Bachchan’s Role Call
His white Audi purrs smoothly to a halt outside the suburban five-star. Impeccably clad in a dark suit, with more than a hint of a shadow of a beard decorating his chin, he is the man of the moment. As his long-limbed figure emerges from the vehicle, he is instantly surrounded by a few young men and women, who are waiting to escort him inside. Seemingly oblivious of the stares, looking neither left nor right, Abhishek Bachchan strides across the lobby in an unhurried fashion, before he vanishes into the confines of the business centre.
As I observe his studied and formal mood of this evening, I am transported back to my first meeting with him, again at a suburban five-star a few years ago for a leisurely shoot and conversation. Clad casually in jeans and a T-shirt at that time, the then much younger Abhishek, who was riding high on his newly-minted professional success (Yuva and soon after Phir Milenge, and Dhoom had more than established his credentials as an actor and star), had arrived promptly on time, spent hours with us chatting, had sportingly sank into an empty tub for a shoot and even jaywalked on the terrace parapet of the hotel, much to our trepidation!
Back to the present – a little while after his arrival, Abhishek and I settle down on two comfortable chairs in the room for our chat before he gets down to the official business of the evening – the launch of Omega’s new watch – and I remind him of our memorable shoot. Even before I can reference the pictures, he says, “I loved the shoot. It was fun the way you guys did it. Do send me the pictures.” I thank my stars that there is no terrace close by for him to repeat the act and looking at him closely, I note the twinkle in his eye. It is the same as it was years ago. As is his politeness – even today, we have indulged in a little bit of courteous pehle aap, pehle aap before we have actually sat down.
I observe that the years have been more than kind to him. His lanky frame has pleasantly filled out and he carries himself with a greater poise and confidence than before. Of course, the interim has seen many hits and misses in his professional career; on the personal front, marriage and his recent parenthood have made life complete. Abhishek, one feels, has finally come into his own – as a person and an actor.
‘Welcome to parenthood,’ I tell him and elicit a broad smile in response. For him, it is early days yet, but I cannot resist asking him how being a father has changed his life. Abhishek says immediately, “With a baby, your priorities just fall into place. I don’t think you change, instead you get changed. A lot of my friends have talked about parenting, but what’s wonderful is that it happens automatically. It could be something as small as the fact that you could be driving a car, and you’d be extra careful because you have your baby in the rear seat or you have to go home to your baby. So obviously, your life revolves around the child. All your decisions get greatly influenced by the baby.”
For a man whose first acting role was that of a daisy in a school play, Abhishek – Amitabh Bachchan’s baby – has come a long way indeed and is now poised to become Gen Next’s new Daddy Cool.
In flashback mode, I tell him that we are going to find a bit of himself, in a few of the roles that he has assayed over the years…in random order, with no significance apart from the fact that each showed a different side of Abhishek.
Abhishek’s career has had a fascinating trajectory – it has been a journey that has left him with many memories. But ask him what his landmark moments were and he states firmly, “The good thing is that I can’t say that and I don’t need to. At the end of the day my audience decides the landmarks.”
What he does say with emphasis is that his alter egos have impacted him in some way or the other. For, as he admits, “All the characters stay with you as you are living them on screen. You’re going to bring him home with you. There are films which will change you and there are films and characters which are difficult to portray. In Paa, where I play my real life father’s reel father, I kept delaying doing one scene – the last one – ahead; I told Balki that I would do it some other time…later. It was the scene where he dies in my arms. That’s an emotion you don’t want to encounter – it is one you do not want to live through.”
Letting go of the momentary seriousness, I speak about his ability to turn anything into a funny moment. Grinning widely, he adds, “I think it’s important to be able to laugh at oneself – especially as an actor. You shouldn’t take yourself too seriously. That’s the beginning of the end.”
As I am waiting at the entrance of the hotel for the car to drive in, there is a rustle behind me. I turn around to see Abhishek walk out, surrounded by his guards and the same group that had welcomed him. This time he stops, chats for a few minutes. As his Audi whizzes in, he shakes my hand, saying, “Do mail me the pictures!”
Refugee: a man who had no identity, no name but was simply called Refugee. He was instrumental in helping Muslim refugees cross the border illegally, eventually falling in love with a Muslim girl.
“It made me an actor”
“Refugee was my first film and it completely changed everything. It made me a professional actor. J.P. Dutta was my school in film acting. He taught me whatever I know. Your first film is always going to be special because it’s your introduction to the film industry. It’s always going to be one of the most important milestones in my career.”
Lallan Singh: the actor dived into the underbelly of society to give life to his reel avatar, a man who loves and abuses his wife, a goon who kills and kidnaps people.
“He liberated me….”
“The film and character came to me at a stage in my life when I had a lot to give. Yuva really liberated me as an actor. Mani (Ratnam) made me shed all my inhibitions. He taught me how to perform for the camera. I began to believe that the camera does not exist, which is one of the hardest things we can do in film acting. And, Mani tapped into a part of my being that I didn’t even know existed. When he offered me the role of Lallan Singh, I actually asked him, “Are you sure?” because nobody had seen me in that zone. It was a complete departure from what I had done till then. Mani taught me that acting in a film is all about creating a character. In India though, as actors, we end up playing characters which are a versions of ourselves. That’s what our audience likes. Mani taught me to steer away from that and create a completely new different person. Lallan Singh was nothing like me. We created him from scratch.”
Roy Kapoor: a go-getter who believes in conning everyone – even his girlfriend to get what he wants. He gets his comeuppance when he becomes the victim of a con that sets him right.
“I brought in a great deal of subtlety….”
“I loved it because I got to work with a dear friend of mine, Rohan Sippy who was with me in boarding school. He knows me really well and I think it’s one of the coolest films and coolest characters ever made. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet – which I just did – but I think Roy redefined cool in that film. I could bring in a certain subtlety of performance which we weren’t used to in Indian cinema. There was an attitude of just being. Rohan did not want me to do something all the time; I wasn’t always reacting. Roy was basically passive but through that subtlety he created a demeanour which I thought was very interesting. And it was a very risky thing to do at that point of time in Indian cinema for if you’re not being melodramatic and performing, you’re not acting. Rohan broke that norm and said just lie back and be. I think I ushered in a whole new style of performance.”
Gurukant Desai: a young man, who dares to dream big and will do anything to make his dream come true. Ruthlessly pursuing success, he grows to be one of the most powerful businessmen of the country.
“I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew.”
“Gurukant Desai was a big one. Work started a few months after Yuva and one or two weeks after we started prepping for Guru, I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I was 28-29 and, at that age, almost at the beginning of my career, to do a biopic of a character required a lot of work. But the best thing that Gurukant Desai taught me was the confidence to say that I can do it. In an actor’s life, there are many days when you’re making a movie and you wonder whether you’ll be able to live up to the expectations of the director, if you will be able to pull off the role. For me, this film was a turning point. I knew that after this anything is possible. It was one of the most memorable films for me, one of my greatest journeys as an actor. It’s a pity that we don’t make many of those kinds of films any more.”
Beera Munda: a local hero, a sort of Robin Hood who runs a parallel government; is considered a terrorist by the authorities but is loved and revered by the locals.
“I was able to exercise my demons.”
“I instantly fell in love with Beera Munda, predominantly because I understood emotionally where he was coming from. I liked the reason for him doing what he did; although he was doing wrong things but the reason behind them was right – he had shades of black and white. He is an illegal person, is doing everything wrong but then at the end of the film when you walk out, you feel that he did it for the right reasons. I liked the conflict within him. And I got to play a character that was so flamboyant, so evil. I was able to exercise my demons. It was a film I could sink my teeth into and have a good time playing it. And, in real life, if you ask me how many demons I have…just like Raavan, about 10…”
Sameer Kapoor: a male nurse who pretends to be in love with photographer Kunal Chauhan to be able to take an apartment on rent.
“I made his comic timing physical.”
“I had fun being Sameer. It was my first out and out comic role, again directed by a friend I’ve known for 20 years. I remember Tarun sharing the idea of Dostana when Karan was still shooting Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and then while we were working on Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna together. When Tarun told me about the concept I said, ‘It’s fantastic, let’s do it’. I knew it was going to be hilarious. Tarun gave me a free hand and let me run with what I wanted to bring to Sameer. I wanted to make his comical timing very physical. John Abraham’s character has the lines, Sameer has very few lines. That’s something you don’t often see in Indian cinema by a mainstream actor. And I really enjoyed doing the physical comedy bit of it and now that we are starting Dostana 2, I hope to take it to a completely different level.”
Dum Maro Dum
ACP Vishnu Kamath: a corrupt cop who reforms to later flush out the cocaine gangs, but has to pay a price for it.
“His internal conflict excited me.”
“Rohan Sippy has always given me great characters and a free hand to interpret them in my own way. What I liked about Vishnu Kamath was that he has a corrupt past. Rohan allowed me embrace the fact that he was a corrupt policeman and due to his corruption he loses his family and now he wants to set that right. He gave me a character that didn’t have to be an epitome of righteousness. I like characters which have a lot of internal conflict; they excite me. It gives me an edge of unpredictability, which I like. All my characters have been very unpredictable.”
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