Farhan Akhtar on why “Don 2” lured him back behind the camera.
Farhan Akhtar, the director, has been missing in action for five years now, while Akhtar the actor, singer and chat show host has been popping up here and there. With his much-awaited “Don 2” up for release on December 23, the director talks about the movie and his deliberately democratic approach on the sets.
“Don 2” comes after a long gap in which you've acted in five movies… is it a constant tussle between the actor and director?
No, it's not that it's a tussle. See, direction is a long haul, a year-and-a-half or more. So it has to be something very personal that gets you excited and keeps you motivated for that long a period. After “Don” there was nothing that got me charged up. And, when I was acting, I was not really thinking about a script or writing or direction. That's why it's been a long gap. Though it doesn't seem that long to me personally.
Is being an actor a breeze in comparison to direction?
Well, you definitely feel a lot less... (pauses to pick the right word) stretched. As a director, you're being constantly bombarded with some issue or the other from every department.
As an actor you lead a cocooned life on the sets. All you have to do is concentrate on your performance and what the director wants, without having to worry about why some permission hasn't come through or work is not going according to schedule.
Well, if the director is the boss, guess the hassles come with the territory.
You know, I've never really believed in all this talk of ‘The director is the captain of the ship.' At the end of the day, every person on the team is a responsible professional working towards a common goal. Everyone is there because they're excited about the film and not because they want to work with me. I don't take it too seriously when someone says, “Man, I want to work with you and I'm ready to work on any film of yours.” The people I enjoy working with are those who like the script and say, “Yes, we should make this film!”
So how open are you to suggestions on the sets?
Very; you have to be very open. Because a good idea can come from anyone on the sets. There are two ways it helps. One is that if it is a good suggestion, you can take it and improve the scene. The other is that when you have to answer someone's questions about a scene, you are forced to examine why you thought that was a good way to do it in the first place.
Speaking of suggestions, Shah Rukh once said that he likes to offer his directors two or three variations of a scene. Did you get to choose often?
Well, it's not like Shah Rukh serves it up like a buffet each time, you know. (smiles). But he does improvise a lot on the sets, which, for any director, I think is a good thing.
Some directors are very firm: no discussions on the set.
I don't believe in that approach at all. The way I see it, everything that goes into a shot is planned to the last detail: where the camera is going to be placed, where the actor will stand, how he will stand, what he will do, how he will move, the lines he has to say. The only thing left that can create the magic is what the actor has to offer. So if an actor can do something magical with some action or a piece of dialogue or just a look, it's wonderful. One must always leave that opportunity open for actors to be able to do that.
When you did “Don”, did you have a sequel in mind?
Not at all; not even when I finished the movie. But people would constantly ask me: “So when you are doing the sequel?” or “You must do a sequel.” I would say, ‘yeah, sure, I'll think about it'. But the idea worked itself into my head and I started thinking, if there was a sequel, what would the story be like? Then, two writers, Ameet Mehta and Ambrish Shah, called me out of the blue to say, “We have an idea for script for ‘Don 2'; would you like to hear it?” I said, “why not” and found it interesting. So we worked out the script.
Will “Don 2” be a bigger test since it will be all yours, unlike the first?
Ultimately you have to make every film your own. It has to be your approach and your treatment of the story. But I did fall freer when writing this story because I could take the action thriller concept far closer towards how I see the genre. Also, in the first “Don”, I had to spend a lot of time establishing the characters, which I didn't need to do this time around, so I could plunge into the action very quickly and carry the plot forward faster.
So what was the toughest part of doing “Don 2”?
With movies of this nature, which involve a lot of action sequences, I guess it would be battling the elements. For instance, it was freezing in Berlin when we shot there and when we went to Malaysia it was scorching hot. Extreme weather can make shooting very difficult.
Of all the challenges, that's what you found the toughest?
See, when I'm making a film, I'm doing something I love. Film-making is a very stressful job because, however much you might plan and prepare, there's always the possibility of things going wrong. But that's what makes it so attractive too, in a way.
Of course, everyone has their off-days — the director, the actors, the technicians. There are times when you wonder how you're going to make it through the day. Or you can't figure out why a scene is not working out the way you thought it would or wanted it to. Sometimes you simply can't understand why it does not work for you.
But one doesn't complain about all that, because ultimately, you're working on the film for the love of it. That's how it is for me.