Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Abhishek Bachchan

“I’m here as a product of my work and nobody can take that away from me” 

By Ankita R. Kanabar

It’s difficult to describe Abhishek Bachchan in a single sentence. One moment he displays his broody side in an in-depth conversation, which leaves you intimidated (The voice and stubble make it even more likely). The next moment he makes you smile with his child-like glee and repartee. But I think, it’s his humility, warmth and honesty which leave a lasting impact. He’s been in and out of Mumbai, due to the Indian Super League (ISL). Not to forget, the promotions of Happy New Year (HNY) including the SLAM tour have kept him busy. But his energy level totally belies any sign of fatigue. Ask him how he manages to always be so energetic, and he smiles, “That’s never been a problem for me.” Now that I think of it, I wonder why he didn’t ask for coffee all through the chat! The gentleman that he is, he pulls a chair for you, before he settles down in a blue jeans and white hood and says, “Attack!” Just as he speaks about the recent success of HNY, his penchant for detailing and his approach towards his craft, he also bares his emotional, philosophical side. Here we have the very eloquent AB in an extensive conversation.  

Pro Kabaddi, then the SLAM tour, promotions of HNY and now the ISL, you’ve been all over the place. What’s your state of mind at the moment?
My state of mind is currently ‘focused’. It’s amazing how you learn to compartmentalise and focus a lot better when your plate is full and you’re working almost 18 hours a day. There’s so much I’d taken on ever since that I’ve also learned to manage my time. 

You’ve been inclined towards sports ever since school, and now evidently in the form of Pro Kabaddi and ISL…what has sports taught you?
I strongly feel that sports is a huge teacher in life, and it has taught me a lot of who I am today. The spirit, the confidence, capability, outlook in life…there’s a lot you can learn through it. So, the contribution of sports to my life has been invaluable. 

Questions like, ‘Why don’t you do a solo-hero film?’ are constantly being thrown at you. But do you think it takes more guts to be able to do a multi-starrer like Happy New Year and yet make a mark solely with your acting prowess?
I don’t think like that. For me, every film is a multi-starrer because every person who works on a film is a star. So when people ask me why don’t I work on a solo-hero film, I try to be witty and say that it’ll be boring. But I think people should ask this question to Shah Rukh. Let’s get it straight. He is one of the biggest stars in the world. He doesn’t need to do a film like that. To have the confidence and the gumption that this film is going to have five other actors, and to give equal importance to all of them in every aspect of the film, shows that the man is so secure about who he is. It takes guts on his part to take actors who may be lesser in stature, and give them what he has, on a silver tray. Not many actors are willing to do that. I’m the kind of person who gives equal importance to even a junior artiste who is doing a passing shot. Film-making is a team effort, you have to realise that it’s not just happening because of you. You might get the majority of applause, but you have to basically know that there are thousands of people who work tirelessly in order for you to look, sound and act the way you do. That’s my reality and I very well know that. Cinema is an emotional experience, despite the fact that there’s a business transaction involved when people buy a ticket. When Farah (Khan) told me about Happy New Year I thought it would be such a fun film, that I would really want to see. Or forget seeing, it was a film I really wanted to be a part of. That’s why I did it. I never thought that ‘Oh this might be a 200-crore film, or this is Shah Rukh’s film or will I be made to stand in the background?’ The idea is to have faith. I’ve never looked at personal gain from a film. 

But where does that kind of faith or sense of security really come from?
I’m not trying to be nasty or rude, and I’m not passing a comment on anyone else, but this is just my point of view. I think you’d be a very weak individual if you didn’t have faith in your own capability. Somewhere, I’d like to believe, I have the strength and belief that you can keep me all the way back in a frame, give me nothing to do and I will still outshine. It’s not competition so I don’t mean that I’ll outshine in that sense, but it’s when the director feels that an actor can hold their own in a film. If you’re choosing a film just because in every frame you’re going to be the person of attention, then I think that speaks volumes for your self-belief rather than anything else. 

 Seemingly, today the 200-crore club or the 300-crore club is the sole criterion to judge a film’s success. Do you think that commercial success is needed to validate the efforts put in? For instance, you might have put in the same amount of efforts in Raavan and HNY, but somehow the hard work in the former went unnoticed.
No, I don’t think that a film’s success can validate the efforts because everyone puts in equal efforts in every film. Nobody says I’m going to make a bad film. But the thing is, I have a very radical view on this. The minute I expect my audience to buy a ticket, I have to give them their money’s worth of entertainment, that’s a financial transaction. I’ll have a lot of colleagues who’ll disagree when I say that a good film is a hit film, and a bad film is a flop film. People can argue this artistically, and I get it because I understand where they’re coming from. But the minute you expect someone to buy a ticket, it’s a commercial thing there. Sometimes you have to forget that cinema is an art form, and look at it as a product because when you put a price on something, it becomes a product. So, either it’s a successful product or an unsuccessful product. It’s as simple as that. 

Though your approach while green-lighting a project wouldn’t be this practical right?
That’s where the dilemma comes in. Because having said all these mechanical things, the decision still has to be emotional. If I’m not emotionally invested in a film, I cannot do it. I know I’ll get bored on the first day itself. It’s not something I’m able to do. But you learn to deal with it. The only way I find solace in my decision-making process is that, if I want to watch a film, then I’m a part of the audience as well, and that’s why I’m going to do the film. 

As an actor, how do you strike a balance between being the character, and bringing your own individuality to it?
In the west, in Hollywood or Europe, it’s about artistic freedom. You submit entirely to a character. The requirement in Indian cinema is different. In our religion, in our culture and society, there’s a lot of hero-worship. So, the audience’s requirement isn’t just about acting. They want to see their hero do things which they cannot do. As a Hindi film hero, the audience expects you to resolve every problem in those three hours, because they know they can’t do it (laughs). Though, we are now slowly moving and adapting to the western culture and we can obviously submit entirely to the character in our films as well. But the prevalent requirement in Indian cinema is that it is more about hero-worship. That’s when an actor has to balance it off between being the character and retaining a bit of what they’re like. The audience loves to see a ‘jhalak’ of their favourite star in every character they play. We all love it when Shah Rukh opens his arms in a romantic song, we love it when dad does action or the way he runs or does his dialogue delivery. We want to see a lot of all that. So, a lot of our actors are accused of acting the same way in every film, but I think that’s something we love about Hindi cinema as well. 

But as far as you’re concerned, very few characters have actually tapped into the personality you have off-screen…
See, my training has also been different. My entire training in theatre, my studying in acting is very western. I went to a British drama school, and then when I did my college in USA, I did some amount of theatre there. My basic foundation in acting is very western. That’s exactly why in the initial stage of my career, I had a bit of problem adjusting to the requirements of Hindi cinema. 

So did you have to unlearn a lot of your western training initially, to fit into the requirements of a Hindi cinema hero?
Of course! Like I said, in the west you have to completely give in to your character. I’m still trying to find a balance. I’m trying to see if there’s still some way in which I can do both in a certain measure. So, although cinema is a visual medium and you are meant to look great, I will still keep Nandu Bhide a bit on the heavier side and puffy looking in the first half of HNY. In the second half when they try to curb his drinking, he becomes a bit more streamlined. His hair in the first half is slightly more unkempt. These are very subtle things but for me, it makes a big difference. Though, now our audience is very intelligent and is exposed to different kinds of cinema so we are moving towards the west. We can see that there’s a change, because certain films that have been successful in recent times, wouldn’t have been green-lit to be produced, ten years ago. 

When a film is in the making for months, how difficult or easy it is for you to move in and out of a character?
You never really leave a character, and you can never truly create a character devoid of what you are. I can give you 2-3 instances in HNY where I wasn’t happy because I let my character go away. For example, in the climax where we all comeback and surprise Deepika on stage…Boman, Sonu and I walk. That walk is very confident, very modern, and heroic. When I saw it on-screen, I felt that I wish I’d not done that, because Nandu can never walk like that. Nandu has to be more ‘tapori’, so he should have just walked casually the way he does otherwise. But the toughest to remain in character is when you laugh and cry because extreme happiness and extreme sorrow are such raw emotions that it’s very hard to just act them. I remember when Mani Ratnam and I were prepping for Guru, one of the things we spent a lot of time on, was to get Guru’s laugh correctly. We’d managed to sketch such a beautiful character for him in terms of his gait, the way he talks and his attitude but I knew we’d goof up in the laugh, because I’ll laugh like Abhishek Bachchan, not Guru. There’s this shot of me laughing in the film during one of the Annual General Meetings, and we worked so hard to get that one laugh correct, which he then also used in the promo I think. 

The fact that you put in efforts to get every detail of a character correctly, be it the laugh or the walk…is it sometimes upsetting when your work is overshadowed with people concentrating more on the personal aspects of your life?
It does a lot of times. It’s temporarily upsetting but that’s more a comment on the person making that judgment than anything else. That’s the only way you can abide by it. See, every time you do some kind of hard work and people overlook it, nobody likes it, we’re humans. But you deal with it eventually. It doesn’t act as a roadblock. 

In a scenario where you’re in the public eye and constantly being judged, how do you manage to be yourself?
I firmly believe, that people who are going to judge me without knowing me, will have to deal with the consequences when they know the truth, not me. I am what I am. Love me, hate me, both are fine. I’m not expecting you to just love me, but if you’re going to judge me without knowing me and have an opinion about who I am, eventually, you’ll know the truth. I know what the truth is. I know who I am, and what I do. I don’t need validation from someone else. At the end of the day, when you put your head on that pillow, you are alone with your thoughts and conscience. Your conscience has to be clear. People will say what they have to, and you cannot change that. The way I deal with it, is that someday they’ll know the truth, if they’re thinking wrong that is, and will feel bad about it. And in a life, where you’re so gifted, so blessed, why would you look at the negativity? You’d rather concentrate on the positivity. 

And you have been positive, even during a failure…
I’m an optimistic person. I believe in learning from every situation in life. Don’t interpret your failure as failure. Look at it as an opportunity to improve. That’s the way I’ve always thought. 

You’ve always welcomed constructive criticism, and admitted to have worked on it. But are you also self-critical?
I think an actor’s greatest critic is the actor themselves. When you watch your film, you’re the first person to know you’ve messed up. Then you hope nobody notices and then when someone does and points it out, you don’t like it. Nobody likes to be told they’ve done something wrong, but actors know when they’ve done something wrong, and they know the measures they have to take to correct it. So, every actor is self-critical, we might not admit to it publicly, that’s the only thing. 

You said that extreme happiness and extreme sorrow are emotions very hard to just act. So does being emotional as a person help?
I think every actor is emotional. You can’t not be emotional and be a great actor, because you’re juggling with emotions every day. But, people can be emotionally shut down. I think what a lot of actors do is that they build barriers around themselves. They seem unapproachable, reticent and reclusive. Because you literally bare your soul professionally, personally you might want to protect it, so a lot of actors guard themselves. It could be that, but otherwise, I believe every actor is emotional. 

When you don the hat of a producer, is there some sort of conflict between the actor in you and the producer in you?
Not some sort of conflict, there’s a major conflict. It’s like World War III. That’s why I really don’t enjoy being a producer. The first film I’d produced, I was also an actor in it. So the actor in me was forever fighting with the producer. It could be something as basic as asking for one more take. I still haven’t learnt that art. Hence, for me to produce another film that I’m going to act in, I think I’ll need a lot of homework. I’ll have to be unbelievably well-prepared before I can go on floor. That’s why I keep delaying my film, because I don’t want the producer in me to come in the way of the actor in me. 

Success hasn’t come your way easily, is that the reason you value it even more and continue being humble?
I do. I mean there was nothing which was professionally served up to me. I had to work for it, fight for it, and so I value it. As far as being humble is concerned, I think you have to deal with people just the way you are. Why should I behave differently just because my films are doing well? I think a large part of it comes from this incident. Dhoom had just released and it was my first hit. We had a success party I remember, and I was feeling very good, and flying high because people now recognise you so well, and so many people have seen your film. Any actor who says that they don’t like it when people recognise them is a liar. It’s a big high. But when I came home, dad opened the door and that just put things into perspective (laughs). You’re like, “Okay! That’s Amitabh Bachchan. You’re a nobody, Carry on!” So, I think the humility also comes from the fact that I who I go home to. There’s mom, dad, Aishwarya, all of them have achieved so much. So that keeps you grounded. But, apart from that, my upbringing has always been to treat people equally. Why differentiate? And if you’re doing well, that’s fine. There’s more reason to be even more approachable and humble about it. 

Fourteen years and you are doing great despite a few lows…how do you look back?
I think it’s been a good ride, and I am what I am today because of that ride. It has taught me a lot. Had I made only flop films, I wouldn’t be here. Had I made only successful films, I would still not be here. You can have naysayers reasoning why I’m still around. But, I’m here as a product of my work and nobody can take that away from me. The fact is, nobody is going to make a film with me or invest in me, because I’m Amitabh Bachchan’s son. They won’t buy a ticket of my film because I’m his son. Everybody has their point of view, and I’m okay with that. There’s no point arguing or trying to clarify that. Jitesh Pillai once told me, that anybody who survives this place for ten years, they’re doing something right. I’ve been here for 14 years, obviously I’m doing something right. And you’ve been given the gift to wake up every morning and do what you love doing. What is the greater sign of achievement than that?


  1. Wonderful Interview. One of the bests I have read till date. Well done, blogger. And Abhishek Bachchan, as always, remains truthful and crystal clear about what he is. Great!

  2. Brilliant! It is always a joy to read / watch Abhishek's interview. :D

  3. :) It is na! Thank you! Glad you liked the interview:D

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