At 1.30 in the night, Abhi (as we love to call him) arrives in his booked room at the Rennaisance Powai Hotel where I am waiting for him along with his personal PR, Shalmana, who's giving me company since 10pm. A firm handshake and he wastes no time getting down to business. Abhi has just returned after finishing his first shot for the film Crooked he is filming along with actress Kangana Ranaut in the hotel. It's a night shift from 9pm to 9am. At just more than 6ft, there's a lot of him. He's wearing jeans with a dark grey hooded jumper over his white t-shirt. His black hair is a touch unruly, his big eyes split wide open ready to catch the questions and his long face all lit up in a room with dim lights. Before we begin our Q and A, the actor quickly orders some food. He is hungry but first thing's first - the interview. And seconds before we start off, he apologises for his late coming. But that's what makes him Abhishek Bachchan. His generosity and honesty which pours out from his heart, his respect and professionalism which he wears on his sleeves, and his vulnerable charisma which makes you think - Hang on! It's never too late.
In this exclusive interview with this correspondent, it's the first time Abhishek Bachchan goes all out to talk about his inspiration, meteoric rise, maturity, responsibility, failures, fans, family discussions, finances, his love for twitter, music and food, his hatred for shopping and the word which he thinks defines and will define his career for years to come - 'Good Luck'.
There was a time when your film career looked a bit crooked. But today, not only films, but brands are chasing you to get their graph up straight. How do you describe your meteoric rise?
It comes down to good luck. I don't think I'm an exceptional actor. I don't think I work harder than the other actors do. In this film industry you have to work hard, you have to slog and you have to be at your game throughout. I don't think I do it much differently to what my colleagues do. I've also done enough work to know that 'luck' plays the biggest factor in all. May be it just wasn't my time when I started off in this film industry. I could give the best performance and that film may not work. So my career has boiled down to luck.
How do you describe your maturity when it comes to decisions about what films to green light, as a producer of your film Paa, as a husband and as a proud son of Mr and Mrs Bachchan?
I don't put it down to maturity. To be in the film business it is very important to be immature. You need to be in touch with the child within. That's where you get the innocence and excitement from. We tend to get very jaded and cynical as we grow older, seeing the world around us and the troubles that come with it. It's very important to retain a certain amount of wonder and innocence. The most successful people in the film fraternity are basically children at heart. We still get excited when we read a script that grabs our fancy. I've never been the kind of actor who has managed to break down why I should do a film. I still have this naive notion that if you are convinced and you put in a convincing performance, your audiences will buy it. If I plot and plan too much, somewhere I'm not going to get that conviction because I'm not going with my heart but going with my mind. The decision to do Paa and to produce it was like a child taking the decision. That's why it worked on a conceptual level.
Has money ever been an issue or a dispute when it comes to you signing a film or talking about finances?
Never. That's one thing I promised myself. I'm a professional who works in a commercial medium, and nobody is doing charity here either ways. But I, as an artiste, am not going to allow finances and commerce to come in between creativity because I believe that I'm being dishonest to my craft. If I like a script and my producers tell me that they can only pay me one tenth of my asking price, I'm fine with it. I'm possibly the only actor who hasn't had a market price because I price myself as per what the film deserves. I don't want to be known as a commodity. It's sad that now-a-days actors are treating themselves more as a commodity and less as an actor. If you can balance the two, that's great.
How responsible are you as an actor to your film's rejection by the audiences?
There are two parts to that and it's a bit ambiguous. What works is team work. Not just one person can be given credit and discredit for that. My performance will not be anything without my co-stars, my technicians, without the director, etc. It's a fact. If a cinematographer doesn't light the frame properly, I'm not going to be seen. If the sound recorder isn't recording the sound well, I won't be heard. It's an audio visual medium. These same people can also kill your performance. Because the Indian Film Industry is almost skewed towards the actors. If you enjoy the perks of that, you should also take blame for it.
The way you dress, people have started calling you the 'dapper dude'. Talk us about your brands, street shopping, etc.
I'm probably the world's worst person when it comes to shopping. I hate shopping. I can't handle trying on clothes. But having said that, I have an eye for what I want when it comes to my films. It's very important for me to know what the character looks like because I believe that the way the character dresses, determines a lot of his persona. Then comes in the costume designers, the stylists, etc. In my personal life, I still steal my father's clothes. I don't shop for myself. I have my mother, my father, my sister, my wife, Karan Johar and my stylist who shops for me.
What sort of film discussions do you and your family have on the dinner table?
When our family sits together and eats food, we never have film discussions. It's a rule that my mother set when we were kids. My father would never talk about films. While we were kids, my grand father (Abhishek's grand father was one of India's most celebrated poets - Harivanshrai Bachchan who died in 2003) would talk about things like literature, world politics, events, his experiences, etc. I remember sitting and listening to all the discussions my family members and guests would come up with while I was a kid. It was very educational. It wasn't just only films, films, films and films. I read my first film magazine when I was eighteen years old. It was called Filmfare. I thought that it was just an awards show. I attended my first Filmfare award function when I was eighteen years old.
People say that you're an underdog. They say that you deliver what's least expected of you.
It's weird, because when I entered the film industry, I wasn't the underdog. I was Amitabh Bachchan's son. I was the next big ticket that people were looking forward to. What happened subsequently when my films didn't do well, they all started feeling well and the same people made me the underdog. If you're an actor, you need to do your job. Sometimes audiences will like you and sometimes they won't. You have to accept that. I do what I want to do, which sounds a bit wrong when you're working on a public platform. But it's just the nature of the beast. I do the films that inspire me to act. It's not a decision I take that I need to be versatile and different. It just happens. I never thought that when Mani Ratnam got Guru to me, that ok, everybody is building a six pack and I needed to put on twenty kilos. It wasn't the criteria that I was to do a biopic which nobody of my age had attempted before. I loved Guru because it inspired me.
Do you see yourself immortalised in wax at the famous Madame Tussauds?
I don't know. In some ways, it will be a sort of a family reunion of sorts at Madame Tussauds. I've got my father and my wife (Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Bachchan) standing there in wax. Sadly and shockingly, I've never been to Madame Tussauds. I've never managed to see Aishwarya or my fathers wax statues. I saw my fathers wax work when it came to India for the first time. Yes, it can be a cool thing to be immortalised in wax but I'm not getting desperate.
His characters struggle to do the right thing sometimes, but as an actor, Abhishek Bachchan has rarely put a foot wrong. Critics love him, magazine writers fawn over him, and he's developed a fan base like no other, largely because his performances are most often off-kilter, angled and light, full of soul, tenderness, toughness, sincerity and grace, expressed through the liquid cadences of his voice and his diction, his beautiful man-boy face, and the unerring and particular use of limbs to amplify and enhance. One could go on.