Tête-à-tête with Farhan Akhtar

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY3qfhYPJSI[/youtube]

Actor, director and producer Farhan Akhtar ushered a new wave in Hindi cinema with his directorial debut Dil Chahta Hai in 2001and rocked his way into our psyche with his acting debut  Rock on in 2006. As a story-teller, Akhtar has donned many roles and he is now all set to see the results of his biggest career challenge Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in which he will be portraying the legendary Indian Olympian– Milkha Singh. Akhtar reportedly went through 18 months of grueling training to look like the loved sprinter. Dhanya Nair caught up with multifaceted Akhtar at the Bentley Hotel to find out what makes this actor a perfectionist beyond competition.

Farhan Akhtar - Bhaag Milkha Bhaag  (a)

AGI: What was the most difficult thing about putting Mr. Milkha Singh’s story on the big screen?
FA: Milkha Singh’s story is essentially about human triumph over the face of adversities. He had a lost childhood, he became a refugee after the partition of the country, and he lost his parents, his sister during the massacre and saw his entire village getting destroyed before him. He grew up with that yet went on to become a champion. We had so much material about him; the toughest part was what to choose and what to leave yet tell a complete story.

AGI: Apart from the physical transformation, you’ve got the body language pat on. How did you do that?
FA: It definitely took some time to fully grasp what I was meant to do. But I instantly saw myself emotionally committing to it. Listening to him talk about his life was very important as was understanding the little nuances that made him, him. I started observing each of his actions very carefully for instance the way he smiled when he was narrating the story, the way his eyes welled up. The way his body contracted when he spoke about the difficulties he faced. The way he crossed his arms and legs. There are many things that a human body does without us even realising it. This helped me to create an emotional blue print about him; I then tried to latch on it with incidents from my own life that emotionally resonated with me.

AGI: What drew you towards the story?
FA: To say he is motivating would be an understatement. I find him extremely inspiring because of what he managed to achieve in his life starting from a lost childhood, broken home to being in a loving and secured home and becoming a national hero. Overnight things changed for him even though he was deprived of everything– a loving home, a family and a strong support structure. So, how this child who doesn’t have any identity of his own and has no one to call his own, how does this boy find the courage, the strength, the capability to forget and forgive and move on. How does he become a household name and make an entire country proud of him? Where did he find the sheer strength and who inspired him? Yes, every film is special but this is a very rare story because he is a very rare individual.  So, I wanted to give a lot more to this film. It was very important for me that he took pride in my work.

AGI: How demanding was the physical and mental transformation?
FA: It was a complete lifestyle change for a year and half which honestly has been a great experience because I’ve never been so fitter. This kind of training would make you feel like you can take anything on; you feel invincible. It is quiet an amazing feeling but the biggest challenge was the mental transformation and I don’t think I still can do it although I’ve tried my best as an actor to imagine myself in that situation, which is a moment in the film when Milkhaji had to face the memories of his childhood. He had this visual in his head when his parents were being massacred. It was very difficult to grasp the situation mentally and emotionally. I kept going back to him to find out more about this incident. I think it was the most pivotal moment of the shoot and it is actually the turning point of his life.

AGI: Would you say it was the most trying part of the film for you as an actor?
FA: It was one of the greatest challenges as it was lot more demanding than the physical training I had to undergo. Physical exercise is tangible you go out run for miles, lift weights, eat and sleep right. All these things you can do. But how do you imagine yourself in such a situation? It was like when someone asked me how I felt when my daughter was born. You cannot ever explain or put words to a situation that draws you with such emotional intensity. This moment in the film was one of them. You’ve to experience it to understand it.

480px-Milkha_Singh

AGI: Mr. Singh has mentioned that he hopes the film will inspire youngsters in India to take up sports; what do you feel?
FA: Well, that is one of Milkhaji’s biggest reasons for sharing his story. He feels saddened by the fact that after him there have been only four athletes who’ve made it to the Olympic finals in track and field. I think he is as bewildered as any of us. I must also tell you an interesting story from Rock On, you know the rival who comes to the music contest (they sing Zahrile Zahrile) the lead singer from the band is a dear friend, his name is Suraj and he has his own band. His father did not fully understand or appreciate why he was interested in music. Suraj invited him for the screening of the film. Later, Suraj called me and said that after seeing the movie his father for the first time said he was proud of his son’s musical talent. So, that was an amazing outcome. If the film can create a change in this level, it is very heartening. It doesn’t have to be “nation gets inspired” kind of change; it can be at a micro level. Small change can have a ripple effect and if a film can usher that then why not?

Dhanya Nair

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