Farhan Akhtar defends Zoya: Categorising someone as elitist is unfair

Farhan Akhtar, who plays an ATS officer in Wazir, on being a rock star, a feminist and a hero in real life.
Farhan Akhtar will soon be seen in Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Wazir.
Farhan Akhtar will soon be seen in Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Wazir.
Updated on Jan 03, 2016 10:34 AM IST
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Hindustsan Times | By

One look at his curly hair and beard and you know that Farhan Akhtar has slipped back into ‘grungy musician’ mode, a happy sign for those waiting for Rock On 2. The look is in sharp contrast to how he appears in the soon-to-release Wazir.

In Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film, Akhtar plays an Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) officer who strikes an unlikely friendship with a wheelchair-bound chess champion (Bachchan). The role is decidedly different from his recent outings – he’s played the sprinter Milkha Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and a privileged kid in Dil Dhadakne Do. But somehow it’s Farhan Akhtar who always emerges as the good guy. We asked him how he does it.

Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara feature dilemmas that many viewers have dismissed as privileged people’s problems.
It troubles me that people feel there is only one India that they know. If through films we, as creative people, can empathise, sympathise, appreciate or criticise the Indias that we are not aware of, the same benefit should be given the other way around. Many well-off people in this country have different kinds of problems, but that doesn’t mean those problems aren’t real for them. It’s equally fair to show their problems in a film.

If everybody made the same film about the same people, then what’s the point? I really feel for Zoya (Akhtar) and Reema (Kagti) in this aspect, because a lot of criticism came their way on this subject. Especially the ‘Who wants to see some rich kid having problems?’ argument. Categorising someone as elitist is unfair. You’re not basing your judgement on the emotional story, you’re basing it on the world in which it is set.

We’ve had many successful films in the past, where people lived in mansions with great staircases. It just looked different then. It’s the treatment that troubles people more than anything else.

Watch: Dil Dhadakne Do trailer

You started Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD) two years ago, and are also the first male Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women in South Asia. What is it like to be a feminist in Bollywood?
I don’t really look at it as [being a feminist] in Bollywood, because Bollywood is a part of our society. It’s important to speak up for things you feel about. With MARD, my focus is on men and boys. I don’t think your physical prowess defines you, unless you’re an athlete. If the impulses coming at you are constantly aggressive, the kind that say you’re not a man if you cry, then your view of the world will be skewed.

I also find the reactions to item songs exaggerated. If you’re so averse, you can decide not to watch it. When the playful aspect of romance and wooing goes into a place which becomes borderline stalking, or harassment, those signals are way more threatening. This is one thing that people in our field should understand — the impact we have on impressionable minds. You can’t say it’s not my problem.

After Don and Don 2, you’re part of another action-thriller, Wazir...
Playing Danish Ali, an ATS officer, is a first. While there is action in the film, I would call it an emotional drama-thriller. It’s got a very deep human story of friendship and love, and its pace is set by the thriller-like element. Working with Vidhu, Bejoy (Nambiar), Aditi (Rao Hydari) has been amazing. The script is different, and that’s what got me excited.

Playing with a thespian: Farhan Akhtar, seen in a still from Wazir with Amitabh Bachchan, says the film is an emotional drama-thriller.
Playing with a thespian: Farhan Akhtar, seen in a still from Wazir with Amitabh Bachchan, says the film is an emotional drama-thriller.

What influenced the decision to shoot Rock On 2 in Shillong?
The northeast is where people usually go to shoot a song. So, it was nice to bring it into mainstream Bollywood storytelling. You get to see nature in all its glory there and Shillong is also one of the rock capitals of India, so on that level, it was a great fit.

Also, I was very disturbed by a lot of northeastern students being targeted in urban cities and being asked to go back home. This is their home and they have as much of a right to be here as the person attacking them. I asked the director, Shujaat (Saudagar), to set the film there because it’s important that, in our own way, we send the message that we’re all one. And I’m glad we did. The government of Meghalaya was exceedingly helpful. When the shooting wrapped up, every crew member left with a heavy heart, which says a lot about that place.

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From HT Brunch, January 3, 2016

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    Shikha Kumar is a features writer, whose primary interests include books, feminism, gender studies, and pop culture. She’s always up for discussions on Urban Dictionary, Lena Dunham’s brand of feminism and the potato wedges-french fries conflict.

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