I remember doing an interview of Abhishek Bachchan from the noisy railway platform in London post his Sarkar Raj release. It was a day I'll never forget in my life. There was so much I wanted to write; so much I wanted to tell, so much I wanted to experience. I had it all, except the man in flesh. Abhishek was on the other side of the planet. Back in 2010, I am called to meet Abhishek at his office in Janak. The same emotions are running in my mind. The handsome actor walks in to finish his pending television interviews and then leaves. After a minute or so I am guided to his personal office on the second floor. As his spokesperson aptly puts it, "It's Abhi's den. That's what we call it."
You are lucky to be meeting him in a space where he will be more relaxed. Just then a male maid serves me Earl Grey Green tea. A sip was enough to invigorate me. As I look around, I see creativity all around me in the form of books, paintings, art-e-facts and the many small and big things kept in different corners of his private 'den'. As I ponder, the door opens and Abhishek makes a grand entry in his white shirt and blue denims. A perfect combo which can never go wrong, especially if you are Abhishek Bachchan.
Throughout our one to one conversation, he maintained a sense of humour and a self-deprecating attitude towards his work; and he does not enjoy looking back and reflecting on his career. The way Abhi atones is by doing, alongside the romantic comedies and heist numbers, a range of films that bring him a different kind of attention altogether. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is just one of them. We met the man with a firm grip, level gaze and a discreet squeeze under the elbow that implies, "If you think it's exciting meeting me, just imagine how exciting it is being me."
Abhishek Bachchan is all yours in one of his most in depth interviews.
When you mix entertainment and heart is when you get a film like KHJJS
I think when you mix entertainment and heart is when you get a film like Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. That's the space the film falls into. It's an entertaining film because it grips you; it takes you on a ride and leaves you with a huge thought. I'm a firm believer in entertainment. I don't think films have to be preachy. If you can still make a film which leaves a social message, it's fantastic. What Ashutosh has done is brought back to life a by-gone era, brought back to life a very important incident that I believe has been lost in the pages of history, brought back to life an individual called Surja Sen who I firmly believe today, after having researched the film and learning about him, should really been spoken about in the same breath as Chandrashekhar Azadji and Bhagat Singhji.
Everybody watches good quality cinema which is engaging and entertaining.
It was just the film industry's way of justifying why they were not able to penetrate the overseas audience that was classified as 'Oh! They only like family dramas or romantic stories'. Unfortunately, Karan Johar was saddled with this whole blame. I think the overseas audiences will watch a film that entertains them. I remember when Dhoom 2 was releasing, I was told that no action film has ever done well and today it's one of the highest grossing overseas films of all times from our film industry. When Guru was releasing, we were told that if it works, it'll work only in Gujarat. It's one of my biggest overseas hits till date. Everybody watches good quality cinema.
People in England will associate with this film
People in England will associate with this film because a lot of Indians are living there, a lot of them are the second generation Indians too, Bangladeshi's will identify with it too because Chittagong is a part of Bangladesh today. KHJJS isn't an Indian film, it's about the subcontinent. It is based in a time when there wasn't a division in our country. There wasn't a Pakistan or an East Pakistan, there wasn't a Bangladesh and there wasn't India too. It was a subcontinent. If the audiences in the West are traditional, it will cater to them and remind them of a time that a few of them might have lived through and if not, it will remind them of what life used to be like back then.
You have to give it all in the writing process.
If you're going to make a film, you have to spend time in it. You have to give it all in the writing process. Once the written word is down, there is very little you can do on the sets to change that. If your screenplay isn't tight, it's not engaging, and then nothing can save your film.
We have tried to stay true to the book in the form of its characters and sequence of events
The book that inspired Ashutosh to write KHJJS was Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die. It's actually an account of 1930's uprising in Chittagong. From there on, we had to make it cinematic. So we have tried to stay true to the book in the form of its characters and sequence of events, we had to make it more like a feature film than a mere docu drama.
KHJJS is something that needs to be acknowledged.
This is my feeble and a humble attempt of being a part of history. There is so much you want to do and so much you want to say. Thankfully, we get an opportunity through our films. I get a chance to play a character like Surjya Sen. I very strongly feel that what happened in Chittagong in 1930's is a very significant fact and it is something that needs to be acknowledged.
Sawantvadi was re-created to become Chittagong of 1930's
I do get absorbed in my characters, especially when you are doing material which is a historical piece. There is a definite world that is created. We put up a huge set and created Chittagong of the 1930's in a place called Sawantvadi. We had put up this huge gate which was like a portal. The moment it opened, you get sucked into time. The minute you drove through, you had the vintage cars, junior artists walking as if they were from that era. It all looked so historic. It's very easy to inhabit that world.
It is commendable that Deepika took on a role like this at an early stage of her career
We did a lot of workshops, a lot of readings, a lot of rehearsals, a lot of movement rehearsals, etc. Everybody was fully prepared on the sets. We shot without Deepika as she was busy doing another film and we had a lot of work without her. She came in only about a month into the shooting. She had to pick up half way through but she was very well prepared too. It is commendable that at such a young stage and age in her career, she has decided to take on a role like this and she has done it with great elan and a lot of dignity. It's always exciting for an actor to show a facet of yourself which you're not known for or haven't done before.
We hardly had any pictures of Surjya Sen for study
A role like this becomes difficult because there is no reference to Surjya Sen. There are only one or two photographs of him in any record and all those pictures have been taken post his arrest. It was almost two to three years after the uprising took place. Before and during the uprising, there was no footage of him. That was something we had to really search for and build on our own.
I think the audiences are far more forgiving than our film industry
I think the audiences are far more forgiving than our film industry and the audiences like to give you a chance. Audiences do play into the illusions that the film sells you. I think they judge each film individually and do not judge it from what the actor has done before.
Ashutosh is one of India's most celebrated directors of our generation
I've known Ashutosh Gowariker since the late 1980's. I wasn't a teenager then. Mr Indrajeet, my best friend Goldie's father and my father were producing a film together. I had come back from the boarding school for my holidays and they were shooting a song. I went on the sets to meet my father. Goldie and I were hanging out. We saw this really tall guy with an awkward mop of hair and a knife sticking into his neck and coming out from the other. We were completely in awe of this guy. He was looking cool with a knife sticking and walking. That was my first memory of Ashutosh. We've wanted to work with each other since long and thankfully we both got the opportunity. He is one of India's most celebrated directors of our generation. He completely lives up to his reputation.
Ashu used to play the Vande Mataram track on the sets and it just invigorates you.
Ashutosh was very keen for A.R. Rahman to work on KHJJS but when both spoke to each other; he was very committed to a few projects in the overseas. He then decided to go with Sohail who had done his previous film, What's Your Raashee? I think Sohail has done a fantastic job. Music has a fantastic emotional connect. The music of KHJJS highlights an emotion. Ashu used to play the Vande Mataram track on the sets and it just invigorates you. It does something to you.
KHJJS is the shortest narration I've ever had
It doesn't get difficult to say 'Yes' to a film like KHJJS. It's a complete no-brainer. KHJJS is the shortest narration I've ever had. I met him three years ago and he asked me a question, "What were you doing when you were thirteen?" I answered, "I was a school kid having fun, busy with my sports, drama, etc" He replied, "I want to make a film on thirteen year old kids who fought for the Independence of India and who laid down their lives" I said, "I'm doing it". He again said, "But I want you to play the school teacher who led them" I again said, "I'm doing it".
I think tweeting is very enriching
I get a very unbiased and a fresh perspective when I tweet. The good thing is that you have no idea what the audiences on social networking sites are thinking about your tweet. You know what they like or what they don't like which we might not have thought about. I think tweeting is very enriching to be available on a site like Twitter where people have direct access to you and vice-versa.