Farhan Akhtar: Farhan Akhtar has turned director with Dil Chahta Hai (he has also written it).
Literally christened into a film career, it does not come as a shock that Farhan Akhtar has turned director with Dil Chahta Hai (he has also written it).
But that he savoured a challenge of telling a simplified, refreshing and yet gripping tale of three post-pubescent male viewpoints on life and love; that the film is a testament to his cutting edge creativity and ushers in a new wave of urban and chic entertainment; and that sooner than later Javed Akhtar will be known as Farhan Akhtar's father instead of it being the other way round, whips up an enormous appetite to learn all one can about the 20-something ingenue.
Fresh from the success of his venture, he is clearly ebullient and yet takes every opportunity to downplay his in-demandness when I catch him at his Bandra residence.
BY PRIYA PARIKH-TANNA
Q: What were your expectations of DCH?
A.D.:Farhan Akhtar (FA): Similar to the expectations of any person of a project that he/she starts, you want the best for it. No matter how confident any person feels of his/her film doing well, somewhere inside you are incredibly nervous, unsure and yet hopeful. And these three feelings sum up what I was feeling for the film. I only hoped that it would do this well. And it has figured high on my expectation chart.
Q: What were your reference points when you were growing up? FA: Initially I think it was animation.
Q:And during your formative years?
FA: (laughs) I still think it was animation. Actually there were many influences thanks to my parents. They exposed my sister Zoya and me to movies from all parts of the world and to different genres, at the same time keeping a strict rating system in mind. Filmmakers like Mr. Guru Dutt and Mr. Bimal Roy left a deep impression on my mind and there were many more from the world over.
These were really progressive film makers who always tackled real life characters. Not your larger than life variety but commoners like you and me with strengths and flaws. And yet their movies were considered commercial. So I strongly feel that their school of thought where you can retain a certain pace within the real life and at the same time can cater to a wider audience is what has influenced me.
Q:Any strong influences in music?
FA: Again, there are many influences that range from Indian to western music. The opera scene in the movie for example, it stems from the fact that when I was young my mother used to listen to a lot of Mozart and Beethoven.
And for whatever it was worth at that age, it sounded incredibly interesting and romantic and that is why I have used it in the movie. Another influence was Peter Gabriel.
Q:Were you an avid reader?
FA: Not initially. That was a habit I had to cultivate painfully. But once the floodgates opened, I started reading a lot though I prefer non-fiction over fiction. What interested me were lots of biographies, film-related books on editing and photography.
Q:The fact that your parents are Bollywood biggies, did that ever hit you?
FA: You know it would have hit me, it had happened after I was born. But they were already in it, had achieved much and were established even before I was born. So it was nothing new for me to adjust it.
Q:How did you get your first break?
FA: After quitting college, I started working as an assistant cameraman to Manmohan Singh on Lamhe. During the filming of the movie, I further decided to become a director instead of director of photography. So I assisted Pankaj Parashar on Himalayputra.
After this I did three years of assisting-cum-copywriting-cum-production managing at this production house called Script Shop for Adi Pocha. After this, Zoya and I co-directed Shanker Mahadevan's Breathless video and another one for Pentagram. It was during this music video process that I started working on the script for DCH.
Q:Considering you learnt on the job, do you regret not having done a formal course in film making?
FA: Definitely not, because it is something I can always do. Infact, I definitely want to go to film school, but I am just waiting for the right time. There is also this particular workshop that I want to do. It teaches acting to directors, to help understand the psychology of the actors and to communicate better with them.
Q:How did the idea for DCH come by?
FA: A friend and I, we would meet every evening and discuss story ideas. And the idea for one of the characters came up one evening and I decided to work on it. The interesting plot of the movie started to move towards this character, and what happens to him and his friends. This excited me tremendously because it was a relatively new take on friendships with new sensibilities. I then decided to make the female role in this movie as sub plots.
Q:What was your first day of shooting like? Were you nervous?
FA: I remember it very clearly. It is the scene where Saif tells Akshaye and Aamir that he is in love with Sonali. I had all three of them on the set and knew that the first day would set an example for my style of working. I was very nervous. But thankfully it went off well.
Q:Every hit film owes its success to one factor more than the other? What do you think was for DCH?
FA: I think it's the script. Firstly, that is what attracted everybody to do the film. Yes, people have appreciated the performance and the way the film was made, but what they have liked the most is the way the story unfolds.
And to think that when I wrote the script in '98 I had no plans of directing it. I wanted to offer it someone. But I took it up and made it in flat four months.
Q:How would you compare writing to directing?
FA: Both are extremely enjoyable for completely different reasons. With writing, it is like having a party in our head. It is an internal process where you are drawing from personal and other people's experiences and from the people you have met.
Directing on the other hand is a completely external process where you have to let your actions speak and where you have to convince your stars and the viewers.
Q:How much has your literary lineage helped?
FA: I am sure there has been some influence at the genetic level. But from the time I have started writing not just this film, but writing in general it has been an amazingly enjoyable process.
Q:Is this your first script?
FA: Yes, it's my first film script, but I have written short stories and poems (that are unpublished) and I do keep a diary-cum-journal to pen down my thoughts.
Q:Did you seek much of your father's advice during the scripting or the filming stage?
FA: I wanted accurate and unbiased reactions from people whom I could trust and my father was one of them. I wanted him to hear the script as a member of the audience and not as a writer and a father. So I didn't let him read the first draft, I narrated it to him.
Q:How did you come around to deciding the cast?
FA: With Saif, the way he comes across on screen made me cast him for the role of Sameer. With Aamir and Akshaye I had a wish list of actors I wanted to work with and both featured highly on the list. I went and met them on a whim, on one level even ready for rejection, but luckily enough they agreed.
For the actresses, I have known Preity for a while. I like her outlook towards life and her spirit and I can't see anybody but her doing the role of Shalini. Same with Dimple, no one else could have done it. With Sonali, I screen-tested her.
At that time I hadn't decided upon the physicality of her role and what sort of a character I wanted. When I met her she had something very relaxing and self-assured about her which made her the perfect fit for the role of Pooja.
Initially, I was intimidated by the thought that I am working with big stars, but it all eases up and calms down when you realise that they are on your side and also want the best for the movie.
Q:What was your reaction when you saw the first rough cut of the movie?
FA: It was pure joy. This was the first time that I had done anything of this duration and magnitude. Also, you don't shoot scenes in a sequence. So seeing it all together and seeing that it is working well is an incredible feeling.
Q:What are you proudest about the movie?
FA:I think I'm the proudest about the fact that people who matter to me, people whose work I am influenced by friends and family have appreciated the work that has gone into it.
They have unanimously said to me that this film could have only be written by me, because they know me and my sensibilities so well. The film is who I am.
Q:So what's next?
FA: There are two ideas that are being formulated. One is a script I am working on and another which somebody else is working on for me. So let's see which materialises.
Q:How famous do you want to be?
FA: I want to be as famous as my work can be. I don't really aspire for fame I am just thoroughly enjoying what I am doing. Obviously the certain amount of recognition you get for your work is a boost. So obviously its a positive side effect. But that is really not the reason why I do what I do.