Farhan Akhtar needs no generic introduction to fans of Indian cinema. So I'll keep this brief and personal.
Somewhere in the late 80s, tired of the random silliness that pervaded Bollywood, I stopped watching Indian movies altogether. Over a decade passed when a friend recommended something to me. On a whim I popped in the DVD for Farhan's Dil Chahta Hai. It instantly reignited my love for Bollywood. Years later, Farhan remade my favorite Bollywood movie. And for both these reasons he has a primo location in my Hall of Fame.
Farhan has a new release as an actor and singer - Rock On!! - due on August 29 in which he takes a serious tilt at building a formidable multi-hyphenate career.
He is also a killer Q&A subject and was nice enough to answer a few questions exclusively for Drift readers.
Aspi: Hi Farhan, great job singing on the Rock On!! soundtrack. But please start by telling us how you ended up as the actor in the film - before, after or during the scriptwriting?
Farhan: The script was brought to me by Abhishek Kapoor, the director. He wanted me to act in the film. After hearing the script, my first reaction was that I wanted to produce it. I felt the story was refreshing and the characters multi-layered, that even if I didn't end up acting in the film or singing the songs, I wanted to be associated with it.
Aspi: Tell us a little bit about how the script came together. Did you work with a specific story or turned a concept into a story?
Farhan: The story is written by Abhishek himself. The screenplay by Abhishek and Pubali Choudhary. So it came to me pretty fleshed out as a script. My feedback was purely as an actor and a creative producer. Once they were done with the screenplay, I got down to writing the dialogue for the film.
Aspi: Did you have your music system blaring when you wrote the movie? What music did you play to get the juices flowing?
Farhan: Not at all actually. I tend to listen to Western Classical when I write and that too at a pretty low volume. So although the film is about Rock, the dialogue was written accompanied by Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Mozart and Tchaikovsky!
Aspi: You seem to be having a lot of fun on Pichle Saat Dino Mein. At one point you even yelp the word "Roya" a little too happily. Did your confidence as a singer grow as you recorded each song? Or did you come rock-star-ready to the recordings?
Farhan: It did grow with each song and I cannot thank Shankar Ehsaan and Loy enough for that. They believed I could do it before I came around to believing it myself. Also, they kept reminding that me that there was no rush to try and knock off all the vocal parts...I could take my time and record them when I felt I was ready.
Aspi: With the music of Rock On!! you've shown that Hindi rock is alive and well. But you might have ironically proven that the best commercial Hindi rock can only come from Bollywood and not the indie scene. Agree and feeling guilty or disagree and feeling proud?
Farhan: I disagree. The parameters within which the two genre's operate is vastly different. I personally tend to listen to very few Hindi film albums more than once but I am not ignorant about the size of it's audience. We are attempting to bring Hindi Rock closer to mainstream audiences by making a film that has this new genre (from their perspective) at it's centre. In order to do that successfully, we have to be aware of the boundaries that we redefine without alienating the very people we would like to involve.
Aspi: Choose your favorite: Farhan the director, Farhan the writer, Farhan the actor, Farhan the singer or Farhan the producer?
Farhan: I leave that to the people who are watching my work to decide. I am equally excited, challenged and sincere about all of the above.
Aspi: Seriously, is there anything you can't do? Can you fold a fitted bed sheet? How about cooking?
Farhan: I can't scuba dive because of a bad sinus condition. I can't pat my head while rubbing my stomach. I can't say 'red lorry yellow lorry' five times really fast without messing up. I can't get over how brilliant The Beatles were. I can't do a triple axel with a twist dive into the pool. But yes, I can cook.
Aspi: Really? Tell us what you make really well.
Farhan: The words 'really well' are subjective in cooking...but the one I have got most complimented for is a recipe that involves stuffing a chicken breast with chopped mushroom and parsley and then wrapping the breast in strips of pastry and shoving it into the oven. This I serve with a sauce that is made of mustard, white wine and cream. Pretty good, huh?
Aspi: Javed Sir did a terrific job with the lyrics. Did you prep him by having him listen to your entire rock collection? Did he make a face and roll his eyes at some of those obscure rock lyrics?
Farhan: Dad is open to all kinds of music and he tried to understand what we were trying to say through our songs.
Aspi: You've worked with some of the biggest marquee names in Bollywood (Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Shahrukh Khan). Can you tell us something about your working equation with each one?
Farhan: Of course they each have their own individual appoach to their craft but the one thing I can tell you about working with all of them, is that they are extremely passionate about acting and their drive to get every take absolutely right is what makes them who they are. It has been a pleasure directing them.
Aspi: Farhan, you tackle a lot of men's issues in your films - am I unfairly typecasting you or is this emotional territory that you have an affinity for?
Farhan: Being a man, men's issues do tend to be more natural to talk about. It is a territory that I understand and at times have been in similar emotional situations as the characters from my films...so to draw from the first hand experience is possible. Furthermore, you would have to agree that the women in my films are not props as they have always had substantial roles and conflicts.
All pictures of Farhan courtesy of and taken by his fida fan Sofia Akhtar at the Rock On!! music launch on July 7 at Infinity Mall, Andheri.