Farhan Akhtar has been entrenched in Bollywood as one of its leading lights for a while now. His directorial debut (Dil Chahta Hai) is still regarded as one of the finest introductions of a new talent behind the camera in Hindi cinema. His work as a writer and producer long made him an emerging force.
But something funky happened with a movie called Rock On!! last year in which Farhan played the lead actor. A lot of people went nuts for him - for his work in front of the camera. This year, accolades have poured in for Farhan's second major release as a lead - his sister Zoya's insider nosh: Luck by Chance.
All of a sudden Farhan Akhtar, actor, is having a moment.
And by all accounts, he shouldn't be.
He has a pensive, hang dog presence - it waffles somewhere between matinee idol and intellectual bagal thela types. But its not arresting by any means. He has distinctly un-starry hair, a curly dark mop top that neither flies nor flops in requisite, star-making slo-mo shots. His body language is awkward. His dancing ability is cute but will test choreographers. May the millions of Farhanites forgive me for saying this: he's a somewhat inflexible actor. And then there is the matter of that acoustically speckled voice.
So why exactly is Farhan suddenly negotiating roads littered with prostrated fans and hard loving adjectives?
Your strengths can often be your weaknesses. In Farhan's case, it also works the other way.
Let's start with that awkward body language and presence although to understand this best, you need to watch him on TV, preferably when he's invited as a guest on a show. Zero in on him and you notice that he connects easily with the emotion of a moment. When he does, he gives it his full attention. Even when he's saying something rote, you can feel his sincerity.
Over time when you have to smile through enough meet and greets borne of obligation, you tend to get jaded and develop a bunch of cliched ticks, adas and phrases as armor against losing your self-esteem. Farhan seems to be walking through the jaded valley with minimal damage. His reward is that his audience connects with the intensity he still retains.
How about the acting bit? Of all the critics who understand Farhan's limitations, perhaps no one knows them better than the man himself. But Farhan has had a great to good degree of control over all his starring vehicles so far. This allows him to mold his role or at least understand the context well enough that he can adjust his performance well.
There is no better example of this than the audition scene in Luck by Chance. Farhan has understood that scene so well, including the person to person transitions in which he's involved - that he conveys a gamut of emotions with as little drama as possible. Post-editing, his minimalism feels pitch-perfect.
Let's get down to the geekiness. In my opinion there is no better actor in India today than Siddarth who wraps geekiness around star jhatkas. But unlike Siddarth who reclaims starry cliches, Farhan completely shuns them. Coupled with his lack of inhibition for playing complex characters - primarily introverted, often decent, often self-serving and sometimes deserving of a good talking to - it humanizes him. People will tell me: 'With Farhan I feel like he's playing a real person!'
To his credit, he pulls off roles that wouldn't survive a serious elevator pitch. He can play the lead singer in a rock band as a thinking, professorial types instead of a charismatic extrovert and make it work. He can play a struggling, no-name actor who replaces a megastar in a major flick on the backs of an unlikely miracle and make it work.
In another era, Farhan would have become an Amol Palekar - banished to a handful of kurta romances of a 'serious' nature. But the urbanization of India has opened up Bollywood dramatically - allowing a slew of films to become viable in which actors like Farhan can find a place.
Films that took chances like these were called 'experimental cinema' (rather unfairly) in that era and confined to obscure metro theaters. Hatke cinema is now popcorn fare. And Farhan Akhtar is its crown prince.
Farhan's Photos by Abheet Gidwani for Excel Entertainment.
And Devika, thanks!