Abhishek Bachchan gets candid about how the Indian cinema is becoming more visible because of social media platforms, and how he does no wish to be an overnight success, but rather mature over years.
Abhishek Bachchan strides in surrounded by a posse of guards but is completely devoid of any airs that most actors tend to ride high on. Wearing a grey-black jacket (even though it is quite warm outside) and strikingly flaming red shoes, the actor settles down to conversation while engaging in simultaneous banter with his co-stars Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal and the script writer Kanika Dhillon of his new film, Manmarziyan. It is this settled ease and comfort that makes him introspect and rationalise the industry with logic rather than gush. So when we ask him about the “content is king” formula that is sweeping the industry now, he doesn’t agree. “We have always made different kinds of cinema. The change is more visible now because of evolution of tastes and media. The platforms through which you can reach the audience form a wide and democratic bouquet by virtue of which we get a larger variety of subject matter,” says the actor.
As he talks, he emphasises words to make his point, taking care to select the appropriate one to describe what he wants to say. Believing that lines have blurred between media, he says the story is the only thing in focus. “If you go to these streaming devices, there are all kinds of cinema on offer. Even their original content spans a variety of subjects. They want to reach out to as many people as they can. You just have to make entertaining material. If whatever you do is entertaining and enriching, people will watch it. In a bid to understand why a film did well, we are breaking it down to more than it needs to be broken down. We attribute it to being set in a particular place or context. But most forget that it is a very simple tenet, make a good film, it will work,” says the 42-year-old actor.
This analytical mindspace is the reason that Abhishek is coming back after a break of two years with Anurag Kashyap’s unconventional love triangle Manmarziyaan. “I felt I was becoming complacent in my work space and that was the main reason why I decided to go on a break from film-making per se. Complacency is like slow poison. That is why I needed some time off. To just re-focus and I am glad that I did that.”
When he was ready to hear scripts again, this film came along. “It is the story that first attracted me. And when they told me that Anurag Kashyap was directing it, I was on. He was the reason I agreed to do the film. Anurag and a love story… I instinctively knew he was going to do something new, give it his magical spin. More than that I knew he would challenge me as an actor and that excited me. He is possibly one of the most gracious and loving directors that I have worked with but his standards are very high. He would not settle for just anything. So I knew he would be someone who would make you go to uncomfortable places that you need to go to for your job,” he says. Of course, there’s a degree of nostalgia too because his grandmother Teji Bachchan was a Sikh and Abhishek’s character dons a turban onscreen. “I think my Dadima would have been happy to see me as a sardar onscreen,” he says wistfully.
In the film Abhishek plays Robbie, an investment banker who lives in London. He comes to Amritsar where his parents live. He has agreed to an arranged marriage and meets Rumi, the character played by Taapsee, who in turn is marrying him because her boyfriend is commitment-phobic. “We sat down and Anurag came up with facets to his character. Although he looks a certain way and we worked on how he behaves, I worked on what he would not do. We thought of bringing in subtle elements of him being a banker in the way he would approach personal problems like his professional ones. Because you do tend to become a type when you work in a particular profession. He is not the kind of a definite character with a lot of attributes like the one I played in Guru. Keeping that in mind, I could explore a lot, which is nice, but at the same time tough because it took away a lot of the traditional armoury that an actor would get,” he adds.
And he does not want to characterise the film as his return to a character-driven role. “I think every film has its own journey and has its own story to tell. You should not try to characterise or slot a role as such,” he says and adds that Anurag incidentally worked on both Yuva and Guru – two films where he played unique characters. “He was one of the dialogue writers on Yuva and he was the writer of Guru but this is a unique and a very non-Anurag Kashyap kind of a film. It is new territory for him as well. That makes the journey exciting for him, too, because you have a director so out of his comfort mode.”
So while approaching roles, did Abhishek, who has often displayed a knack for comedy, engage in method acting or is it more of a spontaneous take for him? “You should ask my directors whether I am a method actor or a spontaneous actor. I have studied the method but everybody implements their own one. It cannot be categorised as method or spontaneous, it is too general. It changes according to everything around, including the director. Every day you grow as an actor. So you always use different kinds of approach. I have never found it easy to categorise that,” he says.
Having shared screen space with both his parents — Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan — as well as wife Aishwarya, who is the best co-star in the family? Undoubtedly, his dad. “As an actor, he disarms you, makes you very comfortable in front of the camera. But I know he is my dad, so I can go back home and can discuss my character with him. My experience with him is a combination of father-son and co-workers,” he tells us, adding, “I must mention that anybody who has worked with him would love to work with him again and again.”
And despite years of being subjected to constant comparisons with his illustrious parents, he has no qualms accepting his limitations. “I am okay with getting harsh comments if the audience doesn’t like my performance. They are spending money to watch my films and they have every right to be harsh. I have no problems with them being direct to me.”
Besides acting, Abhishek has also emerged as a successful sports promoter, having bought the pro-Kabaddi League franchise team, Jaipur Pink Panther and co-bought the Indian Super League football team Chennaiyin FC. However, he believes it would be too presumptuous of him to say that he was trying to rescue the two sports. “They are wonderful sports and they have had their fair share under the sun. Whatever the sports have achieved after the start of the leagues has entirely been due to these sportsmen. Sports is something that I am very passionate about and so the last five years have been very rewarding for me,” he says. Jaipur Pink Panther incidentally won the first championship held in 2014 and Chennaiyin FC won the ISL in 2015 and 2018.
Abhishek feels heartened by India’s recent showing at the Asian Games but goes on to add, “Today’s world expects overnight results. Nothing happens overnight, especially in sports. There is a very famous quote that says, ‘it takes years and years of sacrifice and hard work to become an overnight success.’ It will happen as we are on the right trajectory,” he says and points to the example of the Indian football team which in the last four years has climbed in FIFA rankings.
As one who embraces new media with glee, Abhishek feels that while the outreach is fantastic, the focus on celebrity children is a bit intrusive. “I wish it would not happen but it’s unlikely that I can wish it away. This is the life that Aishwarya and I chose but it is not the life Aradhya or any of the other children have chosen. Let them grow up as normally as possible. When they do grow up and if they decide to be a part of the industry, you can focus on them. Till then let them be just children,” he says, signing off.
Writer: Saimi Sattar
Courtesy: The Pioneer