a times when so many people advise you, you want to heed that because that makes sense to you but that might be going against what you believe in and I have done that as well. Sometimes most of the advice is very good. Some of them that make a lot of sense but it’s completely not you, those are the tough ones to grapple with. So, I would say, just believe in yourself and just do what you really believe in because at the end of the day you are the one who is going to perform in front of the camera. So, stay true to your cause.

The last three years have been super-successful for him. Ask him what’s the one film this year that will keep that will keep that flag flying. He says, “I don’t know which ones are going to release. I know All Is Well will definitely release. I don’t know about the other three, be it the new Housefull, Hera Pheri or Vashuji’s next. And no, I’ve not started shooting for any of them.”

His sister Shweta Bachchan Nanda is now a columnist. I ask him about his one hidden talent nobody knows about? He shoots back, “I’m very good at coaxing my sister to write for me. I got her to write one or two of my English papers when I was in college. What is my hidden talent? I like cooking. I’m not very regular with it, but I really enjoy it. My daals are not very good and I am trying to master laal maans right now. I know how to cook it, but for the right amount of time is difficult, but thanks to the amount of time I spent in Jaipur, I learnt a lot.”

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