Laughs Abhishek, “Pa keeps pulling my leg and Mani"s about it. He keeps telling me, “You"ve done three films with Mani whereas I haven"t even done one." I keep retorting. “But you"ve worked with my all-time favourite director Manmohan Desai."
Shooting in the sinister jungles for Mani Ratnam"s Raavan, Abhishek was more concerned for the wellbeing of his wife Aishwarya Bachchan who had to perform some of the most dangerous stunts ever done by a female actor. “I am a normal man and a normal husband. I was definitely concerned for my wife"s wellbeing. And she was equally concerned about me," says Abhishek.
Ironically the dainty-looking beauty was more than equal to the gruelling stunts in the jungle.
Says the proud husband, “Oh she"s very very strong. But Mani wouldn"t allow her to do anything that was unsafe. Speaking for me it was great fun. Ask any of Mani"s actors. They"ll tell you they"re willing to do anything that he asks them to. Raavan is the most difficult film I"ve ever done. It offered me my most challenging role to date. It was deeply challenging film for me and Aishwarya because we shot in the jungles under the severest of conditions. But finally it was worth it."
How does he rate his performance? Abhishek says, “I can"t say I"m satisfied, though. When I saw the film recently I realized there is so much more that I could have done with my role. Given the opportunity I"d do Raavan all over again, and a lot more."
Raavan is Abhishek"s third and by far the toughest film by the magical Mani Ratnam.
Says Abhishek, “I believe Raavan is even more magical than Yuva and Guru. It"s a territory that neither of us have ever visited. I believe it"s Mani"s most massy film till date. You know it"s funny , but because Mani has a fantastic aesthetic sense and he"s constantly raising the bar with every film of his it is believed that his films are high art meant for a select audience. Not true! Mani is for the masses."
The three-film rapport with Mani is the envy of the entertainment industry. Abhishek says he never questions Mani"s judgement. “I completely go by his judgement and believe he knows the best."
Mani is all set to work with Ranbir Kapoor in his next. Does that make Abhishek jealous? “I would"t be jealous if he works with another actor. My love and respect for Mani isn"t restricted to a role. Our relationship goes beyond films. Having said that, I would of course want to work with him a fourth time. The entire industry wants to work with him. Why wouldn"t I?"
Raavan wrenched Abhishek away from his comfort zone. “To shoot in the jungles wasn"t easy. But why do a film unless it challenges you to go beyond your comfort zone? I"ve always done films that remove me from the comfort zone and put me in a place I"ve never been. That"s one of the main criteria for choosing a role."
Focusing on the emotions while doing those heart-in-the-mouth stunts wasn"t easy.
Says the evolving actor, “That was double challenge. First I was doing a role that required me to perform the most challenging physical activities. Then I also had to emote in ways that I had never done. And the one couldn"t be compromised for the other. It was very difficult. But now I realize the pain was worth it."
Abhishek says Mani Ratnam showed him the film as it was being made. “So I was aware of what we were shooting together. I knew it was something very very special."
Raavan and the shooting in the jungles brought Abhishek closer to nature. “It couldn"t get any more natural…we were in the jungles with the animals, insects, waterfalls, rain and Nature for months.It was Mother Nature in all her glory. I"ve always been very ecologically savvy. But this experience just changed my life."
Abhishek has seen both the Tamil and the Hindi version of Raavan and he"s amazed by how different Aishwarya"s performance is in both. Abhishek also struck a chord with Vikram who plays the protagonist. “I"ve known Vikram for a very long time. He"s a very sweet chap. I take it as a compliment when co-stars enjoy working with me say they enjoyed the experience. Making a film should be as much fun as watching it."