Monday, August 31, 2015

Saif Ali Khan

“Everyone has pretty much the same level of talent, but it’s our choices that define us”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the August 29, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

If one had to take a look at his career spanning more than twenty years, one could concur that he’s one actor who has only gotten better with time – in terms of the choices, performance and popularity. Of course, with a few glitches thrown in between. What’s nice though, is the fact that he knows his reality and mistakes. Talk to him and it won’t come as a surprise that women find him charming. One of the most easy-going, articulate actors you’d come across; in an in-depth conversation, Saif Ali Khan shares details about his latest release ‘Phantom’, his journey and himself…

The tagline of ‘Phantom’ says ‘A story you wish were true’…but what did you think of the film at the script level?
I thought it was a fairly straight-forward kind of mission movie. You cannot rely on patriotism, nationalism or jingoism to make a film run. I don’t think people will spend money on the movie because it’s their duty. I saw it as a mission movie, a fairly simple genre piece, about a guy who gets a chance to get his honour back. So, it’s a story of salvation at one level, and I thought it’s a gritty kind of action adventure on the other hand where a person goes into the enemy territory to pull off something he’s not going to get the credit for. I believed there was tremendous amount of romance in the story for me.

You already like reading, so did you read Hussain Zaidi’s book that has inspired the film as a part of your prep work?
I’m trying to read classics. I don’t read contemporary kind of fiction, and actually I didn’t feel the need to read it. I kind of understood how to make it my own character. I think ‘Phantom’ was more about the mental preparation and maintaining the fitness. The role required a certain amount of look. It was not an army role I had to look more regular because I play an undercover agent. Just listening to Kabir Khan helped and most of the work was done when we went to these parts like Kashmir and Beirut.

From films like ‘Phantom’, ‘Being Cyrus’, ‘Omkara’ to ‘Cocktail’ or ‘Love Aaj Kal’…has this variety been a conscious attempt?
I choose the best of what I’m offered. It depends on your mindset and what kind of attitude you have actually. You attract what you like, and things you see yourself in. You reject roles you don’t connect to. But if you change or develop as a person then you are attracted to different roles. That’s the whole other side of being an actor. It’s the kind of films you choose that makes you. Everyone has pretty much the same level of talent, but it’s the choices that define us.

And what comes more organically to you?
Something like ‘Phantom’ comes naturally to me also. I do enjoy a comedy or a romantic comedy but I think that requires me to be spiritually in the best mood possible, to be kind and give that much positive energy. ‘Phantom’ is a bad mood kind of job. It’s actually easier. It requires focus. Yes, when you play a character who has been in the army and is used to killing people, it can take a toll on you. But most actors know that it’s actually easier to have a restrained, controlled performance than something energetic and bubbly which is genuine acting really.

It’s been a while since you’re around, almost 23 years…how do you look at your growth? You are one of those actors who’s gone notches higher over the years as compared to when you started out. 
I think the process has just gotten a bit better, as the films have gotten better. I do have a better understanding of the craft. I’m 45 right now, and I feel like I’m on the top of my game in every way. But there are so many people who’ve been here longer than me, so I cannot take 23 years of being here seriously. Look at the other Khans, or Akshay Kumar. I think we started around the same time. In fact, they started a bit earlier, and they’re still going strong. This is a sign of our times. If we look good for our age, and represent our age well, then I think sky is the limit. Having said that, I don’t even know if I’m in a certain position. I had a terrible year last year. You’re from Super Cinema, so I don’t have to tell you that. It’s like the stock market and it’s important that I’m honest. I think the idea is to choose carefully and have a connect with the audience. Some films do good and some don’t.

But you’ve never really been bothered by the number game, have you?
No, but budgeting is important because someone has invested their money in it. I’m not bothered about the number game, but it’s just that people shouldn’t lose their money. Even if my films make a little bit of money it’s fine, but one shouldn’t lose money.

Is this the part where you’re talking as a producer?
I think it’s all connected, so one has to understand all aspects of a film. One cannot exist without the other. We’ve made mistakes in the budgeting of our films too, that’s why I’m saying one should realise the importance of budgeting.

Which means you are someone who analyses the mistakes or criticism in order to improve?
I know what’s good and bad. When people say that a particular film was annoying, I know what they mean. I’m also very self-critical, I think everyone is. Sometimes when people say things like ‘Katrina and I are as boring as Phantom is’, it’s just one person saying that out of many. But everyone is entitled to have an opinion. You need to see what’s good for you.

Can you pinpoint on your most difficult role so far?
On paper, ‘Omkara’ was difficult. But I did all the homework and was really prepared. When you rehearse, it becomes easy. I think for some reason ‘Love Aaj Kal’ was really difficult because Imtiaz Ali has a very conversational style of writing so it took a lot of time for me to learn the dialogues and make it look natural. I think it was also slightly difficult because of the state I was in at that point.

What is it about your profession that makes you the most happy?
There are so many different aspects of being an actor – doing a movie and watching it with the audience, or just watching it by yourself makes you happy for being a part of something. We’re a big industry so to pull your weight down and do something special feels great. Then your family and the lifestyle that this job gives you, comes into picture. It matters what you do with your money or how you live your life. I think we are quite lucky that way for having a lot of options.

Talking about things that come with being an actor, for instance, stardom…you’ve been quite detached from it if I may say so.

I don’t know what stardom means. If it means that your film will guarantee an opening, then sometimes I don’t even think I’m a star. Sometimes I think I am. One cannot guarantee anything. It changes from Friday to Friday. But also, one cannot take oneself too seriously. I hate to be a pain to the people I live with or be tensed about movies because as long as you’re having a stable career, you’re working hard, doing reasonably well, and just living an interesting life off-screen in terms of your family or friends, that’s important. You cannot get caught in the frills. I mean, I’ve been doing it for almost 25 years, so sitting and going on about it can be repetitive also. I love being an actor, it gives us so much freedom to do other things and look after so many other aspects of life like see the world, travel, but one gets a little tired also in the sense that I don’t have the energy to party so much. I just want to do my work and come home. When I’m not working, I like relaxing. It’s a good life. I just like to choose my projects carefully, work with good directors, so that nobody is losing any money and some quality work is happening. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Abhishek Bachchan

“All we do as a generation is blame people”

By Ankita R. Kanabar
(From the August 22, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)
He says we’re becoming a generation of complainers which is true because how often do we meet people who don’t whine or crib? No wonder then, that he chooses to see the positive side of things, and urges people to do so through his tweets about ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ time and again. When sleep-deprived, he says, ‘Sleep is for the weak’; when injured, he says, ‘pain is just a state of mind’. Well, either he is crazy or an eternal optimist. Meet Abhishek Bachchan. Being the owner or rather cheerleader for the Jaipur Pink Panthers has kept him busy, apart from the promotions for his latest release ‘All Is Well’. Amidst all that, he makes time for a quick chat. Excerpts:
Photo credit : Rohan Shrestha
You might have moved into ‘All Is Well’ from ‘Happy New Year’. Does a character in a slice-of-life film like this come more naturally to you than a Nandu Bhide where there’s less scope for relatability?
I was actually shooting for both the films simultaneously. After my first schedule of ‘Happy New Year’ in Dubai, I started shooting ‘All Is Well’. So, it’s been much delayed. We didn’t shoot the film for almost a year and resumed it only in January this year. But I think what’s brilliant about Umesh Shukla’s writing is that everyone can draw a parallel to their own life. So you can easily relate to what he’s saying. Even when I was doing the film, I was only hoping that people would see the scenes and find them similar to what’s happening in their lives.
While the film is largely about this family’s journey, did you also prepare to make the musician part of your character look authentic?
I learnt how to play the guitar when I was a kid, I’m not very good with it, because I’ve not kept up with it. Hence, I knew the basics. But honestly, we didn’t lay much emphasis on the characterisation because the film is an emotional journey of a father and son and we wanted to be very true to the emotion of the script. Umesh was very clear about that because he is someone who pays more attention getting the feel right. So we just did a lot of reading and rehearsals which we do for all our films.
Talking of emotions, which has been the most draining film for you in that sense?
In the last 15 years, the most difficult film I’ve done, emotionally and physically would be ‘Raavan’. It took a huge toll on me.
You’ve also worked with some wonderful actors over the years…does having great co-stars put you at ease rather than add pressure, because acting is a lot about reacting? 
Absolutely! Your scene and your performance, is as good as your co-stars. No actor can perform brilliantly in isolation. You need to someone to bounce-off; you need someone to react to. When you work with great actors your performance automatically goes up two notches higher. I definitely believe that your co-stars make a gigantic difference to your performance.
Does your choice of films depend on your state of mind at that point? For instance, because we evolve as individuals, the choices we’ve made a few years ago might seem wrong at this point…
Possibly! That does happen. Sometimes a movie takes a very long time to be made and by the time it’s released, you’ve moved on and are in a different mind state. But then you have to also think as a professional. I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve been at a crossroad thinking ‘Oh what do I do now?’ But that does happen a lot of times.
While you’re so involved with Pro Kabaddi and ISL, as much as your films, is shifting gears a bit of a problem sometimes?
I guess with time you learn to schedule or prioritise things and in that process, just become more efficient to get work done. I’ve been juggling with Pro Kabaddi and the promotions of ‘All Is Well’ since the last few days, now I’ll be flying to London to shoot ‘Housefull 3’, and I’m enjoying all of it. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at compartmentalising (smiles).

You recently initiated this ‘Be positive’ hashtag on Twitter. Is that something you’ve been wanting to do for a while or was it rather instinctive?
I was on my way to Pune for one of our matches, so I was reading tweets and felt that all we do on social media is complain. ‘Oh I’m stuck in a traffic jam or the potholes are so bad, so on and so forth.’ I’m not saying people shouldn’t air their views, but I feel that once in a while, people should be positive as well. We’re becoming a generation of complainers. Whenever people start raging about the lack of infrastructure or lack of anything, I feel that all we do as a generation is blame people. I always take examples. I love this quote of John F. Kennedy which says, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ I felt, why do people always rage or rant on Twitter? It feels so good when once in a while you see something positive. So, I was like, ‘hey let’s be positive for a change!’ I hope it made some difference. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Beauty And The Brothers

“I have the greed to keep on doing different roles” Akshay Kumar

By Ankita R. Kanabar 
(With inputs from Amul Mohan)
From the August 15, 2015 issue of Super Cinema

Sometimes the adage ‘more the merrier’ makes a lot of sense. While having a conversation with one actor can be quite enlightening, chatting with three together can only be a lot of fun. Not to mention how interesting it gets to hear out different views of different people! So here we were, on a bright Wednesday afternoon having a rendezvous with ‘The Beauty And The Brothers’. In a white shirt paired with black pants, Akshay Kumar continued to defy his age, looking fit and fabulous. He had his signature humour and honesty right in place, which makes him a sheer delight to speak to, always. On the other hand, we had Sidharth Malhotra exuding immense charm, completely justifying his heartthrob status among women. Being icing on the cake, Jacqueline Fernandez in a pretty peach dress – was poised in parts, yet a partner-in-crime when the brothers cracked jokes and had fun. We chatted to this trio about ‘Brothers’, Akshay Kumar completing 25 years in the industry, and lots more. Read on…

Evidently, ‘Brothers’ is about Mixed Martial Arts, but apart from that, was it the fact that it’s high on emotions that drove you towards doing it? 
Akshay Kumar (AK): MMA is one of the major reasons for me to do the film, but we did the film not just because of that, but also for the emotions. The emotional level of ‘Brothers’ is 60 per cent more than the original, ‘Warrior’. We are a country that loves emotions. When I read the script, or even when I saw the film, I could vouch for the fact that men are going to cry more seeing it. And it’s going to be difficult for women to see men cry like that. To have an MMA kind of background and still make people cry – that’s a unique combination. So, I think ‘Brothers’ is the best gift I could get at a time when I’m completing 25 years of my film career.
And you’ve also said that it’s been the most physically draining film for you…
AK: One of the most difficult actually. Both Sidharth and I worked very hard, so it was challenging for both of us. 
Sidharth Malhotra (SM): As far as the prep is concerned, this film required the maximum time. I didn’t do anything for four months – I would only train, eat and sleep. For me at this stage to not do anything for four months is a big deal because this is the phase where one has to work more hard. I’ve not reached a phase where people will wait for a year for my film. So, it was a bit of a risk.
Jacqueline for you as well, was this a departure of sort from what you’ve done so far?
Oh yes, big time! It was like my first movie, everything was so different. There was nothing I could relate to, or I haven’t experienced anything like that in my real life as well. But I think it was about time I did something different and something that people had not expected. I was hesitant to take this project at first, but now I feel it was a fantastic decision because it’s helped me grow so much. 
When you’re doing a remake like this, do you prefer seeing the original, or would you rather not watch it just to avoid performing the same way?
AK: We’d seen it before there was any plan of making it, just as an audience. But once I was offered this film, I didn’t see it again. 
SM: For me it didn’t make a difference because my character is very different from Tom Hardy. My character is a lot younger. We’ve changed it by about 40 per cent. In this film, we show the back story of my character which is not shown in the original. Even the drama is very different.
Sidharth, not many new actors prefer doing a film with a big star since the limelight obviously would be on the latter. But did you see things differently and thought of ‘Brothers’ as an opportunity to learn?
SM: This is where my background comes in, where it’s not so film-oriented and my calculations are different. I don’t think that I’ll be sharing screen-space with such a big persona and won’t be noticed. My decisions are more personal. The way I looked at it, was that I’ll get to do something I haven’t done. I loved the original, I thought I’ll get to learn a new sport and play such an intense character. I was sold at the first meeting when Karan Malhotra told me I’ll have to put on ten kilos, since in general I have a big built and normally people tell me to tone down. So, I didn’t see it in the overall scheme of calculation. For me, if I’m doing something new, it’ll only add to my resume is what I believe.
Talking of resume, 25 years in the industry and being at this stature…how do you continue to push the envelope with each film and be disciplined as opposed to taking it lightly or throwing starry tantrums, AK?
That’s because of my greed. I have the greed to keep on doing different roles all the time. For instance, a film like ‘Holiday’ or ‘Baby’ or ‘Gabbar’ and now ‘Brothers’ – I feel good that these scripts have come to me and I am only greedy to play those roles. Which is why, it’s not like I just want to come and do my job for the sake of it. Thankfully, I also have the time. People ask me how can I do three-four films a year. I think it’s very easy. I’m not the first one to do that. I’m not saying that people who do one film a year are wrong. They have their own ways, I have my own. I don’t know anything else, but acting and being in this industry so I’d like to make the most of it. Plus I also have so much time on hand to be with my family, go on holidays. After every three months, I take seven days off. Sundays I don’t work. Saturdays are half days (smiles).
And when you’re relatively new, does success give you more confidence?
JF: I think it’s funny that only today Akshay and I were talking about my first item song ‘Dhanno’. I was like a deer in headlights in that song. I think when I first started, I lacked a lot of confidence and that really set me back. Now with certain movies, roles and of course, success, my confidence is growing. That helps because you have to be first sure of who you are, before you slip into a character and be someone else. And when you’re confident about yourself that comes across very beautifully on-screen. 
SM: After ‘Hasee Toh Phasee’ when people started telling me they liked me performance, it felt good because it was a small film, with no big sets. And then during ‘Ek Villain’ we had big numbers on the first day so you know people went to see your film. My struggle was to first make a place for myself at least, because there are so many people here. Being an outsider, with no film background, when you realise people have gone to watch your film, it does makes you happy and confident about your next film.
From ‘Saugandh’ that released in 1991 to ‘Brothers’ in 2015, how much have things changed for you?
AK: A lot! I have changed myself so much, the technology has changed, the zeros added on my cheque have changed (laughs). Of course, even the audience has changed. 
JF: I don’t think you have changed as a person. 
AK: Oh that you’ll have to ask people who’ve worked with me in the beginning of my career (smiles). 
SM: I wonder how he was on set at that point. I used to really like films like ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’, ‘Khiladi’, ‘Mohra’. He always had the knack of making even an action film entertaining. The humour he would get was so new for that time.
I think the one thing that has also remained the same is how he reacts to success and failure….How have you managed to not blow your trumpet during success or get bogged down by failure and simply move on? 
AK: I don’t have a choice.
JF: Stress doesn’t solve anything. 
AK: Yes, it never solves anything. But failure requires you to concentrate more. It is like your body – it tells you, “okay enough, you need to work out more or eat a certain way or I’m going to collapse.” It keeps you on your toes. 
JF: It is about knowing your mistakes 
SM: So, the trick is to not be in denial of your mistakes.