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Interview Hindi

Too scared to make any comment on Don 3, says Farhan Akhtar

The actor-producer-director, who is gearing up for the release of Lucknow Central, says there is no update on the third part of the Don franchise yet.

Mayur Lookhar

His last film (Rock On 2) failed to rock audiences and it was not easy for Farhan Akhtar to agree to again play a musician in his next. But Lucknow Central is no ordinary tale of a rock band. It is a tale of a bunch of prison inmates who use music to plot a jailbreak.

Welcome to the world of Kishan (Akhtar), the Bihari prisoner languishing in Lucknow Central jail, who idolizes Bhojpuri cinema icon Manoj Tiwari.

Having started his career as a director with Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Farhan Akhtar has now settled down more as an actor and producer. He has no qualms in admitting that the director in him has taken a back seat as he channels his energies into acting.

A week before the release of Lucknow Central, Akhtar spoke to the media and shared his thoughts on the film, on why it is different from the recent flop Qaidi Band, why a reformed criminal deserves a shot at redemption, why social media has become an outlet for people to express various opinions, and why he has no update on Don 3. Excerpts:

Before we get to Lucknow Central, it came as pleasant surprise to see you in Arjun Rampal’s Daddy. 

Arjun was doing this film. He just got in touch with me. He said there is this part, just six scenes, that he would like me to do. I was unsure whether I would be able to do it. But the director [Ashim Ahluwalia] and Arjun were pretty adamant that I do it. Arjun is a good friend and rarely does he ask me, so I couldn’t turn him down.

No one would have envisaged you essaying a character based on gangster Dawood Ibrahim. What was your experience?

It was interesting, obviously, for it is a very different character in terms of the personality, what he does for a living, to what I am. Ashim was very clear as to how he wanted him to speak. There is a certain tempo to the speech. It is slowed down. His movements are also very slow. I just went with his brief and did everything he wanted me to do. We did quite a few takes, because he was very specific, it had to be shot in a certain way. Now you see what it is.

What made you pick Lucknow Central?

When [producer] Nikhil Advani called me up and spoke to me about the film, I wasn’t keen to hear it. I had just finished Rock On 2 (2016) and here was another film about music and a band. I didn’t want to do it again. Advani requested me to hear it once and said I could then reject it. I agreed to read [the script], but Advani insisted that he will have the story narrated. [Writer] Aseem Arora came to me and narrated the script. I was simply blown away. I was moved by the script. I didn’t have much of a choice but to say yes.

The tagline of Lucknow Central is ‘plan kuch aur hai’.  After seeing your trailer, I thought it is a different film, but after seeing Qaidi Band, the one common aspect to both films is the jailbreak. They are both using the band to plot a jailbreak. For someone who has watched Qaidi Band, how would s/he be convinced to watch Lucknow Central?

I don’t know. We believe in the film, one which we have enjoyed making. It’s a script that we are all connected with, we have been able to relate with the emotional graph of that film, to the hope of the characters, the optimism that the characters have for themselves, to the quest to fulfil their small dreams. We could connect to all that stuff. We have done the film for those reasons. Hopefully, when they see the trailer, when they hear the songs, there is something going on within the film that has piqued their curiosity. Hopefully, that will compel them to see the film. Beyond that, there is nothing else.

The films that have done well this year are those that have strong content rather than those that have big stars in the cast. Is that a strong message?

No, I don’t think it is one or the other. Any actor coming in a film with good content should hopefully do well. It’s not that. I think people have jumped the gun in starting to write the obituaries of people. It has been just six or seven months, where there is some different phase, different kind of new worship that is going on. Things will balance themselves out. People from films will also realize that this is the kind of film that people are wanting to watch at this time. They are wanting to have relatable stories, stories that are about us, that are about issues that they can connect with. We [the film industry] will end up writing about and focusing on those films, but it will take one film of a superstar that has a relatively good story to tell, and it will become a gigantic hit and we will be saying that the phase of realistic cinema was a one-off. So, you don’t really know.

I feel what is important, and was always important, is that filmmaking, at the heart of it, when you take away the box office, you have to tell a coherent story. There has to be something that they can relate to. If that’s not there then you put anyone into a film, whatever the characters, it may work to a certain charm of the character, but the films that are memorable are the ones where you can take something back home. I believe the audience today is telling us in no  uncertain terms that they want good content that will not only entertain them, but at the same time engage them. We should respect that. We should actually celebrate it.

A convict has had his sentence reduced for good conduct. His life is so inspiring that a filmmaker makes a film on him. Suppose this man had committed a murder. Now when the family of the victim sees that a film has been made on their dear one’s killer, might they not come up and ask why are you making a hero out of a killer? What will your answer to them be?

What you are saying is already so interesting because it is already creating a debate. It’s creating discussion. The fact that someone has committed a crime is wrong. He has been sentenced by the courts. Say he comes out after 25 years in jail and becomes an outstanding citizen, and tells people not to commit crimes of such nature, and starts reforming many young people who have a criminal bent of mind. If he helps to change those people and there is a film made on him, yes, there will be a debate, he will be a hero to some and a villain to others. The fact is there are many stories in our life and mythology — a dacoit [Valmiki] going on to become a saint. If somebody has served their time — and if you believe in the system of reformation, which is what the prison system is meant to be about — so, he goes, serves his time and comes out a reformed man, then benefits society is some way, that to me is a great topic to do a film on.

Your father [writer-poet Javed Akhtar] and you have been actively speaking on various social issues. Today, whatever be the problem, when one expresses one's views, one is simply dubbed right wing or left wing, but the objectivity is missing. Your father would write something objective and yet get trolled.  Where is Indian society headed?

There is a whole debate going on about trolling, troll farms, all these discussions are happening. It is very unfortunate, but that is the nature of the beast we have created called social media. You can’t get away from it, but it shouldn’t deter you from saying what you want as long as no one is threatening you with death. Unfortunately, women are threatened with rape, those are criminal cases. However, if someone has a counter opinion to you that is absurd, angry or smart, people are most welcome.

It’s a question that has been repeatedly asked. Is there intolerance or is it only on social media?

No, I believe right now everybody has an outlet to express their opinions, so there will be more diverse views. Earlier, it was slightly more homogeneous in terms of the groups. You could read them in newspapers or hear them on news; now individuals can express their opinions. So whether it is their preferences, prejudices, biases, the circumstances and the environment they grew up in, all of those things have come into play. I also think that there are many like-minded people who recognize that something has to be done in terms of how to use this medium. It is very new to us. How do we harness it to figure out how it can be beneficial and not divisive all the time?

Your last few films haven’t done well commercially. Do you feel the pressure of expectations?

Of course. You want your film to do well. I am not different from anyone.  But it’s not in your control. There is only up to a certain place you can worry about, beyond which the film really speaks for itself. If people connect with it, hopefully, it should do what it is destined to do at the box office. Of course, I’m anxious to know what will happen when a film releases. It would be terrible to have absolutely no emotions when your film releases. But then again there is only that much you can do. We have done whatever to make the film the way we thought best to make the story as clear, as universal as possible. Now it’s up to the audience to decide.

I personally liked Rock On 2 (2016), and had written a positive review. However,  many didn’t like it. With films like Rock On 2, I have always wondered, do Indian audiences don’t like seeing someone’s grievance on screen? A whole village was ravaged in Rock On 2. What’s the harm in showcasing their plight?

There is nothing wrong in it. There are many things that happen. One of the things that needs to be taken into account is the mood of the audience at certain times. Honestly, I don’t know what to say. You make the story that you feel in your understanding would connect with everyone. At times, just the mood of the audience is different. It’s not the first time this has happened. You just have to take it in your stride. You can’t complain as to why the audience didn’t like it.

After Lucknow Central, what are the projects you are working on?

We [Excel Entertainment] have films releasing as producers. There’s Akshay Kumar’s Gold. Fukrey 2 will be released by the end of this year. Zoya’s Gully Boy will start at the end of the year. Next year, I’m doing two films, one is with Nishikant Kamat, which Ajay Devgn is producing and there is Sanjay Dutt and myself. Then there is one film with Mohit Suri.

What about Don 3? Is there an update on it?

There is nothing to update. I’m too scared to make any comment on Don 3. Even if I am thinking, people would say he is making Don 3. The people are constantly on an emotional rollercoaster ride — it’s happening, it’s not, it’s happening, it’s not.  When I am ready with it, when I feel I have the story, I’ll share it with you all. There is nothing to hide. It’s not some national secret that there will be a ruckus if the enemy gets hold of it.

Is the director in you happy to take a back seat?

Well, my last film was Don 2 (2011). That was [over] five years ago. But that has been my average since I started my career. So, I guess, I’m pretty consistent.

But isn’t there a temptation to direct another film? I am sure you must be coming across stories that excite you.

You know, there is a lot of stuff that is written. There are a lot of things that I will find myself doing in the years to come. At this moment, I need to stay focused because I am responsible to the films that I have signed. It would be troublesome for them [other directors] if I am sitting with them and talking about my directing ambitions.

So has acting taken precedence over direction?

Given the parts that I’m getting into, yes, absolutely.

Your character in Lucknow Central is a fan of Bhojpuri actor Manoj Tiwari. Were you a fan before you took up this film?

I actually haven’t watched any of his films, so I cannot really say that I’m his fan. I know that he is very popular with Bhojpuri fans and that’s how he has been treated in the film.

Finally, are you content with the way you are living the life of a single father?

Yes (pauses and sighs), I’m fine.