And why comedy is a serious, serious business. Abhishek Bachchan, in conversation with Jahnavi Patel/Rediff.com.
“If anybody asks me boring questions, you all will be escorted out of the room,” warned Abhishek Bachchan.
On that grim note began the interview with the new man in the Housefull franchise.
Or, at least, it should have. Instead, there was silence at our end, everyone unsure of how to proceed.
Slowly, the questions started. The answers came in monosyllables.
Then, AB Junior asked with a sly grin, “How is the interview going so far, guys?” We burst out laughing, mostly out of relief. We had been well and thoroughly pranked by one of the known pranksters in the industry.
Then, Abhishek Bachchan spoke to us at length. And when the PR came by with the customary, “Time’s up,” he dismissed her, “Arre, baat toh karne do. Tum log aa jaate ho aise… (Oh, let me talk. You guys always interrupt our conversation…).”
After sitting for a couple of minutes on the sofa behind us, the PR stood up again. And Abhishek bid her to sit. Again. “Oh, sit down. I am getting stressed that you’re standing behind me.”
Tune into a long conversation with the comfortably relaxed Abhishek Bachchan.
(Housefull 3 directors) Sajid-Farhan said you have a grand entry in the film.
I don’t know if it’s a grand entry but I hope people enjoy it. If I say (it’s) grand, it’ll sound like I am blowing my own trumpet but I thank them for saying that. It was fun to shoot.
Housefull is a hit franchise. Did you feel any pressure since you are the new actor here?
When I first heard the script, I said yes immediately. But it was when we were prepping to go on the floors that it (the responsibility) started dawning on me.
You will be a surprised that people have expectations from Housefull but, in the recent past, the amount of people who have asked me ‘When is Housefull 3 releasing’ has been staggering.
It kind of shocked me as well; I never thought there’ll be this kind of following for Housefull. There’s this huge audience out there dying to see this film. The first in line is my nephew, who’s a rabid fan of the Housefull series.
What is nice about this is that it is clean, good-hearted, family fun. I never thought about it when I said yes because I loved the premise, the characters and story. I thought it had all the makings of a dhamaal film.
As the prep started, I realised I was the new one and don’t want to be the one who messes it up. Then, once you start working, you’re in the process so it’s fine.
We had a blast making this film. It’s not like, ‘You’re the new one so we’re going to rag you’… Kisi ki majaal nahi hain (no one had the guts).
What is fun about doing a comedy?
There’s nothing fun about doing comedy, that’s the irony of it. I find it very difficult.
The good thing about comedy is that you can have a lot of fun doing it because you have to have that atmosphere around you. If your approach to doing a comic scene is the same as a dramatic scene, it’s going to get really boring.
The process of making it fun but it’s very stressful for me because it’s lot of hard work.
When you’re doing slapstick or a situational comedy, like the Housefull series, your energy level has to up; you can’t get away with deadpan humour. To maintain that kind of energy level is difficult. To get the timing right is very demanding.
You have a good sense of humour.
Do I? Thank you. What I have in my personal life makes no difference on screen because, at the end of the day, you have to do what’s written for you.
A lot of times, you’re going to do characters which have nothing to do with you as a person. What I am in reality is completely different from what I do on screen.
Do you see comedy around you in your life?
Yes, absolutely. I think it is important to.
You shouldn’t take yourself too seriously; you should learn to laugh at yourself and find positivity in things.
Housefull is known for its slapstick comedy and you’re known for your comic timing, so was this difficult for you?
The great thing about comedy is if your writing is good, 90 per cent of your job is done.
The writing (for Housefull 3) was superb. Sajid-Farhad are so brilliant at their lines that most of your work is done. Even with Bol Bachchan, they did such a wonderful job.
What kind of equation do you share with Nargis Fakhri, who is paired with you?
Nargis is a friend of mine; I’ve known her before we made this film. I enjoyed working not only with her but also with Lisa (Haydon) and Jacqueline (Fernandez).
They’re crazy and a lot of fun. There’s not a dull moment when these three are around; they’re continuously yapping away so it’s very entertaining.
If you hear Nargis and the girls speak, they’re very honest. It’s so refreshing; there’s no pretence, it is what it is. They are brilliant and very funny in the film.
Comedy involves improvisation; how much did you improvise in this film?
You improvise on set, no matter what genre you’re doing. Whenever you’re working with anything creative, that creativity percolates.
When you have wonderful actors like Boman (Irani), Akshay (Kumar) and Riteish (Deshmukh) who are very quick on the uptake, you can always add bits and pieces here and there when you’re rehearsing a scene.
Akshay said he is quite serious while working whereas Riteish and you are notorious…
Akshay is anything but serious; he is the naughtiest.
Like I said, the atmosphere has to be fun because, in a comedy, the work is so stressful. You just like to have fun while making the film. That’s all we do, nobody really plays pranks.
What is it about Riteish and Akshay that you admire?
There’s so much. They’re wonderful actors.
They way Akki bhaiyya is balancing things right now speaks volumes about him as an actor; he can do an Airlift and then a Housefull which is brilliant.
For Riteish, to do a Housefull and follow it up with Banjo is brilliant. I saw the trailer of Banjo and it’s outstanding.
You’ve worked with Akshay in Haan Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya when you were new in the industry and now you’re working with him in Housefull 3.
Sadly, I didn’t have too many scenes with him in Haan Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya. I was always looking for an opportunity to work with him and I am happy it came in such a popular franchise.
We had a great time. I have known Akshay for 24 years now.
I first met him in 1994. I had come down for my holidays from boarding school and he was shooting for Aangaaray which my friend, Goldie Behl, was producing. Mohra had just been released. I used to go on the sets and sit there because of Akshay Kumar. He’s been a friend since then.
Akshay has always been loving towards me. He is caring and very sensitive. Even when I was laid up in bed with my injury (slip disc), he used to call me everyday. He visited me and took my report to show to a doctor.
He is very protective.
Will we see you in an adult comedy anytime?
I doubt it.
Whether an actor agrees with the genre or not is immaterial; you have to understand the material to be able to do it.
I don’t understand that kind of humour so I think it’ll be very bad at it.
Do you miss being associated with a director? Your teaming up with J P Dutta, Rohan Sippy, Mani Ratnam was much appreciated…
I miss them. They’re my friends. I am in touch with them. We keep discussing work but you know what happens… you need to have the right film.
It’ll be more about proposal making if you just say ‘Ok, we’re a successful team, let’s do a film together,’
Rohan (Sippy) and I haven’t put out a film for five years; Dum Maaro Dum (2011) was our last film. I did a small bit for him in Nautanki Saala because he wants me to be a part of all his films.
Even with Mani, we discuss work all the time; he is a mentor to me. I have always told him, “You tell me where to stand, I’ll be there” but his thing is no, we have done great work together so we have to do things that’s worthy.
You have to get the right script and sometimes that takes time.
Is there something in line in terms of film production?
We just finished shooting for a film, Pink, which we are co-producing and my father (Amitabh Bachchan) is acting in.
Would you like to produce a film you can act in too?
I’d love to.
The scripts that I am personally working on will take some time; I don’t think I can start them this year.
I hope I can lock down the scripts so I can produce them as well.
You’re associated with football and kabaddi. Would you like to make a sports based film?
Have I thought about it? No. But as a thought, it’s brilliant.
I have always loved sports films and, as a genre, I think it is waiting to be tapped and exploited.
It’s a very difficult genre to get right. If you make a film on a sport, it becomes a documentary and nobody wants to see a documentary when they go to see a movie.
Sports films, for me, have always been (about) the triumph of the human spirit. If you see Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, it’s not about Milkhaji running, it’s his personal journey. Lagaan isn’t about cricket.
Neerja isn’t a film about hijacking. For me, it’s a story between a mother and a daughter.
You have to find a humane angle to the whole thing, that’s what is inspirational. If we can find something like that, I’d be the first person to jump on and say let’s do this.
Hollywood films are doing great business in India. Recently, Jungle Book has done better business than Bollywood films. Should that be a reason for worry?
No. But you should take note of it and pull up your socks. They’ll never be able to make Indian cinema and we’ve to understand that we’ll never be able to make Hollywood films. We cater to completely differently audiences.
There’s always going to be 1-2 films that are going to mange to breach that cultural barrier and reach across.
Jungle Book which, I believe, has become the highest grossing English film that has been dubbed but you have to understand that it’s set in India so there’s an automatic connect; the names are Indian, we got Indian actors to voice them as well so. On some level, you can look upon it as a Hindi film.
Then you are going to have Fast and Furious and the superhero films which are going to transcend that (barrier) but, by and large, they won’t make our kind of cinema.
They make their cinema for a very particular audience which is their audience. Their audience do not understand our cinema.
They will not understand the emotion of maa (mother). They find it funny when (with reference to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham) Shah Rukh Khan jumps off a chopper and lands and suddenly maa turns here saying, ‘Mera beta aa gaya (My son has come).’
It’s a cultural difference.
There are going to be films that will penetrate our market and we will make films once in a while that will penetrate their markets. You have to ensure that the quality of your work is so good that you’re also doing that kind of business.
Aaradhya must have seen your songs. What was her reaction?
Aaradhya has to get time from playing and watching cartoons.
She is more of an outdoor kid and if she watches television, it’s cartoons.
How has fatherhood changed you as a person?
It anchors you. It sets priority in your life; everything revolves around that. You do whatever you do for your child.
It’s a blessing.
Everything is fashioned around what Aaradhya wants and what is good for her. That’s the only thing that changes.
In your busy schedule, do you get time to spend with her?
Yes, I get time. If you want to make time, you can make time; both of us (Aishwarya and Abhishek) are busy, but we make time.
Do you think relations are fragile in the industry?
I can only tell you from my experiences that I have never had that kind of an equation with anybody. Whoever were my friends before my career started are still my friends.
I can’t say fairly that they’re fragile.
Yes, on the professional front, they may be fragile because that is a profession. Professionally, if my films aren’t doing well, even my best friend will think twice before making a film with me because he won’t be able to get it made.
In Sarbjit, we’ve seen the de-glam side of Aishwarya, which is contrary to her glamorous image…
Aishwarya is an actor. She started her career in a very de-glamorous role in Iruvar; Mani Ratnam launched her.
She has always gone after roles and never sought only glamorous films. That has just been tagged onto her but most of her films have never played into the glamour aspect.
Even when she decided to do Jazbaa, I thought it was a very brave choice because it was so unconventional.
Sarbjit, I think, was a bit of a no-brainer. Any actor would give an arm and a leg to do that role; it’s a wonderful and powerful role. She has really gone for it and worked very hard; it’s a powerful film.
Does Aishwarya ever get angry?
Aishwarya is a very loving and caring person; she doesn’t raise her voice. You have to do something exceptionally bad for her to get upset.
She is cool that way.
What do you have to say about Aishwarya’s Cannes look (the purple lipstick)?
I thought she looked sensational.
What next after Housefull 3?
I really don’t know; it’s the first time in my career where I haven’t got anything.
There are three scripts that we’ve been working on but we’re not entirely happy with them so they’re going to take more time before we can start filming them.