Abhishek Bachchan is back in the groove. Having fully recovered from COVID-19, the actor is game to chat about his recent digital debut, Breathe: Into The Shadows. The psychological-thriller series had premiered on Amazon Prime Video on July 10, just two days before the actor was admitted to the Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai, along with his father Amitabh Bachchan (they were both discharged separately earlier this month).
Abhishek says he was following the reactions to the show in the meantime. While the reviews were scathing (to put it mildly), the audience response has been ‘overwhelming’, the actor shares. "It was difficult to understand or fathom the extent of the praise as we are accustomed to box-office collections to gauge the success of our films. But here, you don’t have that, so I guess you have to go by what you hear and read on social media or in the papers. In all humility, I can’t remember the last time I received this kind of positive response," he says.
Reprising season one's concept, Breathe: Into The Shadows follows a desperate father out to save his child. Avinash Sabharwal (Abhishek) is a well-to-do psychiatrist in Delhi. At a party, his six-year-old daughter, Siya, is kidnapped. The kidnapper, in a chequered hoodie and mask, demands Avinash conduct a chain of murders to rescue his kid. After some reluctance, the doc agrees, and is joined in his quest by his wife (Nithya Menen). The cast also features Amit Sadh (returning as Kabir Sawant from Breathe 1) and Saiyami Kher.
Of course, that summary only scratches the surface. In keeping with director Mayank Sharma’s style, the series is packed with crazy twists and turns. The main reveal, when it comes, is enough to knock over a building.
More than a few critics dismissed the plotting as 'preposterous'. However, Abhishek stands by it. "The plot grabbed my attention on my first-ever meeting with Mayank. It really intrigued me. It was just what I was looking for — a layered, complex story with wonderful characters and graph," he says.
Like many recent web-shows, Breathe makes several allusions to Indian mythology. The villain bases his philosophy on the ‘ten heads of Ravana’ — each representative of a primal emotion in human nature. "The reference to Raavan nicely conveyed Mayank’s vision for the characters," says Abhishek, who had played a version of the mythic anti-hero in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan (2010).
Likewise, the topic of mental health turns up as a plot device here. It’s a notable trend among crime thrillers that seek narrative shock via childhood traumas. In the process, they often end up stigmatising mental illness, or worse, creating stereotypes.
Asked about this, Abhishek maintains that content creators are ‘aware of sensitivities’ and do not intend to demean anyone. "I personally would not like to take such topics and treat them lightly. We paid great attention to this in Breathe: Into The Shadows," he says.
Having made the jump, Abhishek is thrilled to explore the digital landscape further. His upcoming film, The Big Bull, is set to premiere on Disney+ Hotstar. Directed by Kookie Gulati, the film revisits stockbroker Harshad Mehta’s involvement in the 1992 securities scam. Abhishek will also be seen in Ludo, Anurag Basu’s ensemble comedy set to arrive on Netflix.
"I’m enjoying this phase greatly. There is a certain freedom, and a great sense of confidence in my capabilities. Not to say that I don’t need to work hard... quite the opposite. I want to work even harder and am not complacent about my work," he says.
The actor is guarded about a follow-up to Breathe. The new series ended on a cliff-hanger, with the code ‘C-16’ leaving fans guessing. "You’ll have to wait and watch," he teases, signing off.