Our man in Mumbai DEVANSH PATEL meets an actor with 'a firm grip, a level gaze and an unimaginable acting prowess, Abhishek Bachchan
I REMEMBER interviewing Abhishek Bachchan from the noisy railway platform in London after his Sarkar Raj release. It was a day I will never forget in my life. There was so much I wanted to write, so much I wanted to tell, so much I wanted to experience. I had it all, except the man in the flesh. Abhishek was on the other side of the planet.
Now, though, I am called to meet Abhishek at his office in Janak, and the same thoughts are running through my mind. The handsome actor walks in to finish his television interviews and then leaves. After a minute or so I am guided to his office on the second floor. As his spokesperson aptly puts it: "It is Abhi's den. That's what we call it."
I feel lucky to be meeting him in a space where he will be more relaxed.
As I look around, I see creativity all around me in the form of books, paintings, artefacts and many other things kept in the corners of his private den.
As I ponder, the door opens and Abhishek makes a grand entrance in a white shirt and blue denims. Throughout our one-to-one he maintains a sense of humour and a self-deprecating attitude towards his work; and he ddes not enjoy looking back and reflecting on his career. Alongside romantic comedies and heists, Abhi does a range of films that bring him a different kind of attention. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is one of them.
DEVANSH PATEL: It is not often you get to see films based on pre-independence India. ABHISHEK BACHCHAN: I think when you mix entertainment and heart is when you get a film like Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey.
That's the space the film falls into. It is an entertaining film because it grips you; it takes you on a ride and leaves you with a huge thought. I'm a firm believer in entertainment. I don't think films have to be preachy.
If you can still make a film which leaves a social message, it is fantastic.
What Ashutosh has done is brought back to life a bygone era, highlighting a very important incident that I believe has been lost in the pages of history.
He has brought back to life an individual, called Surja Sen, who I firmly believe today, after having researched the film and learning about him, should really be spoken about in the same breath as Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh.
DP: Will people in England associate with this film?
AB: People in England will associate with this film because a lot of Indians are living there, a lot of them are second generation Indians too. Bangladeshis will identify with it too because Chittagong is a part of Bangladesh today. KHJJS isn't an Indian film, it is about the subcontinent. It is based in a time when there wasn't a division in our country. There wasn't a Pakistan or an East Pakistan. There wasn't a Bangladesh and there wasn't India too. It was a subcontinent. If the audiences in the West are traditional, it will cater to them and remind them of a time that a few of them might have lived through, and if not, it will tell them of what life used to be like back then.
DP: How true have you stayed to the book which inspired you to be a part of this film?
AB: The book that inspired Ashutosh to write KHJJS was Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die. It's actually an account of the 1930s uprising in Chittagong. From there on, we had to make it cinematic. So we have tried to stay true to the book in the form of its characters and sequence of events, we had to make it more like a feature film than a mere docudrama.
DP: It is definitely a film to be acknowledged, isn't it?
AB: This is my feeble and humble attempt at being a part of history.
There is so much you want to do and so much you want to say. Thankfully, we get an opportunity through our films.
I get a chance to play a character like Surjya Sen. I very strongly feel that what happened in Chittagong in the 1930s is a very significant fact and it is something that needs to be acknowledged.
DP: What have you to say about your beautiful co-star, Deepika Padukone? AB: We did a lot of workshops, a lot of readings, a lot of rehearsals, a lot of movement rehearsals, etc.
Everybody was fully prepared on the sets. We shot without Deepika as she was busy doing another film and we had a lot of work without her.
She came in only about a month into the shooting. She had to pick up half way through but she was very well prepared too. It is commendable that at such a young stage and age in her career, she has decided to take on a role like this and she has done it with a lot of dignity.
It is always exciting for an actor to show a facet of yourself which you're not known for or haven't done before.
DP: We hear it was difficult to find references to the central character, Surjya Sen.
AB: A role like this becomes difficult because there is no reference to Surjya Sen.
There are only one or two photographs of him in any record and all those pictures have been taken after his arrest.
It was almost two to three years after the uprising took place. Before and during the uprising there was no footage of him. That was something we had to really search for and build on our own.
DP: Have you always wanted to work with Ashutosh Gowariker, whose film Lagaan was nominated at the Oscars?
AB: We've wanted to work with each other for a long time and, thankfully, we both got the opportunity. He is one of India's most celebrated directors of our generation. He completely lives up to his reputation.
DP: But how did the first audition with your director go?
AB: It isn't difficult to say yes to a film like KHJJS. It is a complete nobrainer.
KHJJS is the shortest audition I've ever had. I met him three years ago and he asked me a question: 'What were you doing when you were 13?' I answered, 'I was a school kid having fun; busy with my sports, drama, etc'.
He replied, 'I want to make a film on 13-year-old kids who fought for the independence of India and who laid down their lives'. I said, 'I'm doing it'.
He again said, 'But I want you to play the school teacher who led them'.
I again said, 'I'm doing it'.