In 2001, 27-year-old Farhan Akhtar directed Dil Chahta Hai, making a dream debut in the world of Hindi cinema. One of the defining films of the decade, Dil Chahta Hai introduced a new sensibility and approach to film-making that has, nine years later, already inspired new film-makers. Akhtar, meanwhile, hasn’t looked back—after directing two more films (Lakshya and Don), he decided to step in front of the camera. His first film, The Fakir of Venice, is yet to see a cinematic release, but Rock On!! and Luck by Chance earned him a big fan following, as well as a clutch of awards.
Connected: A still from Karthik Calling Karthik; and Akhtar (right).
From next week, he will be seen romancing Deepika Padukone and being tormented by a voice at the end of a phone in Karthik Calling Karthik. Later in the year, he will return to the director’s chair with Don 2. Edited excerpts from a conversation with Akhtar on his many roles:
‘Karthik Calling Karthik’ is not a romantic film, is it?
It’s a suspense drama. But given how stories cannot just be straight to the point and need digressions, the romance plays an important part in the film. This character wants change in his life because of this girl. His desire for her is the thrust of the conflict. Once she is in his life, she helps him with this phenomenon of receiving a phone call from himself.
There has been speculation that you play a double role in the film. Is the voice at the other end of the phone yours?
Unfortunately, for reasons well known to you, I cannot say. I will say that it is a really interesting script and challenging part for any actor because there is such a swing in Karthik’s personality.
Are you ever aware in real life of having an alter ego?
No, but there was this point when I felt that I had become somebody else. Maybe being in Ladakh for five months during the shooting of Lakshya, in a very hard place and dealing with that mentally, required certain changes to be made to cope with the stress. When I returned home, I found I was a different person, maybe even negatively so. I felt a little invincible.
Karthik has a secret in the film?
Karthik lives with the guilt of feeling responsible for the death of his brother. He feels guilty because he was the only (one) present when his brother died. This has made him timid and introverted, unable to deal with problems. This is where the film starts.
Do you enjoy working with first-time directors?
I have only worked with directors who are relatively new. I am looking forward to doing a film with Sudhir Mishra next year and hopefully, I will be in the grand scheme of things of experienced directors. But no complaints about the people I have worked with so far. I think that stems from them being the writers of their own material. I would be a lot more cautious of directors who bring a script written by someone else. Maybe because I wrote and directed my first film, and I know the clarity with which I was approaching the direction in that movie.
You have a busy year ahead.
Yes, I start Zoya’s (Akhtar) road film in May in Spain with Hrithik Roshan and Abhay Deol. Then I move on to directing Don 2 from October in Berlin. I am looking forward to it. After four years, I am really missing directing. The script is done; we are in pre-production, location hunting and casting the new cast. We already have Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani, Arjun Rampal and Om Puri.
You are also adapting Chetan Bhagat’s novel ‘The Three Mistakes of My Life’ as a film. Have you sorted the credit issue with him?
Maybe Chetan has learnt his hard lessons. He is working on the screenplay with Abhishek Kapoor, so he will get a screenplay credit. That whole thing on 3 Idiots is a bit complicated... but I do find it hard to believe that he would not know where his credit is. However, he deserved a story credit.
After four films, how do you see your progress as an actor?
Each film has given me a certain amount of strength and confidence to go ahead and try something more. I hope that will keep happening. Right now, I am somewhere at the bottom of the learning curve and trying to make my way as far up as I can.
‘Dil Chahta Hai’ has become a landmark film. How does that make you feel?
I feel old! No, really, it’s great. I think of all the movies I have grown up watching and the movies that have inspired me to do the work I do; and it’s fascinating that you can do a piece of work that can encourage, motivate and inspire others to make films...I feel lucky and grateful. A new generation is coming up—I am senior now, can you believe it? I need a moment to wipe my tears.
Karthik Calling Karthik releases on 26 February.
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