It was 11.30am. London's Somerset House was burning. I mean, summer time in London is like sitting on a red hot coal. I was drinking my favourite beer along with fellow journalists who were there to attend a press conference of SRK for his film Chak De India which had its premiere at the same venue later in the evening. The lady sitting in front of me passed a comment, "You sound so much like Farhan Akhtar. Talking to you is like talking to him." It was Nasreen Munni Kabir (author, documentary film maker and producer on British television) who briefed me about Farhan for the first time.
Then the rest followed. Adah Sharma, Minissha Lamba, Rahul Dev, Amrita Rao, etc. Farhan's latest release, Karthik Calling Karthik is spooky in a way. Why? Because he receives a phone call from himself. Now read this - I was supposed to call Farhan for an interview last week. The rest I'm sure you'd have got it, right?
It's surprisingly spooky but the truth that many of the industry people think that I sound like Farhan Akhtar. With a film like KCK releasing, can you recall of such similar instances?
(laughs) Not that I've heard of. I haven't got anybody coming to me and telling me that I sound like someone. This is the first time I've heard from you that you sound like me (laughs).
Has the marketing now taken over the definition of success in Indian cinema?
I don't think so yaar. If you take last year for example, out of the hundreds of films released, probably three or four were successful. Some of them were from very big production houses; some were from big studios, etc. All were marketed well. But finally it was the content that the people connected to. Yes, you need to market your film to make people aware of your film but more than the quantitative marketing, what you're putting out there to create curiosity is more important.
Have you ever received a phone call in your life that changed your life, momentarily, forever?
Yes, there have been some calls I've made and I've received that have changed my life momentarily. Probably a call from Aamir Khan saying that he is doing Dil Chahta Hai was a life altering moment. The other was a call from the hospital saying that my baby was on the way (laughs).
Vijay Lalwani has stated that he is a sucker of originality. Now, how challenging is it to rope in a director who casts an actor who is a director himself? And is it like Karthik casting Karthik?
From Vijay's point of view, how he sees things is best explained by him. When I am on set as an actor, I'm not thinking of direction. I'm not thinking of wanting to direct. I'm very happy with what I've been asked to do and focus only on that. If at all there is any kind of stress on the shoot, then I step in my producers shoes and deal with it. But other than that, I don't want to involve myself into these tricky situations. Whether it's Vijay Lalwani, Abhishek Kapoor or Zoya Akhtar, all three have their own creative voices. There are certain boundaries and parameters in which you make a film and a director in me only comes in the pre-production stage when we discuss things out as to how we will carry on the shoot.
How do you get self motivated, Farhan?
I get very excited by an idea. That works for me. And it's pretty much wanting to turn that idea into a film. I share that idea with lots of people. That keeps my enthusiasm up through the entire project. As long as we jump into the idea quickly and change gears, is what I like doing. From the time that everyone hears of an idea and from the time that we shoot the film and complete it, there shouldn't be any gap, as it may kill the enthusiasm. It's important to get self motivated.
Excel Entertainment is known to excel as far as story ideas are concerned. Do you think the makers have a knack of selecting scripts which aren't only original and new age but a bit out of the box?
Honestly, if you ask me, it's a combination of both. We try to balance out what we're doing in terms of stories that we select. We go with certain ideas that are so new. To me, Karthik Calling Karthik, to some level, is the first film of its kind. I've never heard of any film before that a person is getting phone calls from himself. Then we balance it out with a film that Zoya is doing currently. It's a coming of age story about three friends on the road trip coming to terms with certain aspects in their life. Straight way, I thought that Zoya's film is addressing a larger kind of an audience.
But if that's the case Farhan, why isn't our audience ready to accept films like Rocket Singh...?
I don't know. It depends on the mood of the audiences too. Like we discussed earlier, when it comes to marketing any film, there has to be, somewhere, one central idea that people connect with. If you fail to do that, people don't want to go to the cinemas on a tentative feeling about the film. When I don't know or am not clear as to what the film is all about, why would I go and watch it. Just to put it in a very black and white way - Is it a good versus an evil film, is it somebody fighting the system, is it about love prevails over everything. But the audiences like some clarity when they see a poster or a promo.
It's sometimes confusing as to which Farhan Akhtar the audiences really want - Is it Farhan the director? Actor and singer? Or the handsome guy from India's most prolific production house - Excel Entertainment?
(laughs) Almost everywhere I go and almost everyone I meet, you know, people do speak to me about Don. People do speak to me about Dil Chahta Hai and Lakshya, as much as people speak to me about Luck By Chance or Rock On. There is certain awareness into peoples head as to what I do. I actually get very frustrated when people ask me - Which of the above do you prefer doing? It feels as if everything I do has to be bottled up separately and stored for good. I think you have one chance and one life to do everything you ever wanted to do or things which excites you and things that challenge you, as long as you're not causing anybody any damage.
My question was deliberate Farhan, because I want to know, do you think a film is sold to the audiences on a mere star face? What's your figment of imagination?
I wouldn't completely agree with you. When you have a film with a star in it, there is an initial attention that is focused on it. There were so many films that we can talk about which haven't even opened up at the box office. I keep coming back to what I said before that the audiences need to connect with what the film is all about and what the message of the film is going to be. In the last couple of years, the big blockbusters have been basic, simple movies with a simple message.
Were Maneckji Cooper boys shy? I mean, tell me the truth - Recall a moment where you must've approached a girl in whom you liked for the first time and took her for a coffee.
(laughs) Well, that depends on the boy. Actually it can come as a surprise but while I was in school, I didn't drink coffee. So coffee wasn't a drink of choice. But we would go to Juhu beach to have ice cream or a gola. But no moment with a girl from my school with whom I went for a coffee (laughs).
Is KCK all about attaining self confidence?
To a certain extent 'Yes'. It's about people believing in you and having confidence in you only when you have belief and confidence in yourself. If your attitude towards life is relatively pessimistic and if you don't believe that you have the ability to achieve something, that's really how the world will perceive you as at the end of the day.
And how believable was Deepika Padukone and how confident were you in casting her for the film?
(laughs) She is very believable in the film and good too. In terms of casting her, it was Vijay's decision. He wanted her in the film and we were more than happy to confide in Vijay. She is somebody who is very sought after. From whatever I've seen of her from Om Shanti Om to Love Aaj Kal, there is a definite growth within her, in her performances and in her talent. When I worked with her, I could see that and that's very commendable.
And how much have you grown since the year 2000, since the Dil Chahta Hai days?
Honestly, and I mean this with absolute sincerity. I feel no different between what I felt at the time when I was making Dil Chahta Hai to what I feel now. If at all there is any difference, it has to be that I've got a lot more knowledge and experience in terms of making movies. Experience adds a little more edge to your skills. In terms of achievement, the one thing I feel glad about is the fact that people have been extremely supportive of the films Excel Entertainment has made and have really appreciated our work. That gives me the strength to constantly work with new talents. What's happened with Abhishek after him winning the National Award is the fact that it encourages me, Ritesh Sidhwani to go with our belief that we can constantly harbour new talent. That was something I wanted to work towards ever since our company was established. There is a long way to go and this is just the beginning.
Do you think that our industry is all about young minds coming together that'll shape the future of Bollywood?
I feel that a young mind has nothing to do with shaping the future, be it any industry. I think a sixty five year old can also be extremely young in his way of thinking and at times, can be ahead of you in terms of his thought process and being contemporary. A young mind means that it's a mind that wants to gain more knowledge, it's a mind that is still willing to learn, experiencing and evolving. Young minds can be in any art form, and the minds that are thinking ahead and thinking forward are the ones that are going to keep progressing and keep on doing interesting things.