MUMBAI—He’s the quintessential actor-writer-filmmaker-singer who cannot be slotted in any one department. Farhan Akhtar, also a non-film musician with a band of his own, has excelled as an actor in “Rock On!!” (his acting debut), “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” and “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,” and is now playing the challenging role of a wannabe musician sentenced to life imprisonment and planning a jail break in “Lucknow Central.” India-West met him at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios to talk about his latest assignment, his career and Indian cinema.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: What is special for you about this film?
A: That director Ranjit Tiwari’s grip on visual storytelling is so good that you will never think that he is just making his debut as a director. And the positive response to the trailer and the music fills me with a sense of optimism. All of us – Diana Penty, Rajesh Sharma, Deepak Dobriyal, Gippy Grewal and Inaamulhaq – we have worked very hard. I am happy and proud to be a part of a good film.
Q: As a director yourself, did you offer inputs to your director?
A: With any film, we all give inputs to a director, whether it is artists, assistants or technicians. When I directed my films, so did everyone. Such inputs may or may not be incorporated by the director, but, as I said, Ranjit is a very special director, and if my judgment is right, he has a long career in front of him.
Q: As a musician, did you offer inputs in that field?
A: No, though I did listen to some of the songs and gave my approval. Frankly, the music made by my character is way different from what I compose and sing, so I have not even sung here. And music is a passion for me.
Q: You made your singing debut too nine years ago, and now you have your band even outside films. How deep are you into music?
A: I always enjoyed music, especially as in what starts with singing along. “Rock On!!” was a kind of tipping-point that gave me the opportunity to sing and record professionally, and it felt very good, so I decided to take it further.
Q: Do you get time for music in your hectic activities?
A: I take my guitar along to every shoot or tour, and practice even if for just an hour every day, though it’s tough to find that time. A famous pianist once said that if you don’t practice for a day, you can make out the difference, in two days your conductor can make out the difference, and on the third day, your audience can!
Q: You have played a rooted musician for the first time.
A: Yes, it was a nice change playing someone from Uttar Pradesh, where my roots actually are. Understanding the social demographics and the nuances were interesting, and most of the research was done by Ranjit – the kind of clothes I should wear, my attitude and so on.
We saw a lot of videos and pictures, and after that, I had to get the language right, like the local colloquialisms. However, I went easy on my character. I wanted to retain the dynamics of an innocent guy, who suddenly finds himself in a world he does not know and learns the way he should interact with the prisoners, the police and other things, and especially about what he should keep to himself.
Q: What is your take on so many failures at the box-office this year?
A: Though I have not caught up with any of the recent releases, I think that the audience is rightfully demanding good stories. Like when we read a book, we create a film in our head. But in an actual film, amidst the window-dressing and ‘hungama’ (noise), maybe we are losing sight of the fact that the story is not good, or is not being told well. The audience is telling us to focus more on the story than the spectacle needed because they are spending a lot of money on it.
Q: Someone said recently that many of our films are no longer rooted in India.
A: I do not think so, though this is my perception and I may be completely wrong. I think any universally appealing story should work.
Q: Or is it that the definition of mainstream commercial cinema is changing?
A: Isn’t every cinema commercial? Why don’t we just call films good or bad? And
the definition of mainstream cinema has always kept changing! Change has always been constant because cultures are evolving, and once social environments change, so does the mood of the people. So at one time, the audience may ask for escapism, and at other times, they may not want escapism.
What is important is that a filmmaker should not compromise on his vision and rely on the only thing he can – his instinct. This instinct is a combination of everything – what he is excited about making, what he feels the audience wants to watch, on which scale he should make it depending on the universality of the issue if any, and everything else.
Q: “Rock On 2” did not do well. In terms of return on investment, though it was a lovely film, “Dil Dhadakne Do” also did not work. You were speaking of scale. How could you have reduced the budget of the latter film so that it became profitable?
A: Yes, we could not have, and you are right, we do lose money when we are honest to our vision. But I guess that’s a part of being filmmakers.
Q: How do you react when your films don’t do well? Do you analyze or introspect?
A: Initially, I am just disappointed. Just after a film’s release, when we know what has happened, a filmmaker is too close to the film to be objective. Later, we come to know bits and parts about what went wrong by listening to conversations or the views of other people.
Q: How much does that affect your future work?
A: It cannot, how can it? Because for the next film, you are excited with whatever you are planning. Again, you are in a different zone.
Q: How do you see producers returning money to distributors to partially recoup their losses?
A: I think it’s a welcome move, but there is nothing new in this. It’s nice to show unity with someone who has believed in you and supported your work, and to show that we are one and not against each other. It’s always been done over here, sometimes by subsidizing the cost of your next film.
Q: What is now coming from your banner?
A: “Fukrey 2” is complete, and “Gully Boy,” also on music, will start after that. We are almost halfway through “Gold” with Akshay Kumar.