'If Ajay Devgn calls for a film, I know a lot of care has gone into selecting it:' Abhishek Bachchan on signing The Big Bull
Abhishek Bachchan discusses reuniting with Bol Bachchan co-actor Ajay Devgn in The Big Bull, why he 'felt like an underachiever' during the lockdown.
Abhishek Bachchan is shooting Dasvi in Agra when we speak over a video call. “Look at my view,” he says and turns his video camera to capture the skyline of Agra with the marbled dome and minarets of the Taj Mahal shimmering in the March sun.
In spite of the pandemic and shuttering of cinemas, Bachchan had a good year. Last year he was seen in his first web series Breathe: Into the Shadows and in Anurag Basu’s feature film Ludo.
We are on a call to talk about The Big Bull, which was slated to hit cinemas in October 2020 and will now premiere on Disney+ Hotstar (8 April). Inspired by the Harshad Mehta scam that rocked the stock market in 1992, the Kookie Gulati directed crime drama headlines Bachchan as ambitious stockbroker Hemant Shah.
The 45-year-old actor has his hands full. After completing the social comedy Dasvi, he will start shooting the second season of the thriller Breathe: Into the Shadows followed by the Hindi remake of the Malayalam film Ayyappanum Koshiyum with John Abraham. Plus Bob Biswas, a spin-off based on the character from the 2012 mystery thriller Kahaani, is in post-production. But for now, he’s bullish about Hemant Shah, who he describes as a fictionalised character in a film inspired by many true-life incidents. “In a situation like that, you get to give your imagination flight, you can take certain liberties, so in that way, it is unlike a biopic, where you have to be very true to the character. Instead, you get elbow room to play,” says Bachchan.
Transforming into Shah for a story that primarily unfolds in the 1980s and 90s required some preparation. A large part of that was achieved via the look – hair, makeup, costume, girth. “There is preparation for every film and this is no different. I believe that if you look the part you have done 50 percent of the work. So (director) Kookie, Arjun Dhawan (the writer) and I spent time developing that. Hemant Shah needed a certain gait, a progression to his look and physicality. He needed to put on a bit of weight because, the way I saw it, as his affluence grew it would show on him physically as well.”
Ask him what he enjoyed most about the 80s and 90s setting and he says, “Wearing baggy pants again! They are so comfortable and so much fun. Nowadays it’s all about skinny jeans, but the kind of room we had in those pants in those days.” The other highlight was drinking Gold Spot. “My co-star Nikita Dutta (who plays Hemant’s wife Priya) is very health conscious. When we were shooting the song ‘Ishq Namazaa’ she would not drink Gold Spot while I finished 10 bottles. I was so excited because this was our childhood. I have even kept a bottle in my office,” quickly informing that the bottle is empty, the orange soft drink long consumed.
So, besides the familiar period setting, what attracted him to the film and this part? The answer, simply, is friendship – between Bachchan and producer Ajay Devgn. “Ajay called and I am not going to say no to him. If Ajay calls for a film I know that a lot of thought and care has gone into selecting it. The last time he picked up the phone and said here's a film, it was Bol Bachchan. I have immense love and respect for Ajay. He's like an elder brother. I was lucky that it got to be this.”
Bachchan is not hesitant to admit that he puts his friends first. “I understand that in this age of professionalism people will say take your career more seriously. It's not that I don't take my career seriously. I work very hard. But there is a certain traditionality to my attitude that I enjoy. This is a big family and you have to stand by your family. Besides, I have faith that Ajay will not call me for a film that he doesn't think is worth my while.”
During the lockdown last year, people used the time indoors in myriad ways. For Bachchan, it was not about becoming a master chef or learning a new language or keeping very busy. On the contrary, he says he “felt like an underachiever”. That is until his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan helped put things in perspective. “I said I have not learnt a new language, a new skill set or how to cook some new dish and she said while that may be so, you have spent time with your family, and what is more important than that? I have never had the chance to spend an entire year with my family before. Four of us are actors and my mother is also a politician so it is very rare that all four of us are under the same roof at the same time. More importantly, one is grateful that all of them are healthy and happy.”
From 2018, Bachchan’s choice of roles and directors has seen a shift, beginning with Manmarziyaan in 2018 to the projects that have been rolling out since then. Bachchan feels this conscious and determined reset and re-evaluation is right on track. He can gauge this from the audience’s response. “By the grace of god, I have been very busy, playing different characters and thoroughly enjoying this phase of my career. I think an actor is very blessed if he gets to do Manmarziyaan, Ludo, Breathe: Into the Shadows, The Big Bull, Bob Biswas and Dasvi in the same phase. As every actor will tell you, what you are enjoying today will probably be gone tomorrow so you have to work as hard tomorrow morning, to earn it back. I am determined to do that, because I don't want this feeling to go away,” he says.
The Big Bull will be available on Disney+ Hotstar from 8 April.
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