Thursday, August 7, 2014

Farhan Akhtar Centrestage

Farhan Akhtar Centrestage

Thu July 31, 2014

Director/actor/lyricist/singer Farhan Akhtar was the prime attraction at Cary Sawhney’s 5th London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) held July 10 to 17. LIFF presented a sold-out, fan-filled “Farhan Akhtar Screen Talk ” moderated by perfect foil Nick James, the genial editor of the esteemed journal, Sight and Sound. Farhan captivated the audience from the word go. There is no trace of stardom in the way he presents himself. He dresses simple, talks straight and has an amazing aptitude for fun, the double take and the surprise move. Within that ready wit is a mind that works clear and targeted to his aspirations. Excerpts follow …

Early upbringing
Farhan said he was familiar with the movie scene from childhood because of his high-profile parents (Jaaved Akhtar and Honey Irani). In college he took commerce. “Big mistake”.

He preferred staying home watching movies. Until his irate mother said either he studied, worked or he could leave the house. “It’s amazing how well that motivation worked. Within a week I was working as an assistant director.” He recounted an instance when he had to hold the clapper board for a scene at a highly contorted angle very close to the actor’s body. When he shut the capper board, the actor said “Ouch!”. Poker-face, Farhan said he had chopped a bit of the actor’s anatomy “And it was not his nose”. The audience was in splits. Farhan went on to work in an advertising company called Script Shop. “That’s where I learnt a lot of what I used on my first film.”

Celebrated debut as director
Dil Chahta Hai (2001) starring Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna  was Farhan’s directorial debut. The film is on male bonding.  Its theme, he said, grew out of a 3-month  extended trip he made alone to the US  in 1996  . “I was 22 at the time.” ( “There – I’ve have given away my age!.”  Minutes later he said his sister Zoya was two years older than him . “Please don’t say I said so – you read it somewhere!”.)  He added that his experiences on this trip  in terms of freedom and friendship came into his first film.  The characters are a blend of people I know.”

There is a famous scene in the film where the three men remain silent, faces turned away, looking out  into an endless sea. “I wanted to convey the beauty of three people being comfortable with each other.” Farhan sees this as the power of silence between close friends. He still gets cards from others replicating this scene. The film also broaches a taboo subject: one among them, (Akshaye Khanna) defending his attraction towards an older woman who has alcohol problems (Dimple Kapadia) which leads to a rift.

Farhan established himself as a cult mainstream  director  with this film and his subsequent ones Don (2006)  a remake of the 1978 classic Amitabh Bachchan starrer which was co-written by Farhan’s father Javed Akhtar.  Farhan cast Shah Rukh Khan in the negative role as the gangster Don.  He said that he that and Shah Rukh were good friends and enjoyed playing the same gags. They often did the snake dance together. When asked to demonstrate Farhan immediately lay down on the stage floor and slithered his way …
He did the same through his 90-minute talk when asked to sing a song, recite poetry (he did this seriously and with fervor),  and rise to his feet to hug a two-year-old who kept saying “me, me,,me” and a male fan who he had inspired. Being game comes naturally to Farhan.

Acting debut as singer and star
In Rock On (2008), Farhan made his acting debut playing rockstar Aditya Shroff about a band that breaks up and gets together ten years later.  “The film really is about how when people connect with something they love (in this case music), no matter where they go or what they do, they will eventually end up connecting with it again, Because their passion for something which they had created together is so strong.” The director Abhishek Kapoor had no idea that Farhan played the guitar or that he sang.”  One jamming session settled that score. Farhan then acted in films that introduced his sister Zoya as another forward-thinking director. In Luck By Chance he played the emotionally adrift, exploitative young Bollywood director . Farhan’s next was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara  acting as the quirky poet Imraan  for which he was highly lauded.

Farhan’s crowning success as actor is the recent Bhag Milkha Bhag. “When I met Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra I could see that he wanted to share his love for Milkhaji’s story  with people. That really did motivate me. And when I met Milkhaji, he told me everything that went on in his life.” Farhan modestly added that reassuringly, all through the shoot, he felt that both Rakyesh and Milkhji felt that they had not made a bad decision in casting him. “That really kept me going and I don’t regret one single day of anything that I did on that film.”

The film scene today
Rounding up his exhilarating talk, Farhan said,  “I  don’t see my kind of films as ‘parallel’ or ‘new wave’ – they are actually part of  Bollywood mainstream.”  He added that Indian filmmakers should be bolder in bringing taboo topics to the big screen. “There’s a kind of  strange system of censorship, of not thinking about certain things as topics for film; ‘Our film may not get a release, so let’s not bother. Courage is the most important thing that filmmakers and writers need to have. New filmmakers want to tell stories that are more in tune with who they are – as opposed to what it is people want to see.”
Credited with bringing a new sensibility to Bollywood, creating more realistic and engaging storylines and taking more chances on challenging audiences, Farhan  concluded by saying that has several themes as subjects to write about, that he would continue to act, and that direction remained his primary love.

Courtesy: - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

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