Where’s the party tonight? Right here, right now rocking to Abhishek Bachchan’s beat. He’s nabbed top-of-the-line movies, hotshot directors are lining up to meet him, a slew of hits under his belt, reams of glowing articles under his arm and ahem, ahem… the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai besides him. Of course, that neither will acknowledge their relationship in public is another matter altogether. But more of that later. For now, AB Jr is the Crown Prince of the popularity stakes. As you engage him in a conversation at Yash Raj studio, it turns out that he doesn’t like interviews very much. In fact, not at all. “They’re a torture,” he confesses. “I get nervous about interviews. I don’t know what to say.” And so the first few minutes pass in a monosyllabic daze. But then he begins to thaw. The frost melts. And suddenly we’re chatting away. As he talks, you notice that he’s animated in conversation and has the ability of making you feel you have his complete attention. It’s partly because he maintains steady eye contact that prevents him from seeming evasive, even when he is being evasive. Which is quite often, may you add. You set the ball rolling with queries about his just released Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. He smiles, “Karan (Johar) likes everything large, opulent. He likes everything to be in your face in terms of emotions and songs. He’s so unapologetic about all he does. I love that about him. Because he does everything with a lot of conviction, it’s great fun to be part of his world. Today our cinema is leaning towards realism and subtlety and then comes Karan who says, ‘No, this is the way things should be done.’” He’s quite happy with the way his role has shaped up. There was no question about feeling insecure about being overshadowed by Shah Rukh Khan. “I think in order to be insecure you have to be in a position of equality with that person,” he fires away. “I have no illusions of grandeur. I know who the more senior and more popular actor is. I just feel happy that I got the chance to stand in the same frame as Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. For me, it was more exciting working with Shah Rukh for the first time. We didn’t have too much work together. But it was fun just being on the same set as him because he takes such good care of you. He used to make sure I’d worked out, that I’d had my meals. He’s literally like the head of the party. He and Dad together are a riot. Between the two of them they can entertain everyone.” He continues, “It’s only after you’ve worked with Shah Rukh and Dad you realize why they enjoy the position they do. It’s not just luck. Yes, luck plays a major role in our profession. But you realize the hard work, the dedication that goes into their work. You have to see Shah Rukh on the sets. I’ve never worked with a more giving actor.” Before you can ask him to explain, he says, “He’s always more concerned about what you’re doing. I had a few scenes with him and he’d say, ‘Why don’t you try it this way.’ His energy is so infectious, you start wondering why am I sitting on the side? I should be out there doing the stuff. When we were shooting in New York, I had four days off. I had to return to India to attend a wedding. And when I was back, Shah Rukh hugged me and said he’d missed me. I was like, ‘Wow! He’s so protective and caring’. It’s wonderful for a younger co-star to feel wanted.” Hearing him talk about Shah Rukh Khan, one would imagine there’s no malice between them. And yet every day talk abounds about how things aren’t too hunky dory between the Bachchans and Shah Rukh Khan. How Shah Rukh didn’t attend an award function because Amitabh Bachchan is its Brand Ambassador. Tell him this and a slight scowl perches on his brows. He rubbishes it all. “Shah Rukh and I have laughed about it. I don’t know who’s spreading these stories. Maybe it comes with the territory. I don’t know. To me, it’s certainly media-generated.” When you object to that allegation, his voice rises an octave, “You guys have fertile imaginations, which is good. But unfortunately for you guys, it’s not true. I love Shah Rukh. He’s great. I’ve got to know him through my parents. And it’s a relationship I’ll always cherish. Not only because of who he is professionally but because of who he is as a person.” As for not attending the award function, he adds, “You can’t blame the man for being on holiday with his family. If I were on holiday with my family, I wouldn’t go to any award function either. That’s unfair to the man. Leave him alone.” Okay. Point noted. Move on to the other topic then. Aishwarya Rai. The two haven’t admitted to their relationship but the gristmills have been churning enough fodder about the two being a couple. Of course, he’s been expecting the question all along. To begin with all he’ll say is, “Ash is brilliant as a co-star. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-star. But by the grace of God, I’ve been very lucky with all my co-stars. They’ve all been wonderful, so evolved.” His unwillingness to talk is not surprising, given his previous reticence to speak about his private life in public. He deftly steers the conversation every time it ventures down that avenue. Indeed the most he’ll say is, “Firstly, I don’t see why people are so interested. Secondly, it shows immense disrespect to women to talk about them like that. I don’t think your parents would be too happy if someone spoke about you like that. Then why should you talk about other people like that? My parents have always taught me to respect women. I think it’s rude to talk about them like that.” Tell him it’s part of the celebrity circus and he nods, “Fair enough. You’re public property, you’ll be up for speculation. That doesn’t mean we, as actors, have to indulge in it. We have to know where to draw the line.” But he says he isn’t offended by these questions. “If media scrutiny and public speculation irks you, you have no business being an actor,” he reasons. And then he jests, “I’m just grateful that it’s restricted to one lady, right now. Usually, I’m asked about many more. Guess I’m slowly working my way down the ladder.” His laughter resonates throughout the café. And with prickly topics like Aishwarya Rai out of the way, AB turns on the charm faucet. He is funny, charming, and very engaging. And you know why he’s the Crown Prince.
“What’s that?” he asks, screwing up his nose. When you explain that he’s the prince on the popularity stakes, he shakes his head, “I don’t think so. There’s no such thing. There are about a billion viewers of Hindi films in the world, if not more. I mean there’s more than room for everyone. If you’re an actor you just have to do your job, that’s it. You try and make movies that you’re proud of, movies that entertain.” He certainly has been doing that. Over the last few years he busied himself forging a career, honing his skills and preparing for his arrival into the big league. Result: Dhoom, Bunty Aur Babli, Sarkar, and Bluffmaster. All hits. He attributes the success to its directors, to the crew, and to everyone but himself. Reclining in his chair, he points out, “I’m just a lucky rider. Dhoom was a brilliantly directed, wonderfully produced, and greatly marketed film. And I thankfully got some recognition. Bunty Aur Babli was again wonderfully directed. Ditto with Sarkar and Bluffmaster. Frankly, I can’t take credit for any of these films. I’m very thankful for the directors I’m working with today. They are from my dream list. You feel very honored. But as long as you know that it’s all about them and not about you, you’re fine.” He recalls the advice Aditya Chopra gave him when he was having dinner with him and Karan Johar. “He said, ‘You should feel lucky you’re in a Karan Johar film, because you have to earn a Karan Johar film. These are filmmakers who are at the top; they’re the best of the best. You have to earn the fact that they’re willing to cast you in their film.’ I realize that. Filmmaking is a director’s medium. So you don’t choose the filmmaker, he chooses you.” To fully appreciate the scale of metamorphosis he’s undergone, factor in the fact that he was virtually written off by all and sundry. But he maintains that he never felt persecuted then so there’s no question of feeling vindicated now. He laughs, “If people were writing me off it was because I was bad. They were right. I don’t know why actors take criticism in a negative way and look on it as a personal onslaught. It’s just people telling you what they think. Everyone can’t be wrong. I looked upon it in a positive way. In reviews someone said his hair is bad, his make-up is wrong, he can’t dance. I took it as pointers that I need to improve my hair, improve my make-up and learn how to dance. In fact, I would say, ‘Chalo, let my reviews come they’ll tell me what I did wrong.’ I won’t have to try and figure it all out myself. They were doing my homework for me.” It’s this attitude that won him the day. Today even he perceives changes in himself that warrant listing. He enumerates, “I like to believe I’m more confident. I like to believe I’m improving every day. That’s the beauty of this industry, you’re constantly learning on the job. I think I’m more comfortable too. There’s a long way to go but I’m getting there. I’m getting into the groove.” The camera is still not his best friend, he confesses though. “Only the greats can lay claim to that,” he reiterates. “But I’m getting it right. I would be hopeless if I didn’t improve over the years, right? But I still have a long way to go. There’s so much great work being done. I mean when you see Dad do a Black or Sarkar, you’re awestruck. At this stage of his career, he whips out a performance like that. Frankly, it’s demoralizing to some extent because I know I’ll never be that good. But on the other hand, it’s inspiring to see that even at this stage he can find the inspiration to carry on. And even at this stage he can’t sleep at night because he’s nervous about his performance. And if Mr. Bachchan is scared of his work, I should be petrified of mine. And believe me, I am.” But that doesn’t stop him from jumping out of bed every morning eager to get to the studio. “I love what I do. I love being an actor,” he yodels. “I love film-making. I love the smell of the sets. I love hanging out with my friends and working with them. Acting is the be-all of my life.” And with a chuckle he adds, “I just hope it’s not the end-all. That’s the way it should be. If you’re not prepared to give everything to it, you’re not going to get anything. There’s no scope for anything else in life.” Consequently, the actor has movies like Umrao Jaan, Dhoom 2, Guru, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom coming up in the next few months. Importantly this glut of work will take the arc lights away from his personal life and focus on his professional. Draw the conversation then to Mani Ratnam, one director who is fond of Abhishek and swears by him. Tell him that and he retorts jokingly, “Swears by me or at me. But Mani is great. I think it would be unfortunate for any actor if he didn’t get the opportunity to work with him. I’m just so lucky that I’ve worked in two films with him. He’s someone I love working with. Because he constantly teaches you to improve yourself.” The conversation then turns to Abhishek, the person and he throws you off-kilter by telling you that he leads a very normal life. “You can lead as normal a life as you want to,” he explains. “An actor’s private life can be as private as he wants it to be. What happens within the four walls is up to you. I’m part of a very normal family. I’m as normal as the next man walking on the road.” Sure, yeah, right. How can Amitabh Bachchan’s son be normal? “Precisely because Amitabh Bachchan is a very normal man,” he deadpans like his dad. “If you want to make it difficult for yourself you can. If you want to play the whole stardom game you can. I don’t feel the need for that. I love the fact that when I pack up I come home and sit on the sofa with Mom and Dad and watch TV, eat dinner and just chat. That’s a highlight for me. Another highlight is that I go to Delhi to meet my nephew and niece, play with them in the park outside their house, or take them for a drive. I perceive these things as what normal people would do. I enjoy going for a walk on the roads.” True, but can he? “Of course,” he retorts, “You can do anything you want to do.” He’s in an enviable position, building up a career without seeming awed by it. And yet you can’t resist asking him one last one. Does he feel he’s finally arrived? He shakes his head, “No. You forget who I go back home to. Mom and Dad are my standards. I have a very long way to go. You can’t compare with them. But it shows you there’s that much to be achieved. It’s only the beginning.” Great beginnings are made of this then. Copyright ® 2006 Filmfare right reserved. ……………………………………………………………………. 5 THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT ABHISHEK BACHCHAN His birthday falls on Feb. 5, 1976. He’s an Aquarian. His name Abhishek was given to him by his grandfather, Harivanshrai Bachchan. At home, he’s called Bhaiyyu. He loves bikes and would often go riding late at night with John Abraham. But his mother is paranoid about his safety so he stopped riding the bike. “Can’t put them through that kind of stress,” he explains. His favorite artist is Caravaggio. He had 16 flops before Dhoom became a super hit.