LOCATION COURTESY: LODHA VENEZIA, PAREL
He is always interestingly contradictory. He is successful in front of and behind the camera, but rarely seems to enjoy those successes. He can be candid and guarded, outgoing and introverted, all in the same breath. He can own a stage like a proper rock star, but also become very uncomfortable when you tell him that he is attractive. He can go from hunk to boy next door within seconds, as he did during our photo shoot. Who is Akhtar, then, and what is he up to?
What’s your current state of mind?
At this point, it is a general sense of excitement to get the film (Lucknow Central) out. I feel very happy with it. This is also the time when you go out into the world and tell everyone when the film is releasing, and you feel that a ball is set in motion. I really don’t have the time to think about other things.
What about the script of Lucknow Central attracted you to the film?
The human quality of the writing, for starters. It is a very empathetic script. Although it is about people in jail, the film still treats them as human beings, and not as the caricatures that we generally end up seeing on screen. It is a very moving and inspiring story, actually. It is about the dreams of the character that I play, and how his dreams are realized, not necessarily in the way he would have liked them to be, but yet they are. I think that is very inspiring, because we all have certain thoughts and ideas of what we want our lives to be like — at times things don’t go exactly as planned, but we should not give up on our dreams, because we will be able to figure out another way.
Over the course of your various films, have you developed a process that you fall back on as an actor and director?
I don’t think, as an actor, that you can have just one single process. For example, the kind of work I will need to do for a Lucknow Central, so that the audience gets a sense of where this guy is from and what he is like — that kind of effort is not needed in a film like Dil Dhadakne Do, or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. On the other hand, when you are directing, you really are getting other people, including actors, to see the film the way you visualized it and wrote it. So, while it may be creative, it is very administrative. It is like you are executing things and need other people to deliver for you. You really are a creative supervisor on set. Acting is more internal, and focused, and you are trying to tap into things within yourself, to make each emotion believable — every line should seem like it belongs to you and is not scripted. So, they are very different processes.
India still loves Dil Chahta Hai after 16 years of the film’s release. As someone who has made one of the most progressive films in the last two decades, how do you look at Bollywood today?
I think a variety of work is happening right now. There was a period when we were teenagers, the late Eighties and Nineties, at least the films we were exposed to and those that got a wider audience, that were very stereotypical. There was this whole period of over-the-top cinema and so, there wasn’t much choosing to do. Which is why I remember a film like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, because it was a breath of fresh air. You could relate to it, it wasn’t overly dramatic and was clutter-breaking at the point. But, it was a rarity back then. I feel now, even though we have the larger-than life films and heroes, most of the film-makers want to set their films in a certain degree of reality. This is why we are seeing more films inspired by true stories, with real life characters, and the audiences are also enjoying that and being inspired by that. I don’t want to wish away any kind of cinema, I feel they should all have the space to exist and freedom to create whatever they want but then, ultimately, the viewers will decide what they want to subscribe to.
What do you love about being famous?
More than fame, I think everyone wants acceptance for what you do. In any job that you do, it feels nice to be accepted. Because film is such a visible medium, and actors’ faces are almost everywhere, when people accept you and like what you do, it leads to a certain degree of celebrity-hood or stardom, whatever you want to call it. People feel like they know you, you are a part of their lives. And for me that is an incredible feeling. People don’t come up to you and say that I love you for personal reasons, or the way you have painted your house. They come and tell you they love you because of your work, your movies, your music. That makes me feel great, because eventually, that is what you want to be known for.
And what do you hate about being a celebrity?
I think hate is too strong a word, but if anything, once in a while it would be nice — more when I am with my kids — if people could empathise and understand that when I am with my family, I would like to spend some time with them (laughs).
If you could be someone else for just one day, who would you want to be?
I don’t think I want to be anyone else.
Let’s talk current affairs. As a producer and film-maker, what do you think about Prasoon Joshi becoming the new Censor Board chief?
See, the one thing that I do know about Prasoon, because we have worked very closely for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, is that he is progressive, and at the same time he has a lot of respect for tradition and culture. So, I am pretty optimistic about his appointment. I feel that he will be able to strike a nice balance between the two. Also, he is a writer, he is a poet, he understands what freedom of expression is. It is something he has probably had to struggle for all his life. Also, he has his aesthetics in place.
You mentioned that he has a lot of respect for tradition and culture. Different people define “Indian culture” differently. What do you mean by these two words, exactly?
When I speak about his respect for culture, I speak of his writing, his knowledge of the arts and an understanding of the entertainment industry over the years. I think it is important to not have a person who will say “rule number 12 says so and so”. It has to be somebody who uses their aesthetic sense to understand why something is in a film. So, a certain understanding of literature and cultures comes into play.
What was your first reaction when you saw the IIFA gag, and the whole “nepotism rocks” chant?
I didn’t see the IIFA thing, but of course I know what happened. In all honesty, I feel the word “nepotism” is not the right word. I am not discussing what happened on that stage particularly. I am talking in a broader sense. I feel that any family, no matter what field of endeavour they are in, when they work hard and create something, there is a tendency to want the benefits of that to be passed on to the children. It is human nature to want that to happen, be it with politicians or doctors or lawyers — any profession, for that matter. It’s the same with film, and because you have grown up in that environment, there is a certain ease and understanding that you have of it, so it is but natural for parents to create a platform for their children, if they decide to join the film industry.
Don’t you think the accusation rings true for Bollywood? Filmmakers and producers like to stick to their circle of friends and relatives, and create opportunities only for them. If you look at the young stars today, almost all of them come from film families.
I don’t think that is true. We have been producing films, and we have worked with all kinds of people [This claim can be debated. Of the 19 films Excel Entertainment has produced, only four have had leads who don’t belong to film families, and only five have been directed by film-makers from outside the film fraternity]. So, I don’t think it is necessarily about that. If a cricketer’s son becomes a cricketer, the father’s fans will be automatically emotionally invested in the son.
But if the son does not deliver, he is not a part of the industry. A Rohan Gavaskar didn’t make it.
But if someone’s films do not do well and the audiences recognise that they don’t have the talent, they won’t make it either. I can’t think of anyone who has failed as an actor, both commercially and critically, and is still very much in demand. I don’t know of any such actors.
There are, but that’s another discussion. Let’s move on. I remember interviewing you about a year back for a style piece, and you had said that you don’t care about how you dress, and you are not brand conscious. In this last one year, though, you’ve been doing shoots and uploading them on Instagram, you put up shirtless workout videos — has social media made you narcissistic?
There is of course a certain degree of self-awareness in wanting to be fit – but I enjoy the process of keeping myself fit, and I feel it is important for most people to do that for themselves. It helps you and people around you. I just feel, somehow, through my discipline, it also motivates people around me. It is a nice thing to share. We have always been inspired by other people.
So, you’re telling me it has nothing to do with wanting to look good?
Looking good is, on some level, the physical manifestation of feeling fit and healthy. But being healthy has a huge impact on your energy, on your outlook towards life, how optimistic you feel — it affects everything. It is not only about looking good. Of course, that is a part of it. Who doesn’t want to look good?
PHOTOGRAPHER: NUNO OLIVERA
ART DIRECTOR: AMIT NAIK
FASHION DIRECTOR: KUSHAL PARMANAND
JUNIOR STYLIST: NEELANGANA VASUDEVA
HAIR: SAURABH BHATKAR
MAKE UP: SWAPNIL PATHARE
LOCATION COURTESY: LODHA VENEZIA, PAREL
On the cover: Farhan Akhtar wears a blazer, shirt and trousers by Tommy Hilfiger; Shoes by Heel & Buckle at Berleigh
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