Actor-director Farhan Akhtar is as striking as his films—clean-cut look, sharp jaw, laser-bright eyes, hat…. Sadly though, the man bun and the beard are now gone. True to his ‘regular guy’ background, the 43-year-old is engaging, honest and, despite the fame and adulation, still speaks in an endearing way.
By his own admission, Farhan was a late starter and was aimless to the point that it worried his mother, Honey Irani. After being taken off the rolls for low attendance in college, Farhan took to watching movies with a vengeance. “I was always fascinated with the world of cinema because of the environment Zoya and I grew up in. There was always talk of films, performances, music and writing. It was magical and a world I always wanted to be a part of.” The humungous VHS collection at home gave Farhan a never-ending supply of Hindi, English, American, Japanese and Iranian films. But, it was the Amitabh Bachchan films of the 1970s and the early Scorsese films that made him yearn to be on the silver screen.
From writing ad films and scripts for television shows, Farhan graduated to being an assistant director for films like Lamhe and Himalay Putra. He finally helmed his first feature film Dil Chahta Hai (DCH) in 2001, and changed Bollywood forever. It showed the audience that Hindi films didn’t have to be escapist to win appreciation. DCH was the torchbearer of bromance in Bollywood. A theme not explored before, at least not as realistically. It paved the way for new-age, urban movies, which were high on realism and low on typical Bollywood masala.
You have to be emotionally prepared to enjoy success when it happens. More importantly, you have to learn how to take failure in your stride & pick yourself up again
If DCH skyrocketed Farhan as the poster boy of new-age cinema, the debacle of his very next film, Lakshya, pushed him down into the dark world of rejection, which took him a year to recover from. However, Lakshya taught him an important lesson. “Working really hard on a film does not necessarily guarantee its success. There are just too many things that determine the success or failure of a film, including the mood of the audience, current affairs, etc. You have to be emotionally prepared to enjoy success when it happens. More importantly, you have to learn how to take failure in your stride & pick yourself up again and approach the next one with as much gusto as you did the previous one.” What came as a consolation was that Lakshya prompted hundreds of young men to join the Army. “Recently, I met a lot of GCs (gentleman cadets) at the IMA Dehradun where I shot Lakshya. Many of them came up to me and said Lakshya had inspired them to enrol in the Army. It just made me so happy.” Does he miss direction? “Yes, of course, I do. It’s one of those first loves that I have, unfortunately, ignored for a little while now. But, I do feel I will return to it soon.”
The birth of an actor
Farhan is not someone who has mapped out a career based on bigger and better films; he picks roles that showcase the wide range of his acting ability. The evidence is on his CV. After his breakthrough performance as the lead singer of a rock band in Rock On, he played the carefree Kabir in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and held his own opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Wazir. None of these roles, though, prepared us for his explosive turn as Milkha Singh, the champion Olympian athlete. Farhan portrayed the man in all his grit and glory. It was a peach of a role and Farhan gobbled it whole.
Actors often play a part. Farhan becomes the character. He assumes the identity so completely that he continues to live the role long after a movie is over. “Bhaag Milka Bhaag is one film that has still not left me. Apart from the mental strength, it helped me absorb facts like you have to work really hard and make sacrifices to better yourself into the core of who you are. That has stayed with me.”
The biggest fallout of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was, probably, the changed perception that Farhan could only play the cool, urban guy. He plays a jailbird in his latest release Lucknow Central, which is set in the surroundings of a prison and revolves around the hopes and aspirations of people before they make that error of judgment. Farhan worked closely with a dialogue coach to get the linguistic nuances right.
When it comes to choosing his roles, Farhan tries to steer clear of the politics in the business. “I try to be true to the voice inside me without letting other factors corrupt me. It’s easy to get swayed by a great director with a bad script or great money for a pathetic role. These are all corruptions. Ultimately, if you enjoyed reading the script, you hope that others will enjoy it when it’s made.”
Although Farhan has crooned for his previous outings, Rock On (2008), Rock On 2 (2016) and Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), among others, his parallel life as a legitimate, bona fide singer has come under a lot of flak. “I sing only when I feel that it will enhance my performance in the film. I don’t consider myself a playback singer,” he says with blasé matter-of-factness. It sure heightened the buzz around such films.
Farhan’s musical leanings date back to his school days, when he was constantly humming songs. “If I liked a tune, I would write it phonetically and sing it. I even had a music teacher for a few years. Things moved on when I got my first guitar and became obsessed with it. I got a book to help me learn the notes. I made it my mission to be able to play all the chords from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon from start to finish.”
Of late, Farhan has been writing songs, which he hopes to turn into a music album soon. “All this while people have seen me sing in films, but here I have put my deepest thoughts into these songs. That will be a new experience.” Farhan’s songs are rooted in the folk-rock space and he hopes to collaborate with English rock band Radiohead in the future.
His films notwithstanding, Farhan has been in the news ever since his marriage of 16 years to hairstylist Adhuna Bhabani ended in divorce. The divorce was devoid of mud-slinging and blame games. His two daughters, Shakya and Akira, continue to be his priorities. “I am happy that they are confident, independent and strong-willed girls who will eventually discover what they want to do with their lives. They have artistic leanings. The older one is into writing and painting. The younger one loves music and singing. I don’t want to put any pressure on them to become somebody.”
Director, producer, actor, singer, writer…who is the real Farhan ? A storyteller. After all, even music involves storytelling.
Life influences I have been inspired by my parents and sister. I learned how to approach work and not be content with doing what’s easy to do. They taught me that it’s difficult for a reason and you should not be put off by that. Dig your heels in and try to make it work.
My pet peeve I really get stressed if I can’t get in touch with somebody. Everyone has a mobile phone these days, and at some level I feel that a person should be available on the phone all the time!
I am most afraid of Letting down the people I care about. It’s something I don’t ever want happening.
Train like a man I like to be fit as it’s the one true thing you can do for yourself. I train with Sameer Jaura six times a week for two to three hours a day.
Biggest regret Not going through with my Urdu classes when I was younger. That is one universe of literature I have no access to. I do intend to start learning it now.
The words on my tombstone He plays dead also.
Stop putting women on a pedestal. They don’t want it either. Let’s treat them equally.
I splurge on Cars. I wish I had a bigger garage so I didn’t have to sell any one of them to buy a new one. Travelling is another luxury I love to indulge in.
Relationship rule Two-way communication. Most relationships suffer because of a lack of communication.
The one thing I’d like to work on To better my handwriting. I’d also like to skydive more.
Advice to men Stop putting women on a pedestal. They don’t want it either. Let’s treat them equally.
PHOTOS ROHAN SHRESTHA ❖ STYLING RAHUL kumar ❖ ASSISTANT TO THE STYLIST SEJAL PATHAK ❖ HAIR SAURABH BHATKAR B BLUNT ❖ MAKE-UP SWAPNIL PATHARE
PRODUCTION PACIFIC ❖ Location versova, Mumbai ❖ TEXT NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR