Abhishek Bachchan Curated
Actor and Brand Ambassador
CURATED BY :
You posted a picture of your makeup chair and gave it a caption that it was the scariest chair to be in. Why?
You came back with “Manmarziyaan” after 2 years of break from the film industry. What about the film made your comeback?
Is acting like cycling, like you never forget?
What do you mean by “acting is bit of a power trip”?
Many actresses take breaks mainly for practical reasons like marriages and all. For actors, it’s more of a deeper existential meaning. Why does it sort of burden men more?
For Mahesh Babu, the 5 year break had a positive effect on him but for your dad, he thought it was a mistake because the audience had changed and many more factors. What did it do to you?
Was it hard for your family when you took the break, especially when Amitji has done that for himself?
Abhishek you’ve done very well with the sports, especially football. What is that sports give you and cinema doesn’t?
Do you believe in the middle path? This idea when someone is not swayed by success or bogged by failure?
Do you review your films? How do you do that?
In these 18 years, are there any regrets, any decisions you made was a mistake?
What’s next? Have you signed anything or is there going to be a long gap?
Which scenes have turned out to be the most challenging to enact?
In real life, do you take lines or dialogues from these movie characters?
What is the most practical advise anyone has given you?
What have you learnt what not to do from artists around you?
You are now a sports entrepreneur. How did that happen?
Did you anticipate that Kabaddi would someday gain the huge viewership and popularity?
What was the reaction of your team's members when they first realized that you had bought the team?
How do you expect to make long term profits from the ProKabaddi League?
Are you planning to invest in any other sporting ventures?
Why did you put a hold on your acting career and decided to step away from the spotlight?
Why do you wish to have two kids?
I mean, I have me and my sister, so maybe that's where it comes from.
Can you reveal about your love story with Aishwarya Rai?
I was working with Aishwarya during the start of my career. Our first film together was Dhai Akshar Prem Ke in 2000 and we were friends since then. Simultaneously, we signed another film together called Kuch Na Kaho. We always had a close friendship and in time, it evolved into something more than that.
When did you propose to Aishwarya Rai?
I proposed to Aishwarya after Umrao Jaan and then we got married. Now we are parents to a beautiful daughter, Aaradhya.
Why did you step away from acting for two years after ‘Housefull 3’?
I had reached a juncture where I felt I needed to stop, change perspective, re-evaluate and re-energise. I felt I had become complacent with how I was doing my work. It was not that I was unhappy with the kind of films I was doing. I loved each and every film. Before the sabbatical, I was going through a golden phase. But it was easy. With ensemble films, there was no pressure on me to deliver. I didn’t like the complacency. That’s not what I came here to do; it’s not what I came here to be. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to feel uncomfortable in the films I was doing. I had been feeling this for quite some time, and taking a sabbatical was the first step of the plan.
What was the plan?
I changed the way I thought about my career. Actually, I started thinking about my career, which I had not really been doing before. I was just happy to be an actor and to be getting jobs. Here is a great script, it’s a Mani Ratnam film, great. Ram Gopal Varma? Also great. Karan Johar – let’s do it! But I realised that there needs to be a plan and goalposts, because your audience expects stuff from you. You have to fulfill that expectation. One cannot be aloof or arrogant behind the garb of being a creative person. Because if you buy a ticket, I owe it to you. Whether I am doing solo hero films or whether I am part of an ensemble cast, I must have something to do in them. Something that an audience, which might have come to see me, can take away from. Having said all this, I have a lot of other work including sports [he co-owns teams in the Pro-Kabbadi League and the football Indian Super League] and managing our investment portfolio. So over the last two-and-a-half years, I worked hard on all this.
So what made you accept ‘Manmarziyaan’?
On Aanand’s suggestion, Kanika Dhillon, the screenwriter, gave me a narration in January 2018. I liked her and her work, and we had a long discussion about the script. Then I asked, who is directing? Anand said Anurag, and then it clicked. When I met Anurag, I knew it was the correct decision, because his perspective on the script was just brilliant. I saw how he added even more to what Kanika had written. It just felt right. By February, we were shooting in Amritsar.
Your association with Anurag goes back to ‘Yuva’ (2004), where he wrote dialogue and which gave you one of your most acclaimed roles as Lallan Singh.
Yes, it’s like the circle of life. I had worked closely with him during Yuva because we had done a lot of readings and Anurag had really toiled on Lallan Singh and me. Subsequently, I don’t think he was impressed with my performance. In fact, he was one of the two people who didn’t like my work in Yuva.
Who was the other?
My father. By and large, I got a lot of positive feedback for Lallan, but now I realise that as the writer, Anurag had a different vision which, maybe, I didn’t fulfill or live up to, or he felt I could have done better. He is not easily impressed, and one of the reasons I thought it would be good to work with him was because I thought he would push me.
What can you tell us about Robbie, your character in ‘Manmarziyaan’?
Robbie is a banker from London who comes to Amritsar to have an arranged marriage. Robbie is written as a quiet and reserved person, but we also made him decisive. I liked the fact that he is an immensely strong person. The challenge here, and I was especially panicked about this, was when you have a film predominantly about three characters, of which two are exuberant, flamboyant and wonderful who are up there in their energy levels and the third is subtle, subdued, introverted, strong, resolute. It’s easy to classify him as boring. The challenge was to ensure that Robbie is not boring, and he isn’t.
You are quite the opposite of Robbie. You can give your Twitter trolls a run for their money with your sarcasm and dry wit.
As a public figure, you are fair game, and people will take potshots at you. When I am up for it on a particular day and decide to have some fun, then I find someone who is trying to be sarcastic or witty or rude and then I respond. If after that, their response is just weak or if they are abusive, then they are not really on the same wavelength and you let it go. Often their agenda is something else, like wanting attention. But more importantly, we have to learn to laugh at ourselves more. We take ourselves far, far too seriously.
What about the sporting interests?
It has been so rewarding to work on sports, but one of the things I did during my acting sabbatical was to set up the sports business verticals so that they are now self-run. Emotionally, I am with my teams, and physically, I will try and be with them as and when I can, but right now, the priority is films.
how’s the situation in your part of the world right now?
Our cases are rising. We’re still officially in a partial lockdown. The economy is opening up a bit, offices are allowed to function at 10% capacity – I think everybody is figuring out their own way to deal with this.
What has your personal lockdown experience been like?
I’ve been spending time with my family, which is a rarity. Over the last 3-4 weeks I’ve been busy with the post-production of Breathe: Into The Shadows. During the lockdown the opportunity to dub the show into English came about, which I’ve done myself.
Would you like to do more roles in English?
Dubbing myself was an exciting experiment for me. Having been educated in Europe, in English, I could say it’s almost my first language, I converse at home in English as well as my mother tongue Hindi. When I came back from Europe and started acting I had to understand the Hindi milieu, and I have, but because I thought in English I imagined doing that dub recording would be simple. But what you realize is that there’s a different tone and pitch to a Hindi film than there is to an English film.
Breathe is your first foray into VOD content – how has that experience been?
You know, it was never a criteria for me. When I first met the co-creators of the show, Vikram Malhotra and Mayank Sharma, who is also the director of the series, they gave me a basic pitch in about half an hour and I’d already said ‘yes’. I recognized this was a medium for telling this story. I do realize the benefits of a digital series. It affords you the luxury of time which is something we don’t really get in cinema. Indian films are predominantly 2-3 hours long and you have to tell your entire story, and justify your character, in that time. For this, we have done 12 episodes which are almost an hour long, that’s 4-5 films to take a deep dive into the characters and their nuances.
What was it like working with an international streamer like Amazon on a project? They are producing Indian content for the local market and diaspora, but it always has the possibility of reaching a much wider audience too.
On the original Breathe series [which was also on Amazon but did not star Bachchan], 40-50% of the international viewers were from outside of the Indian diaspora. In India, our films are very unique to us. Our emotions are a lot more heightened, we love the pomp and pageantry, the song and dance, action, romance, tragedy – everything has to be served in one movie and at the end of the day the hero and heroine have to achieve poetic justice. It’s escapist and it’s the most magnificent thing to be a part of and to view, in my opinion. But that’s a pitch and a tone that maybe the world does not understand…. It might just be a bit too spicy for them. But to an Indian, foreign films might be too bland. Indians prefer not to consume content that is hyper-realistic, so far at least. We like to go to cinemas with our families, enjoy ourselves, and forget our problems. There have been exceptions but by and large these are the trends Indian cinemas follows. Keeping that in mind, we were very conscious of the fact that Breathe: Into The Shadows will be available in 200 nations worldwide in several different languages. We need to serve it to our audience in a cinematic language that is palatable to all of them. It has to be something that our Indian audiences will enjoy, and an international audience will not find too jarring. You want it to be something that everybody can consume.
Global streamers have been trying to find that sweet spot…
Amazon had a breakout hit with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, that’s very American but has done very well for them worldwide. There are other examples of shows that have cut across borders and languages and have been consumed all over the world. There’s a great amount of equality that is provided to you by a streaming platform. We’ve made Breathe: Into The Shadows keeping that in the back of our minds, it’s not been a priority, but it’s been something we’ve been cognizant of.
Film is so big and historic in India, but we’re seeing increasingly high profile TV series being made, particularly for streaming services – you’re known as a movie star but do you see more opportunities in TV nowadays?
Television is a thriving industry in India. I’ve lost count of the number of channels, there must be 300-400. We also have several streaming platforms. What’s really nice is that it has increased the demand for actors and for creative people who are storytellers. That’s wonderful. Each medium, be it stage, TV, cinema, streaming, are all telling different stories and catering to different requirements for the audience. Because steaming is available from the comfort of your home at the touch of your button, including on your mobile phone, you can concentrate purely on very content-driven material. I can’t complain, today we’re spoiled for choice. With streaming platforms you don’t really need to compromise on any aspect of your vision. When TV initially came in, due to smaller budgets you would have had to compromise. At the end of the day, it’s about getting your product out to you consumer and audience.
We’ve read some amazing numbers around streaming in India, Disney+ Hotstar is particularly huge, do you think the lockdown has accelerated growth?
I’m sure it has, I don’t have the statistics. I heard the content consumption on streaming platforms has grown 80-90% in this period, that’s huge considering that we’re 1.3 billion people here in India. I’m sure a lot of streaming platforms will concentrate on India and the Indian diaspora as a market because of the sheer numbers.
Are local players a big factor?
Hotstar is really a local player [having been owned by Fox in India pre Disney takeover and eventual integration]. There’s several platforms and a lot of competition, but we’re seeing a lot of growth in the entire market, it’s not just one particular player. Maybe because they’ve all priced themselves so competitively people are willing to subscribe to two or three platforms simultaneously.
Any news on cinemas reopening?
There’s no clarity from any government bodies yet, it’s the same for when we can get back to work shooting films and shows. I’m looking forward to getting back in front of the camera.
During this period we’ve seen films go online that would’ve been theatrical releases, particularly with Amazon’s glossy seven-picture deal. As a movie star, can it be disappointing to see a film go directly online?
That’s been a big discussion in India over these last 2-3 months. It’s important to remember we wouldn’t be having this conversation if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, it would be different if cinemas were open. But we’re at this crossroads. To be honest, I’m going to give you a selfish answer – as long as my audience get to see my films or my shows without compromising their safety, I’ll take that.
Are you hoping to get back on set soon?
I am actually in the middle of a film shooting in Calcutta called Bob Biswas – we had to cut that short due to the lockdown. We have 12 days of filming left and we can’t complete that until we’re allowed to get back on set. I have no clue when that will be, if I had to hazard a guess i’d say not before October.
How do you feel about the safety protocols – distancing, PPE etc?
I feel terrible about it! Everybody’s got social distancing and PPE on but we [actors] have nothing because we can’t perform in it – we’ve been left out in the cold!
Have you been developing new projects as a producer during the lockdown?
There have been several we’ve been working on for the last 2-3 years. But it takes a lot of toil to put a script together. We have about three ready which I hope we can start rolling out. I finance the development myself.
Would you consider taking those to a steaming service?
I’m very happy to but I’d only like to get into that conversation once I see light at the end of the tunnel about how we can start shooting again. We can’t talk about schedule or casting until we know when we can get onto the floors.
Your father appeared in The Great Gatsby – are you interested in acting in an English language movie?
It does depend on the role. We’re spoiled for choice over here. My father did Gatsby out of his friendship and love for Baz Luhrmann. My wife has done 4-5 English films and enjoyed it thoroughly. I don’t look on it as ‘Bollywood or Hollywood’, and with the advent of streaming that barrier has a been broken further. At the end of the day it has to excite me creatively.