Akshaye Khanna who's playing the role of Harilal Gandhi in upcoming Gandhi My Father feels that it was easy to get into the skin of character as it was being portrayed on screen for the first time. Prabha Singh Thakur interviews the actor.
Was Gandhi My Father made under an oath of secrecy among the cast and crew?
It wasn't secrecy, we just kept a low profile till we were ready to release the film. It isn't easy to make a film of that scale. There was a huge amount of production and post-production work.
We haven't made a small art film.. it's a big commercial film. It was important to plan the film's promotion properly.
(Laughs) Now that we've been finally allowed to talk, it's as if we've been let out of jail. <b1>
You play Gandhi's son. Not much is known about him.
Gandhiji is an integral part of every Indian's life. With his son Harilal, whom I portray, it's just the opposite. Before I read the script I didn't even know he existed! Of course I was aware Gandhiji had a family. But I knew nothing about Harilal. Very few people know about him. So it was relatively easy for me to play Harilal. I didn't have to copy someone people already knew about.
So how did you get a grip on the character?
That was tough. I asked my director Feroz Abbas Khan how to play him. He's almost an authority on the man. He gave me Harilal's biography by Chandulal Dalal.. then I read the letters which Harilal had exchanged with Bapu and Kasturba. That was pretty much it.
Do you see Gandhi's son as a dark character?
Not dark at all. I see him as the most courageous character I've ever played.
For any person, even the son, to stand up to Gandhiji required a tremendous amount of courage. The entire British empire couldn't stand up to Gandhiji. Harilal could! <b2>
Did you delve into your own relationship with your father (Vinod Khanna) to play Gandhiji's son?
Let me say one thing very clearly. I've never used my personal life to play any character. I read about actors digging into their experiences. To date, I've never done that. I look for the emotion of the moment, and let myself go. I don't carry my roles home. Yes, scenes in
have eaten into my soul. I may have been tired after a scene.. but that was it.
How important were your co-stars to get your performance right?
Darshan Jariwala who plays Gandhi, Shefali Shah who plays Kasturba and Bhumika Chawla who plays my wife were extremely relevant to my performance.
Darshan Jariwala had a thankless job. It's terrifying to play Gandhi, especially after Ben Kingsley. It was an act of great courage for Darshan. I wouldn't have ever been able to do it. In spite of the enormity of his burden Mr Jariwala has carried Gandhi off with ease. As a fellow actor, I know the full measure of his achievement. <b3>
And Shefali Shah as Kasturba?
Please don't take my words lightly when I say hers is the single greatest performance given by an Indian actress. I can write this in blood.
Have you told Shefali this?
Yes I have. She's one of those rare artistes with an inborn talent.. highly underused and underrated.
How would you rate your own performance?
This is one film I'm immensely satisfied with my work.. there's a quality to the film that benefited my performance.
Feroz Abbas Khan as a director?
He's such an intellectual, an aesthetic intellectual. At the very outset, Anil Kapoor had said he still has to meet a director as deep as Feroz. Gradually, I understood what Anil meant. He's a director of integrity and honesty. <b4>
This is Feroz's debut but it looks as if he has done 20 films before. Coming from theatre and being an actor himself, Feroz has a tremendous sense of performance. It will be extremely interesting to see where Feroz goes after Gandhi.
Were you disappointed when Salaam-e-Ishq and Naqaab didn't work?
Hugely. I feel there was a lot of negative attitude towards Salaam-e-Ishq. It was virtually targeted. These things happen. But I feel Salaam-e-Ishq pushed the envelope.
I adored the script and the film. I can work with Nikhil Advani any time of the day. Now I'm in full Gandhi mode. I feel I'm in the best place I've ever been.