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I would have loved to be the fifth Beatle: Farhan

September 7, 2008, 5:06 PM IST India India

The theme of this season of To Catch a Star is Rising Talents. The show brings bright young actors, filmmakers, and technicians who stand out from the crowd by virtue of the sheer promise they exude. This season the show is dedicated to find out what makes this new genre of rising stars choose their craft and what makes them tick. Rajeev Masand: My guest today is an accomplished director who recently made a detour into acting and walked away with rave reviews. In the months ahead, he will be working both as an actor and a director but today we are going to talk to Farhan Akhtar strictly about acting. Are you surprised by all the responses to your performance in Rock On? Farhan Akhtar: Pleasantly, yes. The thing is that my harshest critics normally are my dad, Shabana, my mom, my sister, Baba, Tanvi Azmi and a couple of other people like that. And I make sure whether as a director and now as an actor, I always show them my work first. And when they turned around and told me that my performance is good, well done and we are very surprised, we didn't expect it to be the way it was. After that I really felt confident about other people watching it. The only other occasion that I was a bit nervous was when Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) came to watch the movie. I am a tremendous fan of his talent, and I just really wanted to know what he thought about the performance of course, and the movie as well. Rajeev Masand: And what did he say? Farhan Akhtar: He liked it. He thought the performance was really well etched. He didn’t feel that it was a first time performance. He felt that it was a mature performance. I quite enjoyed hearing that from him. Rajeev Masand: Tell me, you are trained to be a director, when you watch your own performance, is it sort of awkward, are you self conscious? Farhan Akhtar: It took a while to get used to seeing myself and even more to hear myself, which is worse I think. But as a director, it is difficult to be that objective because in the process of doing it, you made choices that you thought you were right for that emotion and for that moment and for the dialogue. So, it is very difficult to sit back and say, it is wrong. I can’t be that objective. I can be about other peoples’ performances in the film. For me, Arjun’s (Arjun Rampal) performance cwas something that surprised me. When I saw it, I called him up and told him that it is probably your best performance till date. Apart from that, Shahana’s and Purab’s performances were standout performances. Rajeev Masand: Apparently, you said that your parents were very surprised, shocked almost when you announced that you wanted to be a director a couple of years ago. They were always expecting you to be an actor. Farhan Akhtar: Yes, given my interest in movies, my constant impersonation of dialogue from other people, I think it just kind of led them to believe that I would be an actor. Also, at one point I used to lie, make of lots of stories and then I really had to be really good at maintaining that façade. So, they were quite convinced that it would be that. So, dad was quite shocked. I was living with mom, so she new that I was writing a script. It wasn’t that much of a surprise for her, but with dad it was a bit of a surprise when I went to him and said that I have written this script and I have spoken to Aamir and he was saying what’s going on. Please tell me what’s happening. Yes, they did think that I was becoming an actor. Rajeev Masand: Who were the actors you mimicked in the mirror when you were growing up? Farhan Akhtar: The one that I mimicked the most was Robert De Niro. Still I am a huge fan of his. I look forward to his movies. There is one coming up with Al Pacino, what more could anybody ask. It was him (De Niro) that I mimicked the most. PAGE_BREAK Rajeev Masand: You grew up in an environment of actors. I know that actors walked in and out of your home, were you enamoured by the larger-than-life persona, by the glamour or did you really want to act? Farhan Akhtar: I was taken in by the whole appeal of seeing somebody who is a big star and I keep watching him on VHS tapes in my home. Whether its Amit uncle (Amitabh Bachchan) or Rishi uncle (Rishi Kapoor), so many other people, they would just drop in and we would drop in at their house, and you felt so fortunate to be able to meet these people. I was completely taken in by that. I remember when we used to play games and there would be Goldie Behl, Abhishek, Hrithik, myself, and Uday and everyone saying I want to be Amitabh Bachchan instead of saying I want to be a batman or a superman, but I want to be Amitabh Bachchan. We were really taken aback. Rajeev Masand: Apparently you spent two years just watching films, day in and day out on VHS. You pretty much lived on it. Was that your education almost? Farhan Akhtar: Yes, that was kind of like my film school for two years. Rajeev Masand: Who were the actors and what were their performances that blew your mind? Farhan Akhtar: There are many. Apart from a lot of them by Amitabh Bachchan himself. When I started watching those movies, I first decided that I wanted to watch all of Robert De Niro’s work. That is what it started with. Because till then I had watched all the Hindi movies that there were. I primarily used to watch Hindi movies. After I watched the Untouchables, where I saw him (De Niro) as Alcapone. I was like, “Oh my god, this is fantastic.” So, I went and I saw Taxidriver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets and whatever I could get my hands on, The King Of Comedy and I watched all of those. Then my uncle, my dad’s brother, who is a psychoanalyst asked me about my fascination with these movies and I said, I don’t know. I just like to keep watching films. So, he said in that case what I should do probably is just list down 10 people that I really liked and just get all their work and just watch all of it and make notes of what I liked and not liked. I never really got into making the notes but I did start watching a lot more movies. So it went from really liking De Niro to watching Martin Scorsese, then watching Francis Ford Coppola, and watching Al Pacino. So it was a little chain that formed. By the end of it was watching everything and anything that kind of came my way. Rajeev Masand: Then at what point did you decide that you didn’t want to be an actor and veered towards writing and making films?. Farhan Akhtar: It started primarily from my interest in photography. I was really into still photography. Baba had given me his camera and I used to go around and click pictures, use my friends as guinea pigs. While I was doing that, mom said that if I was so interested in photography why don’t I become an assistant cinematographer. So it sounded like a logical thing to do. I could not go to a film school to do cinematography because you needed to be a graduate in science, which I was not. So, I would only work as an apprentice. I joined Manmohan Singh at that point. While I was working with him, I kind of noticed what the assistant director does, which is a more holistic view of filmmaking as opposed to just one aspect. I found that really attractive because they were in-charge of, apart from the visual element, also in charge of telling the story and maintaining that the continuity of it is the same. I found that really amazing because everything that I had watched till then, that seemed like the right fit. Rajeev Masand: Now Dil Chahta Hai, your first film as a director was a coming of age story, I think you have said that the bits of it are autobiographical, were you never tempted to do one of the roles. Farhan Akhtar: No never. I was very sure that I wanted to direct it after writing it. I didn’t want to burden myself with an additional responsibility of also having to play a character. Apart from that, I didn’t think about it. I was very taken in by wanting to make it. I didn’t feel ready internally to be ready to act. I think it would have been an immature decision at that point. Even as much as I would have felt like a whim of why not, everyone is debuting, so why should I not debut too? Again, I think it comes from watching all these movies and you read about these actors and directors, and you see how responsible they are towards their craft. I don’t want to treat is lightly. I am entering a world and club of people who have done some amazing work before me. I want to be in that club. I don’t like doing a work just for the sake of doing it. I really want to be happy and extremely responsible for my work. That is very important to me. Rajeev Masand: Your cousin Farah Khan and you spent your youth dancing a lot apparently, tell us something. PAGE_BREAK Farhan Akhtar: Yes, (laughs). Farah, apart from being a great dancer, was a member of a dancing troupe called Sphinx and there was her, other four other boys and there used to be the amazing dance competitions that used to happen in the 80s. Unfortunately, now they have all move to television, where live audience would come whether they be at Sea Rock Hotel or at Horizon Hotel, ‘disco duo’ and all that stuff. It was fascinating to watch them. It was amazing to watch it live. There is one thing to watch it live and there is one thing to watch the edited versions on televisions. So she saw that I was interested in dancing, so she would teach me a lot of things. And would go with her to the beach where they rehearsed. Arshad Warsi would also be there. These amazing dancers would teach me all these break-dance moves and all that stuff. At parties they used to perform and then once in a while Farah would call me and we would work out an act and we would do it together. Rajeev Masand: When you were on the sets as an actor working on Rock On, did you absolve yourself off all other responsibilities, like even being the producer on the set so that you could concentrate wholly on this job? Farhan Akhtar: Absolutely, I didn’t get involved in the production aspect unless I was asked to for something specific. Even as a director, I didn’t really get involved with Abhishek unless he wanted some advice from me in terms of experience that I had been through this, so what I thought was the right thing to do. But apart from that, I was very solely focused on wanting to create this character the way I wanted him to be. So all my focus went in on that. Rajeev Masand: Taking off from what you said, was it difficult to put the director in you into a box and keep it aside and just be the actor. Is it easy to compartmentalize these skills? Farhan Akhtar: I guess for the first few days, I was a bit fidgety mainly because as a director , you don’t have time on the set for yourself. You are constantly working with people and suddenly as an actor, between set ups you have a lot of time, 40 minutes at times, and you don’t know what to do. I used to really get curious as to what was going on. Because I have been there and I wondered why was it taking so long? So that kind of stuff did happen. I would keep asking the AD (assistant director) what’s going on, don’t keep me out of the loop like this. But eventually, I got used to it, and being in capable hands always helps. Once you know that the directors are doing a good job, you don’t really feel the need to go on and start getting involved when it is flowing so well. Rajeev Masand: What did you discover about yourself as an actor from working on Rock On? Farhan Akhtar: The biggest thing that I discovered is that if I put my mind to playing a character and once I have decided that yes I must do it, then it is possible for me to create somebody new. I somehow feel that I still have to learn to play a character that is going to be so detached from my personality and you feel like this person at all and I have to become him. Rajeev Masand: Is that a challenge you are looking forward to? Farhan Akhtar: If it comes my way , the story is interesting and the character is interesting, then why not. But still of course with this, it is one step. It is not me but at the same time, there is parts of me. With the Fakir of Venice, it is way more removed, which was my first film actually. So it helped be because it was stretching my imagination about creating somebody a lot more that Rock On did, so that did help. Rajeev Masand: Do you remember your first day of shooting for Rock On? Farhan Akhtar: Absolutely, the first day of the film is the first scene of the film where we are kind of putting Socha Hain (song in the movie) together , which was actually quite nice because everyone was basically making a song. It was a nice environment to be in. Strangely enough, this was the first scene that we shot and the last scene of the film was actually the last scene of the film and everything in between was not chronological. Rajeev Masand: You clearly worked out for your role? PAGE_BREAK Farhan Akhtar: No I work out regardless of my role. I have been working out since 2004. Rajeev Masand: There is the famous shower scene in the film. It seems almost like a cliché that if you are wanting to be actor, you must work out. Farhan Akhtar: I must tell you a very strange story. When I was working out and at that time, I had no intention of acting whatsoever. I had just finished Lakshya and I was preparing for Don. So everyone said, working out? Hero ban na hain? (you want to be a hero?) and I said no I was just working out. It is just for fitness. I want to stay fit and what is wrong with that. And then I went to shoot for Fakir of Venice and I was training at a gym there (in Venice) and there was an old Italian man who came to me and said, “Are you a sportsman?” So, I said no I am an actor. It was the weirdest thing. For them (the Italians), when you are in a gym, you are training hard, then you must be a sportsman or a fitness freak. They don’t equate it to being an actor . It felt so weird to answer that because all this time, I was saying that it was just for fitness. Rajeev Masand: You have just completed you second film Luck By Chance which is directed by your sister Zoya. What drew you to this character?. Farhan Akhtar: It is very difficult to talk about him. I like the grey in him. Again, whether it is Fakir of Venice or Rock On and in Luck by Chance, these characters are not clean cut good people. They all have their weaknesses. Aditya (Farhan’s character in Rock On) in some level does compromise his creativity for success. So that pisses off one of his friend. Similarly in Fakir of Venice, he does things which are very selfish. In Luck By Chance, there is a streak in this guy which is not really the best thing that you want in a person. So, that is what I like about these characters. I don’t like the straight bad or straight good. I find these characters interesting in that they are really good and can also be not so good. I find them interesting because they are very real people. So, his character is a very interesting character. He has come here who is very happy to manipulate the system to his advantage. He uses whomever he wants, to use to reach to his eventual goal. I found him to be a very life-like character and very difficult character to play. Rajeev Masand: You have worked with Aamir, Shah Rukh, Amitabh Bachchan, Shabhana Azmi, what qualities do the best actors share? Farhan Akhtar: It is difficult to pick any one such thing but I think their like I said initially, their responsibility towards their craft is the biggest thing that they have. We know many whether it is actors, directors, or writer in all fields, people who do film, want to be a part of film for other thing than just art. If you are true to what you are doing, if you are responsible towards what you are doing and you do it sincerely and while you are working you don’t know anything else, everything else will come because you will draw it to you. So I feel they all have that when they work, they are so focused about what they are doing, nothing else matters to them more than that role, that scene, that dialogue and being on that set, nothing else. Everything else is gone. This is who they are and they are that person. That is truly commendable. Rajeev Masand: If acting could be learnt from watching great actors work, name five textbook performances that every young actor should watch and learn from. Farhan Akhtar: Wow, I think probably Robert De Niro in Taxidriver, Al Pacino in the Godfather, Marlon Brando in Street Car Named Desire, Amitabh Bachchan in Deewaar and Aamir in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Rajeev Masand: You have said that you don’t see yourself as a director-turned-actor, but as a director who also acts. Farhan Akhtar: Yes that is true. Rajeev Masand: Is that how you sort of perceive yourself, as a director first? Farhan Akhtar: Yes, as a director first. The thing is that with acting, I will have to wait for something that is going to really excite me to come along and to want to do it. I am not prepared emotionally or creatively to be able to direct myself because direction takes too much of me to focus just on one character. So, I can’t do that. Again when I direct, I can write the story that I want to make, so it is under my control. And I know when I want to do it and when I can do it. With acting, it is going have to come to me from some place else. Unless I am not one hundred per cent about it, like I had been about these movies, I don’t want to do it. Rajeev Masand: Which is why you know what you are going to direct next , which is Voice from The Skies, but not necessarily what you are going to act after Lucky By Chance Farhan Akhtar: No I don’t. Rajeev Masand: Finally, can you think of one film that you saw recently that made you wish that I was in this? Farhan Akhtar: No, I have never felt like that. The only thing that I have ever felt that I wanted to be a part of was Beatles I would have loved to be the fifth Beatle. Apart from that, nothing. I have loved things when I have watched them. It is strange. Even when I was casting for Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir was meant to do Akshay’s part. The part that Aamir actually did. Many other people came and went. But can you imagine if Hrithik had said yes or if Abhishek had said yes, how the film would be. These situations are too hypothetical because what it becomes is what it is, probably wouldn’t be the same film. So you don’t what to upset that. You just appreciate things for that they are and just like wow, that is good enough, but the Beatles are really what I would like to be of. Rajeev Masand: Thank you for talking with us. And of course we’re eagerly looking forward to seeing what you do next both as an actor and a director.