Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar
He is a very funny man. Not in the conventional way though. His sense of humour is deadpan and witty. As opposed to that, his latest film is ‘Housefull 3’ demanded a completely different ‘sur’ of comedy. In the middle of a busy day, just as the actor walks into the conference room of his office, ‘Janak’; clad in white kurta pyjama with a shawl wrapped around his neck (and his signature beard intact), he can be intimidating. Not to mention, very handsome. But what makes this Bachchan a delight to speak to, is the fact that you can strike a conversation with him about almost anything – right from films to cooking! Here though, we talk about comedy and his latest release. Read on…
“Comedy is the genre which is largely dependent on writing”
What made you come on board for ‘Housefull 3’ and was there any apprehension at all?
When I first heard the narration, it was an instant yes, because I liked the story, the set-up, the premise of the film. I thought it was very funny. The format of ‘Housefull’ is very simple. It’s a house which is full of people, and there has to be chaos. That’s what it is here. So Akshay is a footballer but when he enters the house he has to pretend to be lame. Riteish is a race car driver and he pretends to be blind. I am a rapper, I keep yapping away and what I can’t do when I enter the house, is talk. The whole set-up is a lot of fun, but when you are about to start shooting, that’s when you start realising that – I’m the new one, so I shouldn’t be the one to mess it up. That’s why on the trailer launch I remember saying that now I understand why the villains in ‘Dhoom’ get so nervous. For them, they don’t want to be the one to ruin the franchise, there are a lot of expectations from the franchise. For ‘Housefull’ also, there’s a huge audience out there who has been actually looking forward to this film, and you’ll be shocked to see the different quarters that they come from. I don’t remember the last film I did and people asked me when is it coming. It’s one of those films which are very easy. We all have a hectic life, it’s summer, it’s hot, you just want to go have fun in the cinemas once in a while. This year we’ve had such wonderful work come out, but predominantly most of it has been very serious. I think ours is the first, out-and-out family comedy. When you start thinking of all that, you realise you have to work hard because you cannot be the one messing it up. But once we started shooting, then all those thoughts went and I was comfortable.
A film like this must have been a lot of fun, also considering your camaraderie with your co-actors?
I think that goes with the territory of this film and it’s important that you have fun while making it. That’s something you cannot fake. When you do a film like this, it’s important that you have that chemistry and camaraderie naturally. So by virtue of that, you tend of have a lot of fun. It will be terribly torturous if you don’t get along with your co-star because it will be 90-100 days of shoot with someone day in and day out. Especially like I said, if your off-set chemistry is not there, there’s no way you can do it on-set. There’s no actor so brilliant who can camouflage it entirely. Especially in a comedy, where there is give and take, it is almost imperative that you have a good chemistry.
Your character in ‘Housefull 3’ pretends to be mute…what are the things that you had to work on?
One thing I definitely didn’t want to do was to make the character caricaturish because sadly we’ve seen that a lot in the past. Secondly, we didn’t want to get into sign language, for the very reason that the timing of comedy goes. Now if I’m doing genuine sign language, how will the audience understand what I’m saying because they do not know it. So we decided to make up our own way of him communicating which we hope will be funny so we spent a lot of time working on that.
While you have been appreciated for comedies like ‘Bol Bachchan’ and ‘Dostana’, each film has a different tone of comedy. How was it for this one?
‘Housefull’ as per me falls under the umbrella of slapstick and situational comedy which is something I’ve not done before. I’ve always found physical comedy very difficult, because naturally for me, the deadpan humour comes a lot easier, like the one in ‘Bluffmaster’. So this is a huge effort and there’s a lot more learning. There’s a lot of energy you need to put in to get it right. And more so when you’re standing with two of the best comedic actors that we have, in Riteish and Akshay. You have to constantly match their comedy levels and timing so it’s a constant work in progress.
For someone like you who likes to prepare a lot, does this genre require a lot more spontaneity?
No, in fact comedy is the one where you have the least amount of elbow room for spontaneity. A comedy scene or a comedy film has a particular pace, energy and most importantly, a meter. I remember Rohit Shetty told me this because the first couple of days on ‘Bol Bachchan’, I was performing the character in the way I thought it should have been done, and he wasn’t agreeing to it. Then finally he sat me down and he said, look, this is the way it should be. My comic timing is a bit off-beat so he said, ‘that’s wonderful but what you’re doing is very subtle. My other actors are up here on the energy scale, if you are not going to be up there as well, then you will be the odd one out and you will ruin the joke because the timing will go.’ Later, when I tried it his way, I understood what he was saying. In comedy if your timing goes off even by a mini-second, the joke will fall flat. So getting the perfect timing is very important in comedy. You need to understand the pace and meter of the film that you are doing and secondly the co-actors have to be on the same page as you.
Is that why most actors find comedy difficult?
I find it the most difficult because it’s least dependent on you. I can look into your eyes and make you uncomfortable, with a dramatic pause. In comedy I don’t have that in my armoury. In comedy, I’m dependent on the written material. If it’s not written on page, there’s very little you can do to make it funny. Comedy is the genre which is largely dependent on writing. Whereas in a drama, or action or romance, you can create a moment with your performance! In comedy, very seldom you can create a moment if it’s not written.
Despite that, do you this it’s unfortunate that comedy as a genre is sometimes taken for granted?
Sadly yes, comedy isn’t given the weightage of a dramatic performance. I don’t think that’s correct but only you’ll can change that and any actor can tell you, it’s as demanding. It’s not just in India, but world over – a dramatic performance is considered wow but a comedic performance is considered frivolous when it’s not.
“It’s not just in India, but world over – a dramatic performance is considered wow but a comedic performance is considered frivolous when it’s not”
Do you also feel that in Hindi cinema, subtlety in a performance sometimes gets overlooked? Many of your performances have been understated and subtle!
I remember a very senior actor, whose name I won’t take because that would be unfair, said something very beautiful to me. He said that, sadly in our industry, a great role is misinterpreted for a great performance. You could be screaming, shouting or whatever but if the role is good, people will appreciate it. Though again, it goes back to sensibilities. I think Indians, by heart, are melodramatic. We enjoy drama in our films. So sometimes when someone is being subtle, people think yeh acting hi nahi kar raha hai. I have done films where people said I was expressionless. For example, in ‘Sarkar’. But that’s the point. The character doesn’t react, he is cold. So sometimes people don’t get that, but it’s my flaw, if I haven’t managed to convey my cold-heartedness to you. At the end of the day, the audience has to receive your communication. There’s no point if I feel main bahut intense, subtle acting kar raha hoon jo kisi ko samajh na aaye. At the end of the day, you have to realise, who do you make your films for? You make it for your audience. And you can make any kind of film, on the creative scale it can be bare minimum or something very high-funda, you still have to communicate that to the audience. If you do it successfully, the audience will respond. If they don’t respond to it, you should look upon it as ‘okay I could not tell what I wanted to, properly.’
So is there a dilemma to choose between how you want to do something as opposed to how the audience might like it?
Always! Every actor has that. Trying to find out what I want to do as opposed to what the audience expects to what the director wants and I think that’s very healthy. It’s very healthy when directors and actors indulge in discussing a scene when they have a disagreement on it because through that they will arrive at something new. It’s very important.
And how does that work while making film choices?
Choices are more personal. At the start of it, you have to choose what your gut tells you to do.
Questions like, ‘how do you stand out in a multi-starrer’ are often thrown at you…but you’ve never really thought of it that way, have you?
I pity the actor who wants to stand out. Your film should be good. If the film is good, you will get appreciation for it. It is not a solitary thing.
What is it that matters to you when you sign a film?
A great script and a good director, both are important. A great script can be ruined by a bad director and a bad script can ruin a good director.
Is it challenging to be a part of a franchise because there’s a pressure to create something new each time. Or is it easy in case of a ‘Dhoom’ or ‘Sarkar’ because you already know the character in and out?
They all have their own challenges. They all have their set of responsibilities. What’s important in doing sequels or being a part of a franchise is that you have to take it as a stand-alone film. In ‘Sarkar’ and ‘Dhoom’ it’s the same character, in ‘Housefull’ they have never carried forward the characters. But you have to treat it like a unique film. I still remember when we were ideating about ‘Dhoom 2’, Adi (Aditya Chopra) said something really nice. He said, ‘Now what? What new are we doing?’ So you should treat it as an individual stand alone film each time.
Being an entrepreneur and an actor require a different headspace, but you’ve wonderfully juggled between acting, Pro Kabaddi and ISL.
As an actor you learn to compartmentalise. If you have a good team around you that will help you execute your work. I am an actor, that’s my core capability, so I spend majority of my day doing that, and then I dedicate one or two hours in the evening or early morning to get my other work done. Then the team which is managing it, takes over.
What’s next after ‘Housefull 3’?
Scarily nothing actually! It’s the first time that I’ve not signed on to any film. I’ve always maintained that actors go through phases in terms of what they want to do. I remember I had just finished ‘Dum Maro Dum’, ‘Game’ and they were all very serious, dark films. I wanted to do something light-hearted and that’s when I signed on to ‘Bol Bachchan’. I was in the mood to do something happy. I think I am done with that now. I think it’s now time to change that and do something different. What that different is, I don’t know. It’s still time to figure that out but it’s time to do something else (smiles).