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Interview with Abhishek Bachchan

  • Story Highlights
  • Abhishek is the son of Bollywood screen legend Amitbah Bachchan
  • Earlier this year he married actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai
  • His biggest hit is the movie "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna," also known as KANK
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MUMBAI, India (CNN) -- AR: Hi I'm Anjali Rao, on a star-studded Mumbai movie set with this week's guest, Bollywood heartthrob Abhishek Bachchan. This is Talk Asia.


Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan

He's dubbed the Crown Prince of Bollywood. Son of screen legend Amitbah Bachchan, Abhishek has emerged as a major star in his own right, scooping top awards and starring in a number of blockbusters. Educated in Switzerland and the United States, he entered into acting in his early 20s, first appearing in a string of flops. He eventually graduated to more high-profile roles in films such as "Yuva" and Karan Johar's "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna," also known as KANK, taking his place at the top table.

It was, however, his engagement and marriage this year to top actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai that sent the world's press into overdrive. The couple drew comparisons to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, with every move under scrutiny in the full glare of the spotlight.

We meet in a suburb of Mumbai at a school serving as a shooting location for his latest film, which happens to co-star his wife and father.

We first catch him between takes.

AR: Abhishek, fabulous to have you on the show. So obviously, you were born into...

AB: Thank you for braving the heat.

AR: It looks like it's about to chuck it down anyway, so we should be saved.

AB: I hope not.

AR: Me too. But you were born into great fame, obviously though, you have made your own name for yourself and you've been a huge celebrity in your own right for several years now. What's it like?

AB: It's wonderful. I couldn't dream of a different life and I wouldn't want a different life. Unfortunately a lot of people try and portray who I am, the kind of family I come from and try and make it out to be a huge burden, it's really not. It's anything but that. People talk about expectations, people talk about your own personal standards that you have to set. I look upon it more positively, where I feel they're great goals to try and achieve. I believe I have two of the most gifted actors on earth at home. I've recently got married to another one of my favorite actors so, I think they're all great in their fields and they're great standards for me. And I've always looked upon it positively because I feel they're good human beings who have gone about their profession in the correct way and I'd like to emulate that. I've never looked upon it as a burden.

AR: There's certainly no shortage here in India of actors who have famous Bollywood stars as their parents, but I can't think of any of them who have actually made it as big as you have. What do you put that down to?

AB: I don't believe that first of all. But at the end of the day it's got to do with luck. That's one thing you learn very quickly in the Indian film industry. You can work really hard on your physicality, on your craft, on the films you do. You can choose the best of directors, the best of productions, get the best technicians, you can put your entire body and soul into the making of a film, but at the end of the day, it all depends on the mood of that one audience member that goes into that theater.

AR: With the Bachchan name though, being water tears, being box-office gold, does that mean you've got your pick of roles? Are you beating off the offers with a big stick?

AB: No, I've always maintained that "Beggars can't be choosers."

AR: You're hardly a beggar though.

AB: I've always basically done everything that's been offered to me. I'm one of the few actors who enjoy working a lot.

AR: What's been your favorite role to date?

AB: I think being a son, more than being an actor in particular, I think being my father's son has been my favorite role. I enjoy the fact that I'm his son. I enjoy the responsibility he gives me. And most, most of all I enjoy being his bouncer. I enjoy the fact on Sunday, I don't know if you know, but on Sundays hundreds of his fans come outside the gate to the house to meet him, which is a trend that started after his '82 accident. They used to come to see, check on his well-being. And he used to go out and wave out and sign autographs and that has continued. And now, instead of every day it's on Sundays, you literally have hundreds of people outside the gate waiting to see him. And he comes out, religiously, in the evening, waves out, shakes their hand, signs their autographs. And since I was a child, whenever I was at home, he used to always take me out with him. And I used to enjoy being the bouncer. You know, warding off the crowds. And I still do it, although now he takes me out because he's the proud father and wants to say, this is my son. And it's what I call his Lion King moment. He holds me up and says, here's the cub. But for me it's always about, you know, I'm the proud son who enjoys the fact that my father is still showered with all the love and blessings that he is and I enjoy it. Right there, there he is, walking.

AR: The big man himself. You did get to work with your parents in "Kabhi Alvida Na Khena." What's that like? It looks like it must've been a really good laugh.

AB: I think that the relationship Dad and me had in KANK was most similar to what we're like in real life, because we truly are best friends. You know, we do everything together. Since I was a child, he's treated me like a friend.

AR: When you first joined the movie industry though, I mean things didn't go particularly well, did they? A lot of people obviously compared you to your dad and said that all you were doing was acting as a carbon copy of him. Was that difficult for you to take? Or was it to be expected?

AB: I think you'd be inhuman if you said it wasn't difficult. I tried very hard to shut it out because I believed in what I was doing and I had a certain amount of belief in myself. But it does get to you, you know, because every Friday when you open the papers and there's a review of your film and instead of reviewing the film they reviewed you personally. As a young actor it gets to you, and it did to me as well. You know initially the first two or three films you try to develop a thick skin and say ok fine, you know. But then when it happens repeatedly it starts to get to you. You start believing it.

AR: You start questioning yourself?

AB: And there was a point of time where I actually questioned myself. I remember going up to my dad and saying, Do you think I made a mistake?

AR: What did your dad say when you asked him?

AB: He said I haven't brought you up to give in. So keep acting, do as many films as you can, do not sit at home because if you sit at home, it's just going to fester. Get out there and work and if that means, you know, falling down every time a movie releases, fair enough. So that's just what I did, I just dived into my work; I did multiple films at the same time. I mean, there were days when I was shooting three films on the same day, doing three shifts a day, shooting 76 hours straight. You just dive into your work and go out there and try and learn on the job and improve. And then the next thing I started doing, I started meeting all the film critics that critiqued my films, and then (waving) and then...

AR: Your adoring public?

AB: Thankfully now... There was a time when they wouldn't look at me. And then, I actually met them and asked them to give me the reviews again that they had published about me and to read them. And improve upon the points they had made because I realized those were the perfect pointers as to what I needed to do to improve. And then you work on yourself and then luckily, by the grace of God and the audience, one day something clicks and they decide that they want to like you and your film works.

AR: What was that like for you though, doing something like "Dhoom" and having a big hit on your hands?

AB: I remember I was in Canada filming for a movie called "Dus" and the movie "Dhoom" was releasing on the 27th of August. And I got back on the 27th early morning, and at 2 o'clock Adi had called us to the house, and in his house I finally asked him, I say I can't take this, tell me, how's the film done? And he said, Congratulations, you have your first hit. And I think I went out into the, into his garden and started screaming and shouting and I was jumping up and down for about a half an hour. I couldn't believe it, I was in shock. And then I remember calling my sister and telling her that you know, it's a hit. And I was just so overcome by emotion because at that point of time, you know, after 17 films, you have no self confidence left. Suddenly, somebody comes and tells you, yeah, it's a hit, it's a huge hit. You're very overcome with emotion, because you don't expect it, because at that point, you're ready to accept it as a failure, because that's what you're attuned to. So yeah, it was very emotional for me.

AR: So this is yet another film in which you appear with your lovely wife, Aishwarya Rai. What's it like working together now that you are married?

AB: Oh, it's great. Because what's wonderful is that this is the first film we've resumed work on, started work on, after the marriage. So it's a continued honeymoon you could say. It's nice. What's also been wonderful...

AR: So being on set all day and then going home together, doesn't it get a bit...argh...

AB: No, I love it. Because both being actors we know that there's going to be times ahead where we're not going to see each other for months. So we try and enjoy every moment of it. And the great thing is for the past year we've been working together, just before we got married, we had done three films back to back.

AR: "Guru" was a huge hit as well, it must be, I don't know. Kind of weird I suppose, looking at something like that where the critics reacted so favorably. And then thinking back just a few years ago when you and Aishwarya would appear on the screen together and they'd say, there is absolutely no chemistry between these two, what are they doing pairing up?

AB: The film industry teaches you a lot. And what you do realize very quickly is that as an actor, you have to realize it's not about you, it was never about you. It's about the film. We actors tend to live in this delusional world where we start believing it's about us. That's not the case. It is never about the actors, it's only about the film. A chemistry between two actors depends on the characters and on the relationship they share. Yes, an actor does bring a little bit of flesh and blood to it, but if it's not written on paper it's not going to translate on film. So if they said in one particular film there was no chemistry, fine. Granted, accepted. But that isn't because of the two of us. At the end of the day, we had released "Umrao Jaan" in November, in which they said there was zero chemistry and it's a disaster to see them together. And exactly two months later they said it's fantastic chemistry. So it's all very fluid, you can't take it too seriously. You just have to go about doing your job.

AR: As far as the fans go though, I do remember a little story that appeared, just before you got married, where some woman appeared outside the house and demanded to see you and that you'd said to her apparently that you were going to marry her. Obviously, a little strange. Do the fans react differently to you now that you are an honest man?

AB: No, I haven't seen any difference. I've realized that they're just the same. And that's when you realize that again, it's not about you, you know, it's got to do with the character. They enjoy and appreciate and become fans of a character, not of you as a person, because they don't know you as a person. It's because whenever they do see you, and that's on the television screen or on the big screen, you're essaying somebody that you're not. They like that person. They don't know you. They haven't had the opportunity to meet you. That's why whenever you see them hanging out like they are right now, it's important that they also like you as a human being. Because I would be very disappointed if there were actors that I looked up to because of the work they have done and then when I met them personally I'd be let down if they were obnoxious human beings. I'd be very upset. And I never want any of my fans to feel like that. So you have to understand at the end of the day, they like a character you're playing, it's not really you, because they don't know you. It's not their fault. What your job is, is to make sure whenever you do come face-to-face with them, you live up to their expectations.

AR: So then here we are at your trailer. You know how you hear in Hollywood that actors like to fill their trailers with all sorts of diva demands? Like only green M&Ms. Do you have any particular requirements?

AB: No, this is my personal trailer, so what we tend to do is make it as homely as possible, because you end up spending the majority of your time there between takes. So you try to make it comfortable, I mean, as personal as possible. But we don't have any ridiculous demands like only green M&Ms.

AR: Is there a lot of downtime on these sets? Because it seems like there's so much going on.

AB: A lot, a lot. Predominantly because in between shots you have to light up, which sometimes takes a bit of time.

AR: So this is the latest extravaganza in which you are involved, tell me about this movie.

AB: This is a movie we're shooting called "Sarkar Raj." It's the sequel to a film we had made two years ago called "Sarkar." Stars my father and myself, and was directed by Ram Gopal Varma. And this is the sequel, and now Aishwarya is in it as well.

AR: Do you ever argue on set? Like say, you know, I think you did that really badly. Or hey, I think you could've done that better?

AB: To Dad?

AR: No, no, to Aishwarya. You've got to go home with her, after all.

AB: No. Yeah, exactly. I like sleeping on the bed as opposed to the couch, so...

AR: Your father is about to embark on a couple of Hollywood projects, your wife also has just been cast in the latest Pink Panther movie. Have you got any sort of a desire to follow them to the West?

AB: No. It's not a desire to go to the West. I think Dad, Aishwarya, don't look upon it as going to the West. They look upon it as doing another film, it just happens to be in another language. I'm sure tomorrow, if there was an inquiry about a film which excited me creatively, why not? I'd love to. I think it's good to broaden one's horizons. I look upon it as a learning experience. But as of now, I've never been offered anything which excited me or something that I felt would be challenging enough for me to do. I don't think Indian actors are very interested in going abroad to Hollywood and playing a hot dog vendor on the side. Over here, we enjoy the love of our audience, we get very challenging roles to do, unless someone can better that, we won't think of doing a film anywhere else.

AR: I should point out to the viewers at this point that things are going pretty crazy here on the movie set. There's lots of banging and tumultuousness all going on here. I suppose, what are they doing? Changing for a different scene or something?

AB: Yeah, it's a different scene. It's actually a scene where there's a lot of junior actors involved because it's meant to be the birthday of my father's character. So they've all come to celebrate it. And he will make his appearance and they'll all cheer and it'll be chaotic.

AR: Everything in India has to have a cast of thousands doesn't it?

AB: Yeah, because that's the kind of films we like. We like larger-than-life films. We're that kind of people. We're very warm, we're very festive, we're musical, we're over the top, and that's the way we like it.

AR: So walking up the staircase here into one of the set pieces I suppose, for your movie.

AB: Yeah, well this is the same house we shot the first part in, and we're back here. This is the Nagiri household. And we've actually just completed filming a scene out on the balcony which became very famous after part one, where the lead character, Dad's character...

AR: That was like, the scene, wasn't it?

AB: Right, this is his court. So this is where he comes and spends a lot of time. And, it's right there. If you pan right, you'll see it...

AR: There it is, being packed away for the day.

AB: Yup. I think they just wrapped shooting. We've been rained out. So we just completed a scene over here which is actually the Sarkar's birthday, the opening of the film. And all his well-wishers have come and lined up, those were all the screaming people. And come, I'll show you... It's his birthday so they've come to wish him... and he comes out and does his Lion King moment again. And he calls me out

AR: So basically your dad doesn't have to do a lot of acting for this, cause he knows what it's like every birthday.

AB: Pretty much. He does it quite often as it is.

AR: How's it working with him? Does he give you much direction?

AB: Yeah, he does. He's very...

AR: Whether you solicit it or not?

AB: Well, I don't think it's whether you solicit it or not, it's whether you have the guts to ask. He's very liberal and very forthcoming with his suggestions no matter who it is, not only because it's me and I'm his son. What's nice about him as an actor is he'll contribute to the fullest to make sure that the scene works and the film works, because he's one of the few actors who looks at it as a whole. He's not only bothered about himself. We actors tend to get very self-contained, where he has the ability to think of it as a whole. He knows that if through a suggestion of his, the scene will be bettered, he will give it.

AR: Do you watch everything that you do?


AB: Yeah -- I don't see my dailies, I don't like that because it's an unfinished product, but my films, yes. There was a point of time where I used to watch a film a day almost. It's more like homework. I think it's important for an actor to see the work they've done because every time you revisit a work you come up with a new way of improving it. It's a good way to brush up your craft and your skills, so I think it's a good thing to do, keep seeing your films. You do get embarrassed at times, but I think it's a good learning experience, so I do, I do quite often actually.

AR: Abhishek, great pleasure meeting you. Thank you so much indeed for taking the time today in your busy filming schedule. And that's it for this edition of Talk Asia. Thank you for being with us. That's good bye from me, Anjali Rao, and from my guest today the Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan. I'll see you again soon. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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