'I can't imagine making a film without Boman Irani'
Farhan Akhtar, writer, filmmaker and actor, came to New York last week with his director-sister Zoya Akhtar for the screening of Luck by Chance at the I View Film festival.
"Film festivals are important as they often provide an opportunity to look at a film from a fresh perspective," the 35-year-old filmmaker said.
He readily admitted that when he worked on a project he did not think of making a film that catered to a special audience. "It is the story that should hold my attention," he said. "I don't tell myself, I am going to make a film with a message or this is going to be a socially relevant film. Whatever films I make, the mandate is that it should touch the audiences and engage them from the first scene."
Akhtar, the son of writers Javed Akhtar (Sholay and Deewar) and Honey Irani (Lamhe and many other films), has collaborated with his father on several projects. He chats with Arthur J Pais:
What are some of the challenges you have set for yourself in the Don sequel?
Even when I was writing the script for Don, I suspected it could lead to a sequel. I wanted to be faithful to the original Don [which Javed Akhtar wrote with Salim Khan] but in my film, the villain lived. I was amazed at the way people were fascinated by this villain. Of course, they were not endorsing what he did but they were so intrigued and fascinated by him that they wanted so see more of him.
In the first film I felt the obligation to be faithful to the original Don to a great extent. I kept telling myself while making the first Don: don't try to be very smart. But now I feel I am free, and this is going to be my baby. At the same I know the audiences are expected many surprising twists in the sequel. One of my challenges is to know that the audiences are waiting for the big surprises and give them something they could not have imagined. It is not going to be easy but I feel it can be done.
Image: Boman Irani, director Tarun Mansukhani, Farhan Akhtar and John Abraham
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
'I don't think I will want Don 2 title'
People refer to it as Don 2?
I don't think I will want that title. The word Don would surely be a part of the title but at this stage I don't have one. I am concentrating on completing the script.
About the artists...
Shah Rukh will surely be there. And Priyanka Chopra and Arjun Rampal. I cannot imagine of making a film without Boman Irani.
Why is he so special to you?
He is a versatile artist -- and a great human being. And then how many actors do we have of his age that are so extraordinary? In the 1950s through 1980s, there were many stalwart character artists. But today there are so few. That is another reason to treasure Boman.
You have made big movies (Don, for instance) and you are also comfortable making smaller films such as Honeymoon Travels, and Rock On!!
This is what happens with me: When you hear a story and you feel that this story deserves to be made into a film. It is the story that decides the scope and the scale of the films. Some stories lend themselves to smaller films. There is no point in shooting a film like Honeymoon Travels in Greece and pretend it is taking place in Goa. The whole thing becomes fake, otherwise.
Image: A scene from Don
'I never impose myself on a director but will discuss how the character behaves'
You have directed some of the biggest artists of our times, including Amitabh Bachchan. Do you surrender yourself completely to your directors when you work as an actor?
I do but when they have signed me for their films, they expect certain amount of collaboration. I will never impose myself on a director but we will discuss how the character behaves. We have had very healthy discussions on the sets of Rock On!! and Luck by Chance.
As a seasoned director and a friend, what would you tell a director like Abhishek Kapoor and your sister Zoya?
I would tell that the biggest challenge for a director is to communicate clearly with the cast and crew. It is not enough to tell an artist that you want him to smile. Tell him why. Be aware of the tension and the unexpected. Never mind how tightly the script is written, never mind how well the preparations are, things go wrong. There are directors who go to the sets thinking that they have all the time in the world because they are so well prepared and then they face something unexpected and suddenly things are going awfully wrong.
How could one handle a situation like this?
Some directors go ahead and shoot even if they feel their creative voice is getting damaged. They hate the way the shots are taken, and they wish they could shoot the scenes again. In a situation like this, if you can afford to do so, tell the producers, the technicians and the artists that the shoot has to be postponed. It is better that way. Even if it costs extra money, the scenes could come out better and, in the long run, everyone gains as the film turns out to be better. But if you have already shot for many hours and you ask the producer for a re-shoot, it means a lot of money has been wasted, and there is going to be further costs. It is not an acceptable situation to most producers.
Image: A scene from Rock On!!
'After Rock On!!, I got offers from big companies to act'
You are a writer, director, producer and an actor. What is a key to your decisions?
Creative instincts. If my instincts say, go ahead and take the risk, I will do it. For instance, when I was writing Dil Chahta Hai, I began feeling I should direct the film, too. I was just about 25 and yet I forged ahead and directed it.
Do your instincts also tell you when not to do something?
Sure. After Rock On!! became a hit, I got offers from several big companies to act in their films. But something deep inside me told me that the films I was being offered just then weren't worth it, they were not going to help me grow as an artist.
Where else has your instincts asked you to say no?
From time to time people come to me with their stories and scripts. I had worked with some of them, as an assistant director or in some other capacity. I feel the scripts are not going to work out. I feel no moral obligation to these people however much I like them as people.
You like working with new artists and directors...
Surely, if the story and the script appeal to me, and the would-be filmmaker has fire in his heart and imagination.
Who are some of these people?
My own sister, Zoya. She first thought of making Luck by Chance over six years ago. She had to face a number of obstacles, including actors who did not take up the lead because the character was not that goody-goody type. But she persisted.
I have produced a film called Karthik Calling Karthik. It is directed by a bright man, Vijay Lalwani. I play the lead with Deepika Padukone. I cannot talk much about it except to say that it is a thriller and the audiences would have plenty of surprises in its plot.
Your instincts could have led to a film project which did not really work out to be a success. How do you feel then?
I would ask myself if the experience was worth something, if the project would be remembered for something. Take Lakshya for instance. The film was not as successful as people thought it would be.
Image: A scene from Luck By Chance
'I dropped out of college because I was miserable in commerce and math'
Eventually, it made money, didn't it?
Eventually, most films cover their money and make some profit. But even as Lakshya did not turn out to be a box office hit, I was not disappointed. I knew we had made a good film and many people appreciated it. We showed the film to top army officers and they -- as well as the soldiers -- told us that this was the Indian film that showed the army in the best way ever.
What kinds of people inspire you?
The people who believe in what they do, and rise above the circumstances to give out their best. I have admired Amitabh Bachchan as an artist for a very long time. Even if some of the films he has acted in are not good, you can feel that he is trying his best to give a dignified performance. On the other hand, there are artists who feel half way through the film that it is not going in the right direction. They lose their heart. But not Amitabh. The dedication and integrity in people like him are exemplary.
You are a self-made filmmaker; you learned a lot by watching films. Who were your teachers?
I would point out to a body of work. I learned a lot by watching the films scripted by Salim and Javed. Even their lesser known films such as Shakti, I felt, had amazing stories and scripts. I enjoyed the fun films such as Amar Akbar Anthony. Later on, when I was out of my teens, I began appreciating the films of Martin Scorsese and Akira Kurosawa. I admire every frame in a Kurosawa film. So much so I chose the name Akira for our first child.
Some people will say Akira is an unusual name for an Indian. Your second child also has an interesting name.
Actually we got it from our friends. They were thinking of naming their child Shakya but changed their mind and named her Dalai. So we got to use Shakya for our second daughter.
You dropped out of college. Do you have regrets?
I dropped out because I was miserable studying commerce and math. It wasn't that I did not have good teachers but my heart just wasn't there. I had taken commerce and math because many people I knew were studying the same courses. I too was going with the flow. In hindsight, I wish I should have continued. I had gone through two years of college, after all.
Surely, you will insist then that your daughters will not drop out.
(Chuckles) What if they don't enjoy the college? Of course, they have to think hard of the other options in college.
Image: A scene from Lakshya