'I was getting paid great money.'
'I was a part of some wonderful films, which I loved making, but I was becoming very complacent with my approach to my work.'
'And I did not want that.'
"If I've answered the question before, I'm going to beep," Abhishek Bachchan warns Ronjita Kulkarni/Rediff.com before the interview.
A few words into the first question, the actor beeps loudly, making his Dasvi co-star Nimrat Kaur, watching intently from the sidelines, burst out laughing.
Yes, they probably had a lot fun shooting for their film, and the camaraderie still shows many months later.
Still, it's a question that warrants a reply, and when pushed, Abhishek gives a sincere reply.
In an interview that was quite the pleasure, Abhishek says, "I prefer not to look back, but rather focus on the future. The past is in the past for a reason. It's done. There's no point looking back and analysing."
The first part of a must-read interview:
In a recent Instagram post, you mentioned that you really believed in Dasvi, and that you will now play 'on your front foot'. Why is this film so important to you? (Yes, folks, this is the question he says he has answered many times before.)
With all due respect to the film, the post was not about Dasvi.
It was just more of life's realisation that if we've all worked very hard on something, and we're proud of it, we're happy with it, then we should just say it.
Why not put that positive energy out in the universe, instead of trying to be demure about it?
Obviously, it was prodded on after watching Dasvi because I'm very happy with the film.
It's a film I'm very proud of.
It's a film I've enjoyed making.
Everybody's worked very, very hard on it.
I just wanted to put it out there that yes, we're very positive about it and we don't want to be apologetic about it.
You've been in the industry for 21 years now. At this stage in your career, what do you look at when you pick your films?
The criteria must always be the story. It must be something you want to be a part of.
That has to be the reason for making a film.
Are you better at sniffing out a good story now?
Nobody's ever going to be better at it.
There's no actor with a 100 percent track record.
If we all knew how to make a successful film and what the audience wanted to watch at that very particular instance, then obviously, we'd be very, very, successful.
As it is in all art forms, we get some right, we get some wrong.
The quest has to be how to improve upon your wrongs and learn from them.
So when you look back at your career, which are the films that are the most important to you?
I prefer not to look back, but rather focus on the future.
The past is in the past for a reason. It's done.
There's no point looking back and analysing.
Why is that?
If you ask any actor to look back at their work, they're not going to like it because hopefully, they would have grown ever since they did that film. Or, they would have found a better way to play that role.
I cringe at all of them now and lament on how I could have done a much better job.
There have been quite a few phases in your career, starting from the time you made your debut and had to face terrifying comparisons with your father, Amitabh Bachchan, to the phase of hits, the phase of flops and finally, this new OTT phase, where we are seeing a brand new Abhishek Bachchan.
I look at them as learning curves.
But after a film is made and released, there's not much constructiveness in analysing the successful or failure of the film.
You have to analyse how you can better yourself.
That's the only thing that matters.
If it's a hit, well and good. Move on. If it's not, learn how to improve and move on.
But the point is to keep moving on.
You have to come out of an experience, enriched.
If you can manage that, and that seldom happens, but if you can manage that, then that's a very successful experience. The film might not have worked but you've come out learning how to improve upon yourself.
That's how I look at it.
What were the challenges thrown at you?
The challenge is always to execute what is required in front of the camera.
That's the only challenge that matters.
How good are you in front of the camera?
Can you be better?
Can you do better?
Can you have worked harder?
Could you have done a better performance?
That's the only challenge that matters.
There was a phase in your career, when you turned 40, that you took a break from films. This was right after you did the hit, Housefull 3 in 2016. It was after this that you returned with a 2.0 version of yourself, two years later. Why did you take this break?
It was filled with a lot of introspection and self-discovery, which I thought was very important. That's why I thought I needed to take that time.
When you're working on a film, you get so busy, almost 24 hours a day, that you have very little time to sit and contemplate.
I wanted to take the time to recalibrate and introspect, and then come back invigorated.
But what happened in 2016?
It wasn't just one particular thing.
I think it was an accumulation of several years of complacency.
Finally, once I finished my commitments, I decided to pause.
I felt that if I went down that path, it would eventually lead to disaster.
But that was actually a very good phase in your career because you had back-to-back hits in Bol Bachchan, Dhoom 3, Happy New Year...
Everything was coming too easy at that point of time.
There was hardly any responsibility for the success of the film.
I was getting paid great money.
I was a part of some wonderful films, which I loved making, but I was becoming very complacent with my approach to my work. And I did not want that.
And this was a realisation over time.
When you came back, what are the things that you changed?
Several things, several things.
First and foremost, I wanted to do work that would challenge me creatively.
I wanted to try and avoid doing something that I might have done before.
Those were the two main broad strokes. There are a lot of smaller things.
I'd like to believe that I'm walking down the right path now, be it Manmarziyaan, Ludo, Breathe, The Big Bull, Bob Biswas, Dasvi... there is a variety there.
We are almost done with Breathe 3. We have 20 days of shooting left.
I can say confidently that this is not stuff I've done before.
There's a certain creative satisfaction that you get.
That line-up is really amazing. Do you think that if OTT had happened at the start of your career, your career would have panned out differently?
I'm not sure. The platform really has not made a big difference...
Not the platform, but the kind of films that are being made now.
Aah, I see what you're trying to say.
You know, interestingly, I think my generation, the 2000s generation, came in at a cusp.
You know, that whole NRI romance kind of films that were being made were kind of waning.
By 2003, they were pretty much done.
That's when the India-centric films started.
Dare I say that the first major film that took it to a certain height was Bunty Aur Babli.
Desi became very popular.
So I think I was lucky because I got to straddle both worlds.
I think the wonderful thing that OTT platforms have done is they've made world cinema available to the common man at the press of a button.
I can't really say how that impacted my career, but I definitely feel we are going in a wonderful direction.
I don't think any actor or film-maker can complain about the kinds of films that are being sanctioned today, which possibly might not have been 20-30 years ago.