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Abhishek Bachchan on Umrao Jaan, Guru

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, November 06, 2006
Another era, another milieu...poetry, music romance...
I've never done anything like this before. Umrao Jaan is my first period film. Living in the age of Dhoom, I was suddenly transported into this world which is completely poetic and lyrical, and so very different from what I've been doing so far. I'm so lucky to be an actor. I get to go into places and eras that have gone. Umrao Jaan was a special challenge because there was no ready reference-point for the era that we were working on. We had to rely totally on the research done by JP Saab. Which was very thorough . The language, body language everything was entirely different from the way we conduct ourselves today.

What about the beard?
What about it?

Your Dad always found beards very cumbersome.
But it isn't false! I grew a proper beard for Umrao Jaan. I generally have stubble. JP Saab wanted a full beard. Luckily I was shooting only this film at that time. One of the advantages of doing one film at a time...We shot in Jaipur where I had shot the songs of my first film Refugee and in Lucknow where I had shot for Bunty Aur Babli . We shot Umrao in the City Place of Jaipur which was very fascinating. JP Saab is a filmmaker who subscribes to the notion that if you put your actors in the correct ambience it aids the performance. He likes to shoot on authentic locations rather than sets. So when you work in a J.P.Dutta film you're sure to go into places you've never been before.

What should the audience expect from Umrao Jaan?
Well, it's the story of the courtesan Umrao Jaan is played by Aishwarya. So there's plenty of dancing. But it's also a very emotional and dramatic story. I see it as a cluster-breaker. In today's day and age when whatever we see in cinema is contemporary it's nice to reclaim such a glorious era.

Would you say Aishwarya supports your performance in Guru, as you support hers in Umrao Jaan?
No. Every character is equally important in every film. I cannot SUPPORT her character. Umrao Jaan is about her character. It's Aishwarya's movie. I'm one of the small players in the film. Yes, I'm one of the cast members. But I don't think Aishwarya requires any support from me. She's a very capable artiste and someone who can shoulder an entire film. She's done a fantastic job in Umrao Jaan. I've worked with her earlier. This is truly her best work so far.

What about her dances?
She's a wonderful dancer. I believe she's classically trained. What better opportunity for her to display her dancing skills than to play a courtesan?

And what better experience than to sit and watch Aishwarya dancing?
Well, strictly speaking I wasn't there all the time when she was dancing. A lot of my shots were taken separately. Unfortunately my father was in the hospital when the first schedule of Umrao Jaan was held. They very sweetly waited for me in Jaipur. I did my work only when I arrived three weeks into the schedule. And no one can tell the difference. That's the magic of J.P. Dutta's cinema.

Even Mani Rathnam's Guru takes you into another era?
True. It isn't set in contemporary times. Guru starts in the 1950s. It's fascinating to live through a time when I wasn't around, and a time that I haven't personally experienced. The dress code, the behaviour everything is so fascinating.

A tumble of three big releases before the year ends. Nervous?
Every film is a responsibility. For me every film is a major release and to that extent every release is a challenge. The rest is up to God and the audience. These are very exciting times for our cinema. Diverse films are being made and watched. People have accepted Rang De Basanti, Fanaa, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and Lage Raho Munnabhai during the same year. And the fact that I am an actor during such exciting times is a blessing.

After Umrao Jaan a culture shock for audiences in Dhoom 2?
I don't think audiences go with pre-conceived notions into any movie. For them every movie Umrao Jaan or Dhoom 2 , is different experience. Yes there're huge expectations from audiences, as there ought to be. That's what pushes filmmakers to work harder.

You don't seem to be caught in the image trap.
Yes, I suppose Umrao is as different from Guru as they both are from Dhoom 2. Well, good! Audiences will get bored if I keep doing the same thing repeatedly. I think audiences expect variety from all the actors. One can't be bothered with the image. One has to do one's work to the best of one's abilities. I feel if you adhere to an image you aren't submitting to the film.

Well your Dad was bound by the image of the Angry Young Man.
I totally disagree with you. For every Deewaar he did a Chupke Chupke as well. For every Kabhi Kabhie there was an Amar Akbar Anthony. I don't think there has ever been a more versatile actor than my father. People just chose to highlight one aspect of his work.

How would you describe your role in Guru?
Well... he isn't a poet and nawab as in Umrao Jaan nor a cool cop as in Dhoom 2. Gurukant Desai is a unique character, an achiever who has the brains, luck and a diligence to achieve his dreams. It's about a character who dares to dream. Guru is totally different from both Umrao and Dhoom 2. I know many actors who'd die for the opportunity to work with either J.P Dutta or Mani Rathnam. I got to work with both during the same year. I'm thankful to be in their films.

Compare JP and Mani.
It's amazing how different the two directors are. JP Saab is very spontaneous while Mani is carefully planned about every shoot. But both know exactly what they want. I owe a lot to these two directors. I've come out as enriched from Umrao Jaan and Guru as I did in my earlier outings with them, namely Refugee and Yuva.

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