HT Brunch Cover Story: Body of work
I remember watching the three-minute Zinda Hai Toh track from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag eight years ago on TV, awed by Farhan Akhtar’s physical transformation that made the film seem so real. I had the same feeling when I watched the teaser of Toofaan on Amazon Prime Video, in which he’s effortlessly tossing a tyre in the air.
The path to this role of a boxer, it seems, was nothing short of transformative, both mentally and physically. The 47-year-old actor, it appears, doesn’t settle for anything less than real.
“One part of your mind knows it’s a job. The other part is just as strong in the belief that filmmaking is art and you want to give it everything you can,” says Farhan on a call just before his portrayal of boxer Aziz Ali hits our screens on July 16.
Make or break
With Toofaan, Farhan is teaming up with director Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra once again.
“We had wanted to collaborate again after our last movie. But for a long time there was no idea or script that felt right,” says Farhan. “Then when I spoke to Rakyesh about this story, he got into it immediately and has created and delivered a fantastic film!”
On-screen magic comes from a director’s trust in the actor. Rakyesh has often said that Farhan does not just act the part, but lives it. Farhan feels exactly the same way about directors and actors.
“It is important that the director feels good about the cast she or he works with,” he says. “When you do something special while working with someone you consider special, it is important to deliver. That’s what I try my best to do and I’m thankful he recognises that.”
Not long ago, the success of an actor was judged by the number of movies they did a year. But today, most actors focus on one role at a time, giving it their all. What does this new wave of slow prep mean for movies?
“It’s great to see so many actors investing themselves so heavily into their films ’cause that’s what the job demands and that’s what is special about it too,” says Farhan.
“We get opportunities to live all sorts of lives to the fullest. That’s what is so exciting about our craft! You live another life, think like another person, be another person for that period. Sometimes you succeed in doing that part well, sometimes you fall short but it’s part and parcel of what you do.”
Slow prep contributes heavily to how an actor feels when the movie is released. “There’s a temporary joy in what might be called box office success or immediate gratification. But there’s another side to it, which is your work speaking for itself. That’s hopefully something that will resonate over time,” says Farhan.
Fists of steel
Unlike other actors who show off their physiques the minute they up their game, Farhan has never been the kind of person to flaunt his body. Even his Instagram has pictures of him in simple T-shirts and trousers, in a more casual avatar.
“Each person has their own sense of comfort, flamboyance and flair,” he points out. “My personal style is about being comfortable. I’m comfortable in the way I dress, in the way I carry myself and that’s all that really matters. I don’t stop to think about it beyond that, TBH.”
As far as the movie physiques go, he trusts the experts who train him. “Your trainer and your nutritionist know much better about the science of this kind of thing than you do,” he says. “For Toofaan, I had a three-month training period and I went from 72 kgs to 86 kgs. The kind of calories I consumed was monitored regularly and they were categorical that I could not stop training so my body could be worked out.”
The effort must have been gruelling, but Farhan is quite certain that he did not over-do the training in such a way as to have it adversely impact his personal fitness.
“It was charted out properly and as for its long-term effects only time will tell,” he says. Mentally, he works out via meditation – sometimes. “I go through phases of meditation, but now promotions have become my meditation,” he laughs.
Train too hard
Farhan has been behind the camera too, at the helm of cult movies like Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and Don franchise (2006 and 2011). So when he’s invested as an actor, does he keep his directorial hat away?
It’s not like that. If you speak with any actor and director who have collaborated closely, the film is eventually a shared vision,” he explains. “Whether it’s the director or the actor or the writer, everybody has to see the same film and visualise the same film. This happens via discussion and dialogue. But when I act, I discuss my role in terms of wanting what’s best for the performance.”
Creative collaboration, as Farhan says, is what the audience enjoys on screen. Musically, too, Toofaan sees a revival of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio uniting with Rakyesh and Farhan for the second time.
The actor spent months training for his part and it wasn’t until the very last day on the set that his character truly began to wear off.
“Gradually, you work the character out of your system and move on to something else,” he says. “In this case, that couldn’t happen because we had a lockdown announced three or four days after the shoot ended. So, this character stayed with me a little bit longer than usual and since we were stuck in the same house, we just had to coexist.”
He’s both excited and anxious about the way the audience will react to Toofaan, releasing on Amazon Prime this Friday. This nervousness is the same whether the film releases in theatres or whether it jumps straight to streaming.
“At the end of the day, all you’re waiting to hear as an actor is that they like it. That never changes,” he chuckles.
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From HT Brunch, July 11, 2021
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