As a performer, Farhan Akhtar has pursued his interests in multiple directions. He has made some of Bollywood’s most memorable films in recent years, taken up challenging and off-beat roles in his acting career, done playback for several films, and produced popular OTT shows. He speaks to Saumya Mehrotra about his life in cinema and his new film, The Sky Is Pink.
Q. We have heard about how Priyanka Chopra and the director Shonali Bose were emotionally attached to The Sky is Pink. Making the film was a cathartic experience for them. What about you? How was the experience for you?
A. For Shonali, it was an opportunity to share the experience of losing someone near and dear. For Priyanka, too, the story was relatable, maybe because of what she has gone through in life. But for me it was a wonderful love story. It is not just a love story of Niren and Aditi [played by Farhan and Priyanka],which it is; but it is also the love story of a family. The one thing that I can identify with is the love parents have for their children, and how unimaginable a situation it must be for them when they are told that their child will pass soon. But in this film, the way the family came together, the strength that they found in themselves and each other to be able to give an amazing life to their girl Aisha [played by Zaira Wasim] while she was with them… I found it to be very inspirational.
Q. Being directed by Shonali Bose, who is known for portraying strong female characters in her movies, did you have any apprehensions as to how your character might appear on the screen?
A. No, I don’t approach movies with these things in mind—I don’t think about strong male or strong female characters. The role just has to be substantive, that is what is important. You know, like the character of Sunny in the movie Dil Dhadakne Do, where, co-incidentally, I was with Priyanka. It is not about the size of the role you are playing or about how many scenes you have or how many you don’t have; it is not at all about that. It really is about what it is that you are contributing to the film. In this movie, Niren is an equal partner in this journey that this couple goes through. So, I never had these apprehensions about who will be in the centre of the film, or whether she would be focusing more on the female lead. These thoughts never crossed my mind.
Q. Your association with Priyanka Chopra goes a long way back, to 2006, when you were making Don. How has she changed as an actor from Don to The Sky is Pink?
A.See, each film makes you more experienced as an actor. It teaches you about things. You get a better understanding of your craft as you go along and that is something that one could feel working on this film with her. She just has a lot more experience of the kind of work she does, but there is a certain part of her on the flip side which is as enthusiastic and as excited as a newcomer would be. Like, I remember her in Don, when she was new. And her enthusiasm and excitement in The Sky is Pink was exactly the same. I absolutely love and enjoy working with her as a director and co-actor. It is absolutely enjoyable.
Q. As a filmmaker yourself, what kind of cinema are you being drawn to these days?
A. I don’t know if I can answer that honestly, because in my case it really depends on the film. I don’t have any particular genres or any particular language of cinema that excites me more than the other. I love watching trailers of films, no matter where they come from, and any trailer that excites my curiosity, I watch that film.
Q. Does your experience as a director help you when you are acting? Or do you like as an actor to surrender completely to your director?
A. You have to do that. You do have to submit yourself completely to your director because eventually it is their story that you are a part of, it is their creation. But having said that, every actor has an aesthetic sense and a sensibility of their own… A lot of times as an actor, you bring that to the table. Often, it also happens that the director comes to you for a certain part because he feels that you are the right person for it, and the reason they feel that is because they either know what kind of person you are or they have created an image of what kind of person you are from your previous films and roles. So that is how this works.
Q. You are collaborating with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra again for the movie Toofan. Previously, the two of you worked together on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.Tell us about your experience of working with him.
A. So far so good. As for Toofan, we haven’t finished shooting for the film yet. But I had an absolutely awesome time working with him on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. I have immense respect for him as a director. So yes, I am very happy and lucky that I got a chance to work with him.
Q. You have produced OTT shows also—like Inside Edge and Made in Heaven. Do you feel there should be some form of censorship of content on these online platforms, now that so many people are watching this content?
A. I actually believe that there should not be any censorship at all. Not only on these platforms but also in cinema and other mediums. I think there should be ratings, and we should follow a particular rating system. I mean, why should we treat a 40-year-old like a child? People can make up their own mind as to what they wish to watch and what they don’t. Parents can be responsible enough to tell their children what they can and cannot watch. And that is how it needs to be. I don’t think there should be censorship at all. It does not work.
Q. From Dil Chahta Haito Lakshay and many others, you have made films that seemed way ahead of their time. How do you, as a writer and director, make sure that your movies do well?
A. In a general sense, for any movie there could be a thousand theories as to why it succeeded or failed, and why and how it may be ahead of its time. But the fact is that when you set out to make a film, you just get so excited by an idea, and you just want to share that particular idea or that particular film with the world. You don’t stop to think about whether this is the right time for that film or not. All these questions or thoughts come much later in your mind, after the film has been released.
If I am working on a film, I will make the film with as much conviction, belief and love as I felt when I was making Dil Chahta Hai. And then you just hope for the best.
Q. Which filmmakers have influenced you?
A.Well, I have had different influences from watching a lot of films. There are many different directors, many different performers. I absolutely loved the Ramesh Sippy’s films, especially his early works like Sholayand Seeta Aur Geeta. Kishore Kumar is also a huge influence. I love the movies he did and his music, of course, was also very influential. Then, I would say R.D, Burman is also an influence. Talking about international performers, there is Robert De Niro, there is Meryl Streep. So there have been many different influences. It is more like a collective of influences.
Q. Having worked with two prominent female directors, Zoya Akhtar and Shonali Bose, could you point out some similarities or differences you might have observed in them, in terms of their approach to filmmaking?
A.I personally feel we should not think in terms of female directors and male directors. I don’t think gender is important. I have worked with all kinds of directors. Everybody has an entirely different style of working. Zoya is very different from Rakeysh, and he is different from Shonali. So, everybody has a different style. Everyone has a different way of telling a story.
Zoya and I have grown up together, so working with her, it does not feel like a relationship between director and actor. It just feels like working with your sibling on a project she is passionate about. Shonali, too, is absolutely passionate about her films. She has such a great sense of nuance and is so sensitive and empathetic… These are impressive and good qualities in a director.