Farhan Akhtar pole-vaulted into the big league as the writer-director of Dil Chahta Hai in 2001. In the ensuing 14 years, Akhtar has extended his oeuvre to include production, acting, singing, modelling and activism. It takes him by surprise when I mention that he has now acted in more films (eight) than he has directed (four). Sitting behind a vast uncluttered desk, sporting a beard and hat, Akhtar speaks about his latest film Wazir. Edited excerpts:

It’s been four years since you directed ‘Don 2’. Is Farhan better known as the actor or the director today?

I guess in seven years of acting I have acted in eight films (the ninth, Rock On!! 2, is under production). Two years out of that seven were spent on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag alone. So you could say seven films have happened in five years. Direction takes up a lot of time: Each film takes two years or more from scripting to release. It’s a lengthier process than acting. At the moment I am enjoying acting. There is a nice flow, so why mess with it.

Did ‘Wazir’ challenge you as much as playing Milkha Singh did?

No, because that character (Milkha Singh) is so far removed from who I am—a non-English-speaking boy from a village at a time so different from the one I live in and a world that is so different from the one I belong to. Plus it was a very emotional, dramatic and tragic story. We prepped for eight months. It would be nice to get challenged to that extent again.

Wazir does do it to a certain extent in the sense that my character Daanish is from the police force, but he is still a city person, so I did not have to go far from my familiar space. The challenge was to get the discipline of the guy, his body language, how he must have trained, and his background.

How do you achieve that?

Well, a lot of that is built into the script and you also understand that from the director (Bejoy Nambiar). The other is (through) observation and by reading books. Also, we know a lot of people from the police force and ATS (anti-terrorist squad). I have met one officer often, at functions like his children’s annual days, etc., and to see him when he is not in uniform is when you see the softer side. However, that body language is so ingrained, and my character is like that. He takes pride in this job.

You have known Amitabh Bachchan since your childhood. You directed him in ‘Lakshya’ and now you are co-stars in ‘Wazir’. Were you still in awe?

Even though I have known him since I was a kid does not mean I am not filled with awe when I work with him. You are meeting that guy, who did that film and that scene. You feel childlike because you are a fan and an admirer. Fortunately, he is really easy (to be around). Having said that, it took me 3-4 hours to settle in on the first day on set. After weeks of rehearsal, you are in costume with make-up, on set, with a chessboard in between you and him, and you know this will be the shot—it’s surreal. When the first shot rolled, I went over to the monitor and asked Bejoy to show it to me. I wanted to make sure it was really there.

How would you describe ‘Wazir’?

It’s an emotional drama thriller. At its heart, it’s the story of two friends and how they bring each other back from the lowest points in their lives. Chess is a metaphor for the game being played in the film. A thriller requires a certain pace, while an emotional drama requires a certain stillness. It’s a testament to good writing by Abhijat (Joshi) and Vinod (Chopra) that they have been able to strike a balance (between the two).

This is your first action film.

Yes, and doing action was fun. I love action movies. I am fascinated by the Die Hard movies. I loved the bike riding, the car chase, rolling across the road. As for the running scene, I have had two years of practice so I warned the unit I am going to run very fast, be prepared.

You are already deep into shooting the sequel to ‘Rock On!!’. What next?

There is no concrete plan after Rock On!! 2. The intention is to take two-three months off. I have been working non-stop since Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. So I thought why not keep Rock On!! 2 as a bookend and think about what I want to focus on going ahead. One of the projects is to finish some of the music stuff that I have written, which I want to get produced as an independent album. I’ll also use this time to write or revisit scripts I have.

What is your opinion on creativity in times of censorship and in the face of a majoritarian impulse?

Creativity has to survive and it’s important to fight for it and stand together for it. We cannot be squeamish about stuff. You have to be able to talk about things and let people decide for themselves. To treat young adults, say even those over 21, as children and say we cannot show you something because it may be bad for you is unacceptable.

Many countries have (movie) ratings that function on a system that distinguishes (the audience) by age. That’s what we need to create. The majoritarian impulse is clearly there. We are seeing it every day in some manifestation or the other.

We are a very young country and what we are going through now, slightly older democracies or republics have already been through. Look at America in the 1950s, when they had the Communist witch-hunt, segregation, etc…. The unfortunate part is that we have not learnt from other people’s mistakes.

Wazir releases on 8 January.

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