Thursday, February 05, 2009

Career heat - 800o Farhan-heit: But why is Farhan Akhtar the star who shouldn't have been?

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!

38 comments:

musical said...

Awesome! I agree with you that Farhan is somewhat "inflexible". But you nailed it on how it works for him! He has a few things going for him: e.g. he looks HOT! Somehow his sincerity and affection with these two roles got beautifully translated on screen. Fans love him for these two things. If you watch individual scenes, you may or may not be very impressed depending on the scene in question. But if you watch the whole movie, you connect with him well.

Though, i would love if he doesn't completely switch from behind the screen to acting :). Movie making is his biggest asset.

j said...

I think it is finally the era of geekiness and sincerity. People find Obama hot. Farhan, Dev Patel fall in the same category as well.

These guys are not really hot but their sincerity and intellect turns them into very likable people.

meena said...

'..acoustically speckled voice' - Aspi you have a natural genius for description.
Now that Farhan has arrived, maybe we can expect more 'real' stars rather than just the packaged superstars we come to expect from Hifi. exciting times to be a fan.

Intensity is what marks Farhan and Obama..Dev patel may very well turn out to be the male amritha rao. rather limp dont you think:)

girlie girl said...

Its about time that this generation of bollywood gets an actor who can, oh I don't know, ACT!! I mean, if we're looking for someone who will walk around shirtless in a movie, there are a ton of those, but that never defies a good actor (sorry SRK (from OSO), Hritik fans)...same goes for Dev Patel. He may be a puny kid but man he can belt out those lines! Farhan falls in that category as well, not the puny kid category but the belting out of the lines with feelings category...

ok, I think I've confused myself now too...but great write up Aspi!

Pitu said...

I still maintain he looks like the guy in school that nobody wanted to date. I don't see what's so 'hot' about him. He is a smart cookie though- does a certain kind of role and does it well. I was re-watching DCH yesterday and hoping he goes back to direction, but pls no more Lakshyas and Dons!

Aspi said...

I haven't seen dev patel yet. Someone whose opinion I trust a lot called him magnetic. Although in the previews he comes across as an actor who is trying too hard. But anyways - haven't seen Slumdog yet.

The real worth of a star is: can you rise above the occasional bad material that you will find yourself mired in? With Farhan, because his quality control is so good, that might not happen or happen very rarely.

musical said...

I found Dev Patel very likable-there's something about him that makes you feel for him. And this is not restricted to the movie. Or may be I am biased cuz' he looks quite a bit like ex-BF :-D. Acting wise, not so sure though.

As for Farhan, i don't find him hot or such (looks wise), but a lot of girls really do. To me, he seems sincere (which actually in my book translates into hot).

If you ever watch Slumdog Millionaire, Aspi, please post a review.

Aspi said...

meena, thanks for the compliment. I am undeserving. I was a little drunk when I wrote that - I couldn't do it again.

musical, a review of Slumdog? What could I possibly say that hasn't already been said :)

In fact:
Out: Slumdog Love
5 minutes ago: Slumdog backlash
In: Slumdog ennui

Mind Rush said...

Three cheers to the 3 stars of 2009--Obama, Farhan and Drift saab!

I am actually old enough to know who Amol Palekar is and that was a genius comparison.

Anonymous said...

Aspi,

I suspect his comman man looks and obvious intelligence, combined with an impressive pedigree make for hotness - personally, while I find him well-enough looking, I don't find him hot, while I *do* find Obama very hot, so maybe my age has something to do with it as well :-).

That said, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the age of Amol Palekar-type actors has arrived...I doubt Farhan would have gotten anywhere with his style of acting or the projects he picks, without his background - which makes LbC all the more ironic to me :-)

Bitterlemons

Aspi said...

Bitterlemons, now that you mention it, you have got me thinking. Rock On!!, given its reality i.e. a rock band making it without any help from Bollywood, was hugely ironic too.

Is Farhan sitting back somewhere looking at his laptop with his tongue in cheek and a huge smile on his lips? Hmmm...

megan said...

i don't find Obama or Farhan Akhtar or Dev patel remotely hot

Farhan Akhtar has average desi looks and i never liked his movies or his persona.. dev patel looks like an acne prone desi nerd, and i think SM is the most overrated and overhyped movie in years..and i found DP very average in it.. plus his character wasn't the type i'd fall for..i preferred the older brother Salim, he had an interesting character and wasn't a sissy..

and Obama oh for f**k sakes, he's a president not a drool material.. it is blasphemy finding him hot..

Anonymous said...

Megan,

Re: Obama...Oh come on! Finally a president we can drool over and you want to be the party pooper?! :-D

But seriously, the man is smokin' (pun NOT intended) and every time I catch a pic/image of him smiling, my knees go weak...

OK, OK, Friday's getting to me..

Bitterlemons (with Obama inauguration Newsweek to read tonight)

m said...

yeah Obama Wan Kanobi rocks and all.. but he is like a father figure, ya know.. so to me he is asexual.. i can't even think of him having sex.. i bet he only had sex twice in his entire life and just for procreation not recreation...

fanmeg said...

Wow Mgania is back after a Long Time.
Frhan is definitely not hot and Patel just average.
SM is touching height of Overhype.

Mind Rush said...

'Tis time for Mind Rush to analyze people's "hot" imaginations.

Hotness is in the eye of the beholder. Psychological research tells us that we construct hotness. Power and success make men appear hotter than they really are up close. Donald Trump and Bill Clinton can testify to that.

Aspi said...

I really like it when Megan shows up and scuttles everyone. -10 points for Farhan on this blog from now on :)

I did see Slumdog finally (thanks Drift Memsaab). I have a theory on why its had such a good run at the Oscars. If I feel like exposing my prejudices, I'll have a go at it in a post.

musical said...

MindRush, great ji great :).

Aspi, so you finally did watch Slumdog Millionaire :). Btw, your previous post totally caputured teh popular feeling on this movie: very crisply ;). And yes, kindly be exposing the prejudices :).

m said...

yeah don't forget the massive plotholes in the movie..and those "creative liberties"

URGH
desi people are going cuckoo over the movie

its like either they love it wayyyyyyyyy too much to the point of weirdness.. like anyone who says anything against it, then they don't know "real movies" or they're embarassed of the "poverty" in it.. or they're jealous or blah blah blah blah.. oh and the fangirls drooling over Dev and Freida like they're the best thing to happen to the world.. etc etc etc

or the desis who hate the movie because "India isn't just about poverty"

like i wanna round these two groups of people, smack them with a wet trout..

i hope it doesn't win best picture oscar but then again it might become this yeat's "Crash".. UFF

when will the hysteria die down.

j said...

Just want to make one thing clear as I started the O-Farhan-Dev thread. I dont find any of them hot. I am too old for crushes and believe in "all politicians are crooks in waiting" - after all I am from UP.

Just was doing an observation of what I have been seeing around in Facebook and Twitter.

Did love Slumdog though.

j said...

And more than desis it is the international junta that is fida on the movie.

Aspi said...

Speaking of which Joules, have you checked out srk on twitter? Real? Should we all start making banana bread with a lime glaze?

musical said...

For real?? OMG! Aspi, really, looks like that list i was talking about might just be around the corner ;). Though, his culinary tastes don't match mine :-D. I'd rather have banana bread with crushes walnuts and honey, please, i ever do get to the point of craving one, i.e ;).

J,
"believe in "all politicians are crooks in waiting"

LOVE it!

Aspi said...

Well a lot of people don't think its him. Some people do. Who knows? My personal opinion is that twitter for celebs gets boring real quick. I'm already kind of bored with celebritytweet.com. How many Solange Knowles updates can a man take :)

However, if SRK has fisticuffs with Salman and tweets about it or spills the beans on his little jhagda with Vishal Bhardwaj on twitter - then we're up and rocking.

j said...

Little late to the game, but just saw Rock On yesterday and boy, did I love it. Amazing character sketches and the music - SEL rock!

Teddy said...

I found Slumdog Millionaire to be a formula film---it was like a Manmohan Desai film from the seventies, redone by a foreign director.
Only it didn't have Nirupa Roy as the Blind/Starving/coughing mother, and the role of angry, macho Amitabh was done by a nerdy Dev Patel.
The only thing missing was the Maa fixation of hindi movies. Rest of the formula was the same: two brothers against all odds, get separated in childhood and meet later, childhood friendship/love angle, evil slumlords, one brother who becomes a gangster and one who stays on the straight and narrow, reunification with longlost beloved, self sacrifice and redemption through death of the gangster brother, triumph of the "good" brother, and boy gets girl in the end.

It was a firang take on the age-old and time-tested hindi formula film. But, it was enjoyably made. I can't believe the hoopla about it though...as if anyone could take a Manmohan Desai film so seriously.

Aspi said...

Teddy, I have to agree on the whole gangster brother sacrifice thing. Surely a better solution could have been written instead of that groanworthy one. I enjoyed Slumdog but I had a very hard time watching.

musical said...

Yeah, a mishmash of Manmohan Desai and Madhur Bhandarkar schools of film-making :).

meena said...

I would call it the tom and jerry school of film making. extremely nasty things keep happening to the characters, still its all fun and we are expected to walk out 'feeling good'.

Aspi said...

To be a true manmohan desai movie, the brothers would have had to meet each other at some point, not knowing who they were. They would then become good friends and under some heavy handed symbolism - like say right under a statue of the Mother of the Forsaken - they would profess to each other that they were close enough to be brothers and promise to call each other "bhai".

Then one brother would say: "I want you to meet bhabhi". Prelude to all hell breaking loose.

meena said...

I was just reading the comments ..and meg just made my day..so far I hadnt found anybody else that liked Salim over Jamal :)

workhard said...

He is a good looking guy, and a lot some kind of mystic charm on him.. That is what attracts people

Work from home

metta said...

At the beginning of the movie Slumdog Millionaire I thought that it is an Indian movie and only then saw american people and decided that it is UK film. Great work! My thanks to the writer for it.
downloaded here download Slumdog Millionaire

MedComes said...

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MedComes said...

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