I had the privilege to attend the Farhan Akhtar screen talk at the London Indian Film Festival in England, London. It was great to sit back and witness the creative genius narrate what he has been through from day one till the present date and what he intends to do in the future. A perfect professional public figure to help motivate and inspire those who were present in the audience.
So the evening began with Farhan Akhtar taking center stage at the London Indian Film Festival, he was greeted with a standing ovation and why shouldn’t he be getting that? I mean, he is a creative genius after all and has made Indian cinema modern and as mentioned before, very creative with his vision. But he didn’t let this screen talk be about a question being asked by the interviewer and Farhan answers it. Farhan was embracing the love from London audience and sharing jokes straight away.
This multitalented individual shared his career in segments; here is the transcript of the conversation today-
Interviewer – So you were born in Mumbai to a very prestigious family FARHAN AKHTAR – Well I was born in Mumbai to A family (laughter)
So you now can sense the kind of evening we were going to be graced with as Farhan was bouncing off with humor in his answers. Farhan shared his childhood memories of when many directors and actors would enter his household. When asked if Farhan would be locked in a room when talented people would come to visit. ‘I was locked in the bathroom once in a while. But it is true a lot of people came over. Directors, when you’re a child you are only interested in seeing actors. You had no idea what a director looks like, what a director does. But when the actors would come, me and my sister would be really shy to go and say hello’.
In regards to growing up and if Farhan knew what he was doing or wanted to do. Farhan let it all out in terms of how his decision came about. ‘When I finished school, got into college, I think I made a mistake. Mistake was to just go ahead and do a course, which was a degree. College was a time that I felt was you can attend it if you felt like attending. I got thrown out for lack of attendance (laughs) I took that very seriously. I watched movies whilst not attending’. Despite getting kicked out Farhan knew he taught himself something. ‘I educated myself very well in the art of viewing and unfortunately accounting and economics failed terribly.
Farhan’s early entry into the cinema and the lessons he learnt from it, ‘Well the first job that I had was not because I wanted to work, I had to do it for not getting thrown out of the house because my mum said she had enough. Get back in college, or find something to do and not sitting at home, if nothing changes then you have to leave the house. It’s amazing motivation of being thrown out of the house because within a week I found myself a job, working as an assistant director. I was giving clap (clapperboard on set) being on set and enjoyed that process.
As for mistakes being made, Farhan recalled that one mistake he did make, so even perfectionists can make mistakes. ‘One very big mistake I made when giving the clap, so I gave the clap and all I heard was the actress say ouch! Now that mistakes have been singled out, Farhan went on to obtained another job ‘So there moved on to advertising and that is really where I learned a lot of what I used in Dil Chahta Hai. I was told by my guru who recognized my writing potential and told me to sit down for 1 hour everyday in front of the computer and write down what’s going on in your mind. I would sit there every single day and at times not write anything. But still sit there and eventually that is how the script of Dil Chahta Hai came along.
Farhan declared the development behind the characters in Dil Chahta Hai. ‘We travelled around for 3 months as an experience, not really about the film but just our open experience, freedom and bonding with my friends. A lot of that came in to this film. Every single character Akash, Sid, Sameer the three protagonists in the film. All of them are a blend of people that I know.
One stand out moment that Farhan remembers was people tweeting him photos in Goa where they re-capture scenes of them with their friends on one of the prime locations. ‘Whatever is going on you always have that one time for each other, there is sometimes silences when you don’t need to say anything, it is about taking in and being comfortable where you are and who you are with. What is amazing actually now after all these years is that the amount of people who have travelled to this location in Goa as friends, taking a picture exactly like this and sent it to me. Seriously it brings a smile to my face when they caption it, as this is our Dil Chahta Hai moment. It shows the beauty of how 3 people being comfortable with each other just resonates with everyone.
Remaking the original Don, Farhan said, ‘It’s a remake of the one made in 1978 which was written by my father and his writing partner. They created this character played by Mr. Bachchan of whom I was fascinated by when I was a kid. I am a huge fan of Mr. Bachchan. I grew up watching and idolizing him. First 15 minutes he played this really dark character and I remember being so scared of him. I wondered how can someone I love so much scare me? It stayed with me that film and I felt it would be great to translate and to bring to a newer younger audience with Shahrukh who I think has the personality to pull such role off.
When discussing Shahrukh’s character, the topic was raise about him having an identical twin in the movie and Farhan took his chance to joke around once more. He said, ‘All Indians have an identical twin. There’s a reason were 1.2 Billion population’. The venue erupted into laughter to which the interviewer Nick James could not control his laughter and needed to take a breather.
Shooting with Shahrukh Khan for Don ‘the thing with Shahrukh more often is that we didn’t go more than 3 takes. I told him always that his take 1 and take 2 is the best. In Don this was the first time we worked together, we hung out a lot which is why it was easy to work with him’.
Farhan was asked to demonstrate the snake dance routine of which he raised himself that he and Shahrukh Khan had that one of many things in common. The crowd witnessed a mini skit of snake dancing by Farhan for a few seconds.
How do you manage doing roles of producer and actor? ‘In all honesty the production burden and pressure is handled by Ritesh, my involvement as the producer is to say this is the film we should be making, sitting with the director and working creatively. I don’t get involved at all in budgeting a film. I am completely reliant on Ritesh on all else. We balance it out, I handle all the creative and he does all the executive stuff that all needs to be done’.
Asked whether directing is something he wants to move away from? ‘No I would definitely would like to direct again. By far I think it is my first love. I feel at this point the things I am getting to do, as an actor is very age related. This is a time where people think you are hungry to do certain level of work so this is a good time in experimenting with new roles and more films. But will definitely get back to directing’. Farhan was pushed to answer, if it is soon that he aims to do such thing to which he replied, ‘I would hope to maybe in 2 years. I get a lot of time for writing. A lot of the films I have directed came with a gap of 2 or 3 years. So within that period I usually write. A lot of material is there already lined up that will eventually make it’s way’.
Farhan then described the Rock On movie and the storyline but the crowd were in for a surprise as the crowd pleaded for him to sing to which he obliged and performed the acapella along with the audience of the song titled ‘Rock On’.
How the singing started in Rock On movie, ‘Singing for the film turned out for me as an audition. The director Abhishek Kapoor who randomly met me in a bar at Mumbai. I hadn’t before acted in a film nor sang a song publicly. He said to me when you speak in interviews, your voice is the type I am looking to use for my film.
When asked by the director if Farhan could sing? ‘I said let’s meet tomorrow in the studio and do a test. He had no idea I play the guitar so I landed there with my guitar and he must have thought I am taking this role a bit too seriously. We recorded our track and that was that. Singing was very essential in with this performance. That is how it came together, a wonderful experience’.
Acting taking off, Farhan had an insight to his journey so far, ‘In between Rock On and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I worked in a film called Luck By Chance which was by Zoya, she made this as her first film. Wrote it in 2002 and filmed it in 2009 but the issue was that we were struggling to find somebody to play the lead for it. We were producing and met every single actor who we could meet and who fit that part but they turned it down so the film kept getting postponed and Zoya kept getting depressed as she wanted to make this first. So after Rock On I felt really good about the acting process so I said I will play that part. Strange thing is that the film is about this same situation, many people saying no to that film and eventually I get casted. Then came Karthik Calling Karthik and so on’.
On from Luck By Chance to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, ‘When we finished with Luck By Chance which was Zoya’s first film, it was a very huge cast involved. When she was done with it she was very tired working with so many actors. She was like the next film that I do I just want 3 boys in a car. Then she went off and wrote it. Reema and her had this idea essentially of Abhay’s character of someone who is engaged, going to get married but is having second thoughts and how friends are so important. It probably is the most fun shoot I have ever done in my working career so far’.
Working with Abhay and Hrithik, ‘15th July was 3 years since ZIndagi Na Milegi Dobara released. It is amazing the amount of messages you get, the number of people it connected with. For me like I said working with Abhay and Hrithik, were all friends and that translated really well in the film because we have known each other really well. So there’s no actor ego involved whatsoever. Nobody is trying to be better than the other. Everyone is wanting for the other person to look good. I think that is also the nature of the film and that shows.
On the portrayal of the friendship in his work to his personal life, ‘Friendship is a very important part of life. What my friends represent to me and how they’ve been there for me at times when I really felt alone or felt like I needed some kind of support’.
On Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Maston Ka Jhund dance sequence, ‘There’s just three actors. There’s the one who first does the beat boxing, my friend who I am talking to in the beginning and myself. Everyone else is actually an army cadet. So we got all of them and said dance and have some fun. It was a great experience’.
As the evening was set to come to an end, a Q&A session was scheduled before Farhan took his leave. Here are the questions that some members of the audience in the public as well as myself asked Farhan Akhtar.
1. We admire your father and his writing style and the influence of Urdu. How good is your Urdu? ‘No I can’t read or write Urdu. I can speak it and understand it only’.
2. From all the movies you have made, which one is most closest to your heart? ‘It’s impossible to answer that. But I think Dil Chahta Hai would have a special place. If it wasn’t for that film, I don’t know if I would be here at all’.
3. You have done many roles from acting to producing. is there anything else that you would like to achieve and fulfill? ‘I haven’t thought about it, I don’t know, I think given everything that is going on right now from my professional life to my kids, a lot of time needs to be given to the kids. So I haven’t thought about different roles, I feel very grateful for everything going on right now and I hope it continues. But if something comes along and gets my interests then I will devote some time in to it’.
4. During Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, how did you motivate yourself to go through such a punishing regime? ‘When I met Rakeysh he was so motivated by Milkha. His biggest hero was Milkha Singh as Rakeysh was also a sportsman. When I met him I could see he is in love with this and the story. That really did motivate me and when I met Milkha of course he told me everything that went on in his life. So it felt you have to do whatever it takes so when they watch the movie, Rakeysh sees me on the set, he wouldn’t feel bad about casting me in this film. This really kept me going. I don’t regret one single day of anything that I did in that film.
5. When you wrote your first film, did you ever have fear or thought twice before going in to production with it? ‘No actually on the first film the last thing you have is fear. you are just so excited and happy that you’ve got a chance to make a film. That you don’t think about what is going to happen when it releases. I try my best to feel that way before I write any film that do. It’s not easy but I do try that because there’s no fear of failure because you feel that there’s this one chance that you have. So if it works then great, if it doesn’t work then you go back to what you were doing before that. That feeling gives you a lot of strength in your conviction to do it the way you want to do it and I try my best to get myself mentally and emotionally back to that place every single time when I work on a film, it’s not easy but I do try’.
6. Where do you see Indian Cinema standing currently now as a lot has changed since you first came in to it? ‘Well, everything is becoming mainstream, there is a great emergence of new talent who’s influences is just not based on films that were made in their languages, there has been influences from all over the world. I feel it will now get even more powerful as a voice, the young filmmaker voice to deliver his or her story. I think that is the big change’.
7. What is your relationship like with your sister, do you fight and argue alot? ‘No not anymore, there used to be a time where we would fight a lot, we are a year and a half apart so there was always a jostle for space’.
8. As audience members we find ourselves getting attached to characters, as a director when you are creating characters and as an actor you have to be one, how do you detach yourself from one to another one? ‘It’s definitely easier as a director because you are working on something that you are giving to someone else to bring in to life. I think they will get a lot more attach to it. You are attached to your film and at times it takes time to move on from that film but with characters it can be a little bit dicey depending on what part it is. Like a film like Rock On or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is so close to how I feel and who I am. It doesn’t take too much to get in and get out but with Karthik Calling Karthik for example or with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, it was a huge process of getting in and eventually working that character out of my system. It’s not easy because you are living a life for that period of time. Like for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag it was roughly from 18-19 months of living like how Milkha Singh lived, of training like him, eating like him, looking like him. So every time for a year and a half if you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing this one person and suddenly one day you go and shave, you feel some kind of removed from what your reality was for all this time. It is a process, but also very important to move on but it’s not easy.
A great night ended as Farhan took in the standing ovation from the crowd. As a bonus I have attached the audio of my question of course, as well as Rock On singing session and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara poetry recited by Farhan himself.