“D’you think I’ve lost weight?”. Yes, he has.
“Fifteen kilos, to be precise,” he offers.
That’s courtesy his current film with Mani Ratnam about which nobody, but nobody will talk. Today, however, he is here to chat about Delhi 6, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s much-awaited next after Rang de Basanti. Abhishek Bachchan on Masakalli and more.. with Shashi Baliga.
Your role in Delhi 6 seems to sit easy on you, judging strictly by the trailer. What was director Rakeysh Mehra’s brief to you?
Not much really. And that was nice. He handed me the script and said, “Read it and react.” When I read the script, it just clicked. I instantly understood Roshan Mehra. I told Rakeysh, “I know this guy! And only I should do it.” And he said, “That’s why I came to you.”
It’s never happened to me before; one has always had to work on a character. But this one almost felt spontaneous. though it was so well-rehearsed.
Because I spent a good 10 to 12 years of my childhood abroad, I could understand immediately why Roshan would not be completely at home in Delhi 6. He views the proceedings almost from an outsider’s point of view.
How did you deal with your personal sense of alienation when you returned to India?
It wasn’t something that really needed to be dealt with. It was just that I had a different perspective. It wasn’t condescending but just different, so I learnt to appreciate and embrace other people’s point of view. Which is very similar to what Roshan does. He’s very much an observer.
There are many Indias and many of us in the cities view the other side/s as near-outsiders. As someone who leads an extremely privileged life, how do you relate to the other Indias?
I totally agree that there are many Indias. But I think they’re linked through the heart. Indians are very emotional people, very demonstrative of their emotions. Everything we do is from the heart; at times melodramatic, almost. And that is echoed in our festivals, films, music, everything.
I don’t think it matters which India or which part of India you come from; you’re going to relate to one another because you don’t do so on a material level but an emotional one.
And what do you make of the controversy over India Shining vs “poverty porn” sparked off by Slumdog Millionaire?
I think it’s been completely blown out of proportion. It’s nonsensical.. (Getting worked up) It’s just a film. If it’s offending you, don’t watch it!
And let’s not mince words here. Slumdog Millionaire is not made by an Indian, it’s not an Indian film. It’s got a lot of Indian talent in it, but that doesn’t make it an Indian film. Hollywood goes and makes films in Italy — that doesn’t make them Italian films.
But I think it’s a wonderful film and I wish it well. I’m happy that people like Rasool (Pookutty), Gulzar saab and (AR) Rahman are getting recognised on a global platform.
Rahman has been the music man on three of your films — Yuva, Guru and now, Delhi 6. Have you interacted much with him?
Yes, Rahman is a friend. Someone I have tremendous respect for and someone who has always been very forthcoming with me. Guru and Yuva have been immensely lucky for me; both films have been milestones in my career. And I’m hoping it’s the same with Delhi 6.
Masakalli has grabbed attention as few songs have in recent times, hasn’t it?
Yes, what’s wonderful about Rahman is that he gets into the mood of the film. His music is never a different entity; it’s always something that’s immersed in the film and that’s what makes his versatility so amazing.
And Masakalli, the dove, (gender unascertained at this point, I have to confess; so hereafter will be referred to as her).. how many scenes did you have with her?
Most of my scenes.. Masakalli is quite the star of the film.
And how cooperative a co-star was she?
Very. Masakalli was very well trained, knew the dialogue, was on the ball, and always on time. The most professional actor there was on the set.
She didn’t poop on you?
No, Masakalli was always very clean and hygienic.
And she didn’t cost much either.Yes, very economical, too. A brilliant acting talent, a wonderful co-star.. one of my favourite co-stars in the film!
She’s certainly set the tone for the movie pre-release.. it has a very refreshingly low-gloss feel.
Yes, Delhi 6 is not the usual glam film we make. It’s not a Dostana, for example. That’s Rakeysh’s style, more steeped in reality.
And cinematographer Binod Pradhan is a modern-day genius. He’s captured the essence of Delhi, its flavour, so beautifully, it’s almost tactile. When people see the film, they’ll believe they were really there; they will smell Delhi, their senses will be aroused.
Obviously, you shot a lot on set, but how much did you shoot on the streets of Delhi?
Most of the film was shot on a set that was about a kilometre long. They recreated Chandni Chowk in a place called Sambar, about 100 kms near Jaipur.
We shot only for about 10 days on the streets of Delhi and we’d get out as soon as the sun came up. Dawn is a wonderful time to witness and it was interesting to see the city waking up. Also, we’d never tell anybody we were going to shoot and it was fun to watch people wondering, hey, was that Abhishek Bachchan I saw just now?
Have you always been comfortable shooting on the streets?
Before I started doing it, I used to think, my God, all those hundreds of people looking at you, this is going to be disastrous. But once the camera rolls, you’re in a different space and you’re fine.
So what’s the toughest kind of scene for you now?
Comedy is possibly the toughest. I remember the way we all approached Dostana; we thought, oh, we just have to look good, Aki Narula’s going to make some fantastic costumes, we’re shooting in Miami, let’s have fun.
But when we got there, we went, whoa, wait a minute, this is really tough. To achieve the perfect timing and make it look spontaneous after so many rehearsals is tough.
So have you’ve gotten better at comedy?
(Grins) I hope so. Dostana was a big hit, so here’s a pat on the back for that one!
Next comes Mani Ratnam’s film with Aishwarya. You seem to have planned your together time well.
Why does everyone keep saying that?
Because you’ve made so many films together!
Last year, I did one film with her — Sarkar Raj — and two without her.
Well, there was Guru before that in 2007, Dhoom 2 and Umrao Jaan in 2006, and one more coming up this year, we hear.
Yes, we’ve both signed on to do a film with Abhinay (Deo), later on in the year.
But I don’t choose my co-stars, you know, that’s the director’s prerogative. Perhaps they all want to see us together. But I’m not complaining! We take what we can get!