Cinema Director, producer, actor, writer, singer, Farhan Akhtar is redefining versatility. As his “Talaash” comes to an end and “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” gathers pace, we find him hungry for more. ANUJ KUMAR
It is lunch time on the sets of “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra film on the life of legendary athlete Milkha Singh. Junior artistes are buzzing with activity. One is looking for Farhan Akhtar, who is playing the Flying Sikh. Chunky, his bulky assistant, makes one believe that the shooting is still on. After a long wait at the ostentatious resort in Chhatarpur, New Delhi, a Sikh boy sporting a patka enters the room. “Sorry for the delay,” he says with the confidence of a school boy. Are you really Farhan? “Thank God, the effort is worth it,” says the 38-year-old as we sink into the sofa. Bound by a contract, he doesn’t want to reveal much about the making of Milkha.
Excerpts from an interview:
You were the original cool dude before the word lost its meaning. It seems with “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” you are reinventing yourself.
Anything you get branded as is not self-proclaimed. As an actor or director, you need to follow your creative instincts. If that means you are excited about doing a film you haven’t done before that, is a good thing, it signifies growth. The world knows Milkha Singh as a sportsman but there is so much more to him not only in terms of his sporting achievements but also in terms of his triumph as a person. It makes him a great role model for young India.
Friendship has been the running theme of most of your films. In your films, friends are not props to highlight the hero. Everybody gets a fair deal.
Yes and no. We had friendship as the running theme in three of our movies. We made 11 movies. “Don” and “Luck by Chance” are very different kind of movies. But the three seem to be the ones that strike the biggest chord. Probably because of the success of “Dil Chahta Hai”, the other films that we made on friendship give an impression that we are returning to familiar territory. I have been dependent on my friends emotionally many times in my life. I guess that is reflected in the films, but it was not a conscious effort.
You have been able to bring big stars to be part of these stories. In “DCH”, it was Aamir and in “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara”, it was Hrithik Roshan, where in popular perception you turned out to be the ‘hero’ of the film.
It happened because Hrithik’s character is a little more subdued and quiet and people in general tend to react to characters that make them laugh a lot. A similar thing happened to Saif and Aamir’s characters in “DCH”. I think Hrithik’s effort is commendable on two fronts. His performance was very true to what was written. He didn’t try to mould it to appeal to a more populist kind of expression, which is commendable as an actor. So is the fact that at a time when he was in a position to do a film that was completely about him, he was brave to do a film that had two other leads in it. I think it is a healthy sign for other actors as well. You need to be part of projects at times that are not only about you.
You have limited yourself to the dilemmas of the upper class urban youth, and the real concerns of a huge section of youngsters are missing from your radar.
I find the word ‘realistic’ being used very loosely. Somebody’s reality is somebody’s fiction and somebody’s fiction could be somebody’s reality. To say that there is only one India to which everybody belongs and that I belong to some other India, I find it very offensive. I talk about the India I know and I am as Indian as anybody else.
Your tweets are very different. On social media you talk about issues like corruption and crime against women.
As a person you need to be aware and voice your concerns about what is happening around. One day, it could be part of my film but for that I have to find a very coherent story. I can’t make a statement without a story to back it up, but at a personal level I feel it is equally important to share my concerns with people.
Did this change happen after the limited box office success of “Lakshya”?
I think gauging a film by its box office performance is a very wrong yardstick. The success of the film is beyond the box office as well. “Lakshya” is a film dear to me. The fact that at that age I could make a film that spoke about a very important thing. When I meet Army people they say that it is very rare to find a film on the Forces without any mistakes. Also, when you talk about my cinema, you also talk about the films I produce because I will not produce a film unless I believe in it. “Karthik Calling Karthik” talked about multiple personality disorder, which was not a cool thing. “Luck By Chance” showed an actor’s struggle in the industry in a realistic way.
That takes us to your next production, “Talaash”. How will you describe it, a suspense thriller?
I will call it a suspense drama. Thriller somehow starts denoting action in the minds of people. What appealed to me is that the story has an old-world charm to it. It takes us to the kind of cinema when we were growing up. Films like “Madhumati” and “Woh Kaun Thi”. They had a certain pace. They were not in a hurry to get to the conclusion. Reema (Kagti) has really taken time to flesh out characters, to create the mood.
Of late, films have been reduced to vehicles. They are described as slow and fast…
It is a very easy way to classify films. Every film can’t be fast paced. Every film inhabits a different world and to draw a comparison from the world of cuisine in the times of fast food “Talaash” is like a seven-course meal. We are asking you very consciously to watch it with a certain degree of patience. Not because ‘Oh! the film is slow.’ It is a kind of film which wants you to invest time.
What is it trying to say? There were reports that it is based on a true story?
It is a work of fiction. On the surface, Inspector Shekhawat (played by Aamir Khan) is in search of answers. Beyond that, there is a personal tragedy that has affected the characters of Aamir and Rani who play a couple. In the search for answers outside they also end up finding certain answers within themselves.
Be it the narrative or the marketing, young filmmakers seem to be in a rush. The life of a film is reduced to three days.
I agree. Your premise has to be a good story. What happens with the marketing is a different issue. The starting point should be an engaging and interesting story. But it is about the young and old. With TV becoming integral to our lives now, every minute you lose interest you change the channel. Earlier, you invested so much time to watch a movie. Now, it is delivered to your doorstep probably with a pizza and a coke. It is a tad unfortunate. Theatrical life is not lasting. But in home video and on the conceptual front, the film could still last. For example, recently “Lamhe” (interestingly, “Lamhe” was the first film where Farhan had a brush with filmmaking as he assisted cinematographer Manmohan Singh) was in the news for very unfortunate reasons. If you refer to Yash Chopra’s life you will refer to it is as a film that has sustained as an idea a lot more than a “Chandni” or a “Darr”. It was a new kind of film and it required you to be a little more patient and accepting. So ideas will sustain. And if your subject demands patience, you should not be scared to experiment. A good example that comes to mind is “Taare Zameen Par”. It asked you to invest, and the audience did.