It’s understandable why Abhishek Bachchan is the most envied man in show business. For a long period, he had to battle the unwarranted comparisons with his father, easily the greatest superstar of all time. And then, he swept the most beautiful woman on the planet off her feet. The attacks became even more severe with expectations spiraling out of reach. But the humble actor maintained his composure and carried on.
The courage to challenge every adversity with his inherent restraint makes AB the man that he is today. 2010 didn’t turn out the way as planned since both his films, Raavan and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, turned out to be box-office disappointments. But how many actors can really boast of delivering films with directors like Mani Ratnam and Ashutosh Gowariker in one calendar year? And talking of movies, how many would have projects lined up with makers like Rohit Shetty, Abbas-Mustan, Anees Bazmee, Rajkumar Santoshi, Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra in times to come?
But Abhishek would rather be low-key about his accomplishments. He prefers to react to success and failure in the same vein. And when you meet the actor, you know it’s not for effect. He would give you a glimpse of his inner self but you have to take the effort. And when you introspect, you may discover a person who despite being much misunderstood still stands firm on the strength of his conviction and resolute.
This is his time; this is his glory. He’s battled numerous odds earlier and he continues to even now. However, the demeanor is still the same. And we guess that’s what Aishwarya saw in him when she fell in love with him. Together, they make an unbeatable power couple — coveted, desired and yet grounded.
Meet the man who’s made it all happen with his characteristic candor and charisma – Abhishek Bachchan in a candid mood.
The year that went by was an important one for you. Working with two of the most accomplished directors and tackling roles you haven’t attempted before. What was the game plan?
Very honestly, I have never managed to break a film down to a personal game plan as opposed to what the film’s intention is as an overall goal. For me, the excitement of doing Raavan and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey was primarily more to do with getting the opportunity to work with two of the most celebrated directors of our generation. One was Mani Ratnam, who is family for me and this one’s my third film with him. Then it was the opportunity to work with someone like Ashutosh Gowariker for whom I have immense respect. That was primarily what attracted me to do these two films.
You don’t get swayed by the possibility of critical acclaim coming your way?
I’m not the kind of person who would be looking for critical acclaim and not box-office. I have never been like that. I am a child of the film industry. At the end of the day, my want and wish is that everybody gets entertained from my films and in turn, my industry earns from my films. I am a product of this industry. I am not someone who does films just for awards; that’s not the kind of actor I am. The commerce of a film is very important to me. I am also a producer so I know what it takes. Having said that, as an actor, there’s only so much you can contribute or have a say in with regard to a film commercially. Like I said, the want to do Raavan and Khelein… was the opportunity to work with these two wonderful directors. How it spun off and how it eventually ended up was never in my hands. I can just give it my best shot and hope people like my work.
Are you an actor that goes by instinct?
Yes, definitely. I think that is the way you have to go because there is no formula for success. Despite how much you classify or analyze the success or failure of a film, we haven’t yet managed to only make successful films. It is very erratic. So at the end of the day, you have to just go with your gut. If you like the story and if you want to be a part of it, you have to do it. That is the way I’ve always approached each and every film of mine.
But these two films aren’t exactly what one calls typically commercial or mainstream.
I’d like to differ with you on this point. I never looked upon Raavan and Khelein… as experiments. To start off, let’s discuss what is a commercial film. I don’t think anybody has the definition of that. The only factor that makes a film commercial is its story and then it is the person making the film. Keeping that in mind, Mani Ratnam and Ashutosh Gowariker are two of the most commercial directors in the business. They have proven their commercial viability throughout their careers. What is the story of Raavan? It’s the story of unspoken and unrequited love, which is the story of so many Hindi films that have become huge successes. It is a very commercial subject. Khelein… is a film on the freedom struggle about 55 kids taking on the British Empire and they’re led by a school teacher. It is an emotional story and it immediately connects. So on the story and plot sense, I don’t think there is anything not commercial about these films. But at the end of the day, you never know how the audience is going to react to your film. Yes, budgets do come in and I totally agree with you on that. I am not a market pundit so I won’t be able to say whether a budget is correct for a film or not.
AB, when you attempt something that’s out of the box, budgeting plays a major role.
When Raavan released, everybody criticized and said that it was a film that was sold for 90 crores and all of that. Nobody knows what the actual dealings of Raavan were. People very conveniently forget that the distributors picked up three movies for whatever sum they picked up – there was a Hindi film, a Tamil film and a Telugu film. Suddenly, just one of those films is burdened with a huge price tag. I was a part of the film so I know what the deals were. But at that point of time when the film may not have performed the way people expected it to, you don’t get up and say that because it just draws more discussion about the film.
You don’t feel the need to convey this to your audience?
I feel the need to convey it but I think that sometimes, when there is a judgment that is being passed by the public, you have to respect that. At that point of time, I just thought I should keep quiet and let it tide over. By one person standing up and saying something, it is not going to change anything. Sometimes you have to resign to your fate and just stand there. If you’re going to go into the ring and if you’re going to get an upper cut, you’ve just got to take it on your chin and that’s it.
You said somewhere that Raavan was physically very challenging for you…
Mani is very close to me so I knew what we were going to be doing. I was very concerned for his health. But I knew that physically, it was going to be a very demanding film and it turned to be even more challenging then I thought it would be. So emotionally and physically, the film drained me. It was very difficult.
And a new experience maybe…
No, actually, my first film (Refugee) was with JP saab (Dutta). I am used to being a trooper and being part of a unit that works hard. I’m used to far off locations. Raavan was shot in the forest. Waking up, driving to the base camp, getting ready and then trekking kilometers into the dense forest to a location – I was prepared for that. I enjoy that. That’s the exciting thing about being an actor – you get to go to places where you normally wouldn’t have ever gone.
When you look back at Raavan today, do you feel you could’ve made some changes in terms of your portrayal?
Yes, of course. That’s the tragedy of being an actor. Today, you do a scene that’s been okayed by the director and tomorrow you wake up thinking you could’ve done it in a better way. You just have to live with the fact that you can’t change that. It’s done; it’s going down in history.
The decision to play Surjya Sen could not be entirely commerce driven.
See, I’m not someone who can say what is commerce driven and what is not. I took up the role because Ashu wanted to make a film with me, which was a huge drawing factor. I don’t know many actors who would say no to an Ashutosh Gowariker film a few weeks after he’s released Jodhaa Akbar. I have seen his previous films and have enjoyed all of them. Also, I thought the story was very emotional. I liked the character of Surjya Sen for the strength and dignity he had. It was a challenge to portray a freedom fighter and not do it in the clichéd way of a person who was fiery, screaming and brimming with machismo. I liked the restraint in the character. There must have been people like him as well in those days. Our greatest freedom fighter and leader, Mahatma Gandhi, was the most restrained human being; he is a hero for all of us.
You’ve given several solo hits. Yet, do you feel people want you to prove yourself time and again?
Yes I do and they should. I don’t think there is anything wrong in that. You have to prove yourself every Friday. I firmly believe that when my next film releases, they wouldn’t be bothered about what my last 10 films were. They have gone to see the film on its merit. Time and again, our industry has proved that an actor’s last two or three films could have been disasters but if they have liked the promo of a new film, they will go and see it. Conversely, the actor could have given the biggest hit film of his career but if his next film’s promos don’t excite, then they won’t see that film. It’s as simple as that. For example, Drona did not work but a month later I had Dostana, which opened hugely. Technically speaking, if I wasn’t doing well, Dostana should not have opened like that. Why did it go on to become such a big hit? So it depends on film to film. I’ve never been the person who has learnt to go out there and talk about myself. I find that a bit awkward. I would rather let my work speak for myself. There was a time when I gave eight super hits in a row. I don’t know many actors who’ve done that. But I can’t go out and say, ‘I’ve given eight hits. What are you talking about?’ At the end of the day, I am an actor whose job is to entertain and I do that through the medium of films. So let that medium speak for me. By the grace of God, the audience and my directors have immense faith in me. Somewhere, there’s this confidence that you can do it so go out there and do it. I’d much rather make my films than bother about screaming about my accomplishments.
How do you tackle the harsh criticism that sometimes comes
I tackle it exactly the way I do when they praise me. When someone praises me, I get overwhelmed by it. I appreciate it. When I get criticized, again I am very appreciative of it because it helps me grow; it makes stronger. Of course there is a humane side to it. It does hurt. We’re all human beings. The same people who applaud my performance in Paa calling it restrained, fantastic and subtle go around saying that this guy doesn’t know how to act in Raavan. Wait a second! In one film I know how to act and in another film, I don’t? It hurts but one has to understand that you’re working on a public platform and the audience decides whether you’re good or not. And they decide that film to film. It does hurt; it does shake you up. But you still have to keep doing it. You can’t allow that to ruin you or unsettle you. The kind of criticism I have received over the years has made me the actor I am today. I’ve taken it very positively. Here are people who are willingly telling you what’s wrong with you. You don’t have to do some major soul-searching to find out what went wrong with a film. People do that for you. So why look upon it negatively? Take the positive out of it.
How would you define yourself as an actor?
Work in progress – that’s the great thing about being an actor. You learn something every day. You learn something new about your craft every day and you learn how to improve your craft every day. You have to keep at it. Have I achieved what I want to achieve? No, I’m nowhere near that. Am I happy about the way things are going? Yes, I think I’ve made steady progress. When I look back over the 10 years I’ve spent here and when I look at my first film and then my latest film, I can see the improvement I have made. Am I happy with the rate of my progress? Most definitely and I shouldn’t be complaining at all. I am happy people give me an opportunity to be a part of films; I love it and I am passionate about it. I am content with the work I have done and I am very happy with the films I am doing in the coming years. There are going to be ups and downs; there will be hits and flops. No actor on earth or in the history of cinema has managed to avoid that. There has never been an actor who has 100 percent track record. It is a part of an actor’s life; you have to accept that and move on. You can’t allow it to be a stumbling block.
The new films you’ve signed now are rather diverse. But they’re all in-your-face entertainers. Has that been a conscious decision?
Yes, that’s true. My last four films were very intense and demanding. I was looking to do some light-hearted stuff. The last comedy I did was Dostana. It just so happened that these films fell in line. Game is a murder mystery, a genre I was looking forward to do. I’ve been a huge fan of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Movies like Murder On The Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun and Death On The Nile have been huge influences to me as a kid. I was lucky to get a movie like Game, which is a whodunit. Then there’s Rohan Sippy’s film, Dum Maro Dum, which is an action thriller. The character in this movie is that of a gritty, no-nonsense cop. Then there’s Players with Abbas-Mustan and I feel they’re just fantastic. I’m also doing Rajji’s (Santoshi) next film, Ladies And Gentlemen, which is a romantic comedy and Rohit Shetty’s Bol Bachchan, which is again a comedy. Plus there is Dostana 2 and Hera Pheri 4 as well. I’m very excited to do these films because they’ve allowed me to go out and have fun.
What’s the genre you enjoy the most?
I enjoy all of them. I am comfortable in all the roles because I love acting. I love comedy, action, drama and romance. There’s no favourite as such. It changes from film to film. Right now, I really want to do a comedy and make people laugh.
What about Dhoom 3 that everyone’s waiting for?
Dhoom 3 is being scripted right now. As and when Adi (Chopra) is happy with it, he will decide the rest of the star cast. Jay (his character) and Ali (Uday Chopra) are always going to be part of Dhoom. They are the foundation of the franchise.
There’s a general feeling that you seem most comfortable working in films that are made by your friends. Is that true?
I’m not going to do a movie with a friend just because he’s a friend. I did that at the start of my career because I had nothing to gain or lose. I’ve worked with them because I’ve enjoyed their scripts. Sometimes you get it right; sometimes you don’t. At that time, it was just the excitement of doing work. I was new and I had films in my kitty to boast of. So I worked with a lot of friends because I was very comfortable working with them. There was that energy and zest to make films and the new younger generation was coming up. Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Verma are dear friends of mine and we have made some highly successful films. I am not just a professional who’ll come on the sets, work and leave. I like the film set to become home ground for me. I like my co-actors and colleagues to be friends of mine. I should enjoy the process of doing the film because the eventual outcome is something that is not in my hands. But it should be a memorable journey, which is a huge contributing factor for me while
doing a film.
For a long time, people compared you to your father. Was it difficult?
No, I look upon it as a huge compliment. I am being compared to the best in the business. I’m my father’s son and I’m very proud of it. Why should I feel bad about it or feel that it works negatively for me? I have no problems with it.
What’s the best compliment he’s given you?
When he saw Guru, he got very emotional. After the show was over, he had tears in his eyes and gave me a big hug. He said that I had made him feel proud. And that is something I will never forget.
Do you still discuss with him the films you’re doing?
I discuss films with him for academic reasons. He’s never imposed upon me which film I should do or not do. I discuss my work with my entire family as that’s the kind of relation we share. Everybody goes harping about how star sons have it easy but I am possibly the only star son whose father did not launch him. In fact, I have produced a film for my dad, which was Paa. He’s always allowed me to have wings, learn by myself and this is how he has brought me up. He has never wanted to impose his thoughts and beliefs. He has always allowed me and my sister to have our own opinions.
That’s what makes you the person you are today?
We were never brought up as special children; we were brought like a middle-class Indian family. At home, paa is paa. We have never been given special privileges. I think the credit goes to my parents who have brought up me and my sister in a very normal atmosphere. I never thought of throwing around my father’s name for my own achievement. At the end of the day, whatever you have to do, you’ve got to do it yourself. I’ve never even analyzed this. If you are calling me humble today, maybe I am. It’s
not a conscious effort. It is just the way I live.
As an actor, what are the further avenues you’d like to explore?
The sky is the limit. As long as the makers have the faith in me and my ability to perform, I would like to attempt everything. I’m not the kind of person to say, “Oh, this is my goal” and “This is my dream role.” I’d like to try out everything. It’s much more fun that way.
You also seem rather comfortable in films with an ensemble cast. No question of power play?
That’s the kind of person I am. I am very confident of what I do. I am not insecure about another actor in the frame with me because I have the confidence to hold my own in front of that person regardless of who that person is. Secondly, I am not the actor who goes around cutting other people’s roles. If you know what the script is and the demands of the film are and if you have a problem with that then don’t do the film or ask the person to change things before you start the film. But once you are on the set, it is absolutely wrong to go about changing the scene or win over a scene or editing people out or whatever it is that people are accused of. For the record, I have never seen it happen though. I have worked with almost the entire industry but I’ve never faced this.
That’s the reason why such fewer multi-starrers are being made these days. Where do you see two top actors working together anymore?
I think they do but it all depends on the script. I have worked with almost every actor in the film industry. I have not worked with Ranbir Kapoor or Imran Khan but from my generation or the one before that, I have worked with each and every one except perhaps Aamir. I don’t think actors are like that. But I guess it’s a matter of security. I am very secure about who I am.
You’re also a producer now. How are you coping with that?
It’s very exciting. In a few months, we’ll start a new project with my father. It’s an action film to be directed by Puri Jagannath who’s from Hyderabad whose work I have followed very closely. We’re also close to locking a script with the two of us. Two more films will be ready to start rolling by the end of the year.
When would the audience be seeing all the four Bachchans in the same frame?
No one has approached us yet. It would be tough to because all four of us have to individually agree to want to do the film. We won’t just do the film because all four should be in it. As of now, there is nothing on the cards.
Tell me AB, how has marriage changed you?
A good marriage is one that does not change you. Why should marriage change anyone? You are just responsible for one more person. You should still be the person that you are. Your partner should allow you to be the person that you are.
With your busy schedules, do you two get enough time together?
Enough is never enough. You always want more time. You have to work at it. It is demanding to make time but you can make time. Sure there are long periods of separation because of the demands of the work. But there is a lot of understanding because we come from the same profession.