If you have been wondering why Farhan Akhtar is looking unusually muscular, it is because of his rigorous preparation to play athlete Milkha Singh in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag', a bio-pic on the life of the Flying Sikh. For months, the director-turned-actor has been pumping iron to get it right. Finally, when Singh met him during the film’s shooting, he was moved to see a close physical resemblance.
“That was the best compliment. He thought I looked perfect. For any actor to play Milkha Singh, the first thing to do is get into shape,” says Farhan. It wasn’t as if he was scrawny before. “I think I had the muscles but they were hidden. I wasn’t flaunting them enough,” he laughs.
When Farhan first heard the script, he was floored. “It was a fine balance of real life and drama. It was an inspiring journey of a man who led India to such glories. But sadly, we hadn’t been able to produce another athlete like him. The story moved me both on human level and psychological level. I am a writer and I felt it was very well researched.”
While Singh was co-operative and useful during the shooting, Farhan, years junior in age, felt there was a lot to learn from the great man. Humility and dedication were just two of the many things.
“From such humble beginnings, he rose to being an icon. Yet, I never found him in my interaction haughty or arrogant. He is proud, but remains a son of the soil,” says Farhan.
Interestingly, although Farhan has been friends with Mehra for years and rates him among the most talented directors of our age, he never got a chance to work with him. For one, when he did —in Rang De Basanti as one of the young characters—Farhan politely turned him down. When the film became a cult hit, Farhan regretted the decision. It was entirely his loss, he says. “Honestly, if Rakeysh had offered me the film today, I would have done it. Now I am an actor. At that point, I had no desire to be one. I was happy making films. I did not think too much about turning it down.”
Farhan’s earliest dreams were to be an actor though. He was an entertainer of the Akhtar household. All his childhood friends, Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan and Uday Chopra went on to become actors and stars in their own right. “I wanted to act in school. I used to enjoy being on stage but by the time I came to college, my focus shifted to music,” he says.
Watching movies was an early hobby, too. “I enjoyed watching them but I never said, ‘Oh, I want to act now, so let me watch movies.’ That’s not how it was. I have always been a fan of acting, I have always observed the way actors act. Of course, I grew up on Mr Bachchan. He was a big influence. But the only time I really thought about it seriously was during the time of The Fakir of Venice.”
Meant to be his debut film, The Fakir of Venice never released. But Rock On! did and established him as a truly multifaceted personality who could act, direct, produce and even sing. He says he never planned his career. “I spent a lot of time wondering what to do. I had no idea. I was a drifter for the longest time.”
As a director and producer, Farhan is a name to reckon with followed closely by sister Zoya who is now building her own little reputation. “Zoya is very talented, very level-headed. She is better than me,” he declares. She is also his best friend, with whom he shares every detail of his life. “But she behaves like my enemy, I don’t know why,” he trails off, bursting into a fit of laughter.
All in the Right ‘Spirit’.