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Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyan isn’t merely a ‘comeback’ for Abhishek Bachchan; it’s a reminder of his potential

The one thing that Abhishek Bachchan almost always brings to every role he plays, is a hint of gravitas – and this is irrespective of the commercial fate of his films.

Revisit some of his now-forgotten lead roles over the last decade and a half – Naach (2004),  Bluffmaster (2005), Delhi-6 (2009), Dum Maaro Dum (2011) – and you’ll see why brand Abhishek Bachchan continues to find takers among film creators and film consumers alike, despite the fact that he mostly relies on his own real life personality and charm to coast through performances.

Abhishek Bachchan. Image via Twitter/ @ErosNow

Heist leader Charlie in the disastrous Abbas-Mastan non-thriller Players (2012); suave NRI Rishi in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006); or even the London-returned Robbie who’s sewn from husband material in his latest film, Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyan; Abhishek Bachchan has often done a fair job of playing himself on screen.

That, though, is the real tragedy of Junior Bachchan’s career – because his best, most impactful performances have been those where he actually manages to escape his own persona and dive deep into characters.

It’s when he’s stripped of his slick, urban skin – like Mani Ratnam did with him in Yuva (2004) and Guru (2006), or shorn off the stature and privilege associated with him (Happy New Year’s Nandu Bhide comes to mind) that Abhishek Bachchan the actor comes to the fore. (This might be an unpopular opinion, but irrespective of how Happy New Year was as a film, Abhishek’s Nandu Bhide was easily one of his best characters to date, one that was made impressive by how much of his inhibitions the actor was able to shed to play the part.)

In Manmarziyan, Abhishek seems to be reprising his role as the bland arranged marriage proposal for the feisty heroine in Sooraj Barjatya’s melodrama-on-crack, Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003). Like his Prem Kumar (*not* Prem Kishen) in MPKDH, Manmarziyaan’s Robbie is stoic and polite, speaks softly, likes drifting off into long silences, and is generally the guy who the girl’s family backs in the love triangle.

Yet, his latest performance shows you how much Abhishek has grown as a screen performer, while also reminding you of how much more untapped potential he still has.

Abhishek Bachchan may have been the first in Bollywood to brood with his beard, but his Robbie is a little more nuanced than just that. It helps that there’s an attempt to set the character apart in the way it has been designed. Writer Kanika Dhillon makes Robbie a millennial upgrade to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s selfless, benevolent husband Vanraj – a man who’s secure about his own masculinity as well as his wife’s right to make her own choice. He’s instantly smitten by the spunky woman of the story, but doesn’t try to force-fit his own beliefs and values upon her.

Abhishek on his part makes Robbie instantly likeable and trustworthy, but the character doesn’t really push him to dig deep and make him seem less like a Bachchan and more like a whole other person. Abhishek may have made his entry into Bollywood’s Aram Nagar club, but the film never seems to challenge him in the way some other films may have done in the past.

In Yuva, which is still arguably Abhishek’s best performance to date, you see an angst, a pain, a drive in his eyes that you’ve only ever seen sporadically in other films. He was fierce, battle-worn, street-smart and so real. Yet, even realism can be a hit-and-miss with Abhishek Bachchan. He tried a character in a similar zone in 2010’s Raavan, but that was a complex part that even Mani Ratnam didn’t seem to have a firm hold on. The result was a mangled mess of a man who never connected with the viewer.

Abhishek Bachchan also managed to flesh out an intriguing character in Rohan Sippy’s Bluffmaster – that thoroughly underrated ‘adaptation’ of John C. Reilly-starrer Criminal, which shows that it isn’t so much about which world his character is set in, as opposed to how much effort is made in pushing the actor towards completely unshackling himself from the tics and traits that come so naturally to him.

Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra in a still from Dostana. YouTube

Abhishek Bachchan may have managed to remain relevant and keep his career on the rails with his portrayal of ACP Jai Dixit in the three Dhoom films over his career, but it’s his little obscure parts that reveal what’s otherwise hidden – talent that needs to be mined and honed. You can see glimpses of this in Robbie – when his eyes gently widen at the sight of his newly-wed wife guzzling neat whiskey without a flicker of discomfort, or when he merely stands next to his wife’s lover, calm and composed, as far away from insecurity as one could be.

Manmarziyan, thus, isn’t so much a return from a hiatus from Abhishek Bachchan, as it is a gentle reminder that the man is capable of so much more than what we’ve already seen. It’s him testing waters outside his comfort zone, which is the first step. Who knows – perhaps a truly great Abhishek Bachchan performance isn’t too far away.

Abhishek Bachchan on Manmarziyaan: Done being comfortable, want to do films that scare me

Abhishek Bachchan has a spring in his step. He can’t stop talking about his upcoming release, Anurag Kashyap-directed Manmarziyaan alongside Taapsee Pannu and Vicky KaushalReleasing 14 September, it marks Bachchan’s return after a two-year hiatus. Housefull 3 was Abhishek’s last outing in 2016. Armed with his wit, panache and an awareness, he seems to have stepped out of his comfort zone and wants to be with the times when it comes to content. “Why justify my love for Taapsee’s character in the film? He just loves her. I may have been part of some good films in the past but this is a very exciting time for the industry,” he says. Dressed in a T-shirt, blue jeans and blue jacket, he’s raring to go with about five films in his kitty, one of which he plans to start sometime end of this month.

Abhishek Bachchan. Image via Twitter/ @ErosNow

“What attracted me to Manmarziyaan was that it’s Anurag’s first love story. I was very keen to know what this guy would do with it. A lot of people might think that it’s a deterrent but that is what attracted me to it,” says Abhishek in an exclusive chat with Firstpost. And as his voice drowns in the din of loud music, he doesn’t care, he continues, “That dark, gritty tone that we usually see in Anurag’s films is missing in Manmarziyaan. Isn’t that fun? Anurag and love story are not the two things we see together very often. It’s interesting to see how he has interpreted the story.”

Karan (Johar) was very excited for me when I told him I was doing this film. He told me that Anurag gives the best notes in between takes and the way he briefs. I asked Karan that how did he know, and he said because he has acted for him (laughs out loud). After the first day of the shoot I called Karan and told him that he was absolutely right. Because Anurag is also an actor himself, because he is such a good writer and director he understands an actor’s approach, so the kind of pointers he gives you are just fantastic. I was so pleasantly surprised working with him,” says Abhishek.

For Abhishek, calling Manmarziyaan his comeback film is a trivial matter. “I have been around for too long to think about it. I took that decision of going on a sabbatical because I wanted to change things. I felt I was becoming very complacent towards my approach towards work. And now I am back to work. Now whether you want to call it as a comeback or not is your choice. I am just happy to be making movies again. More than refreshed, I feel re-focussed. I was becoming very complacent. It wasn’t the kind of work that I was doing, it was the way I was doing it. Today, if I feel comfortable in any particular film or genre, I will never do it. I am done being comfortable. That was one of the main problems I was having. When you are too comfortable then you start switching off. It doesn’t matter to you anymore. I don’t want to do something I can do with my eyes closed. I want to do films that really scare me, I want to do work that challenges me and makes me uncomfortable,” he says.

“The prep and preamble to getting back on the set was terrifying. But once I was on set it was back to business. That something fortunately didn’t throw me off. And the credit for that goes to Anurag. He made me just so comfortable. Somewhere he also understood what I was going through and the expectations I had of myself,” he adds.

Abhishek plays Robbie, an investment banker from London, who comes to Amritsar to get married. He falls in love with Taapsee’s character, Rumy, to discover that she is in love with somebody else. “I play a very quiet, introverted, strong character and that is what I like. He doesn’t have the usual tropes of what you would probably expect in a love triangle. There is subtlety to him, there is dignity to him,” says the actor, further adding, “I have worked very deeply with Anurag in Yuva. And when he told me my character arc in the film, I have never felt so excited. It’s a very unique love story and it isn’t easy to classify it. It is just beautiful to work with Anurag. He is so wonderful, such a generous and loving director that will come through when you see the film. You will feel that he just loves his actors. Both, Vicky and Taapsee are great actors. This film is written for these two to be cast.”

Abhishek says that his dad, Amitabh Bachchan was his biggest critic and further reveals that it was his dad and Kashyap, who had not liked his performance in Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004). “With my dad you get pure honesty. If you do good work he will tell you that. If you haven’t done good work he will tell you what you have done wrong. My dad felt my performance in Yuva was very efforted. That time I didn’t understand but today when I see the film I agree with him. But he liked my performance in Guru,” says Abhishek, who never seemed to mind being compared to his dad. “Even if they are comparing, they are doing it with the greatest. So it is fine. I accepted that long back,” says the actor, who now seems to be more prepared for the industry’s ruthless behaviour. “People’s reactions change. Tomorrow if 10 films of mine are hit, then they are all over you, wanting to sign you. But if three films flop then they won’t even take your calls anymore. I have seen it happen to the biggest of the stars. But you can’t take that personally. It is business,” he says.

J P Dutta’s Paltan that released last week was supposed to be a comeback for Abhishek but the actor pulled out of the film two days before the shooting commenced. It was with Dutta that Abhishek made his debut opposite Kareena Kapoor in the veteran director’s Refugee back in 2000. He later collaborated with the director again on the films LOC Kargil and Umrao Jaan.Without delving into the matter much, the actor merely said, “I was doing Paltan but there were certain situations and personal reasons that I couldn’t end up doing the film. But it was heartbreaking for me because he launched me, he is family for me and it was very difficult for me to not be on this journey with him. But certain relations go beyond work.”

Last seen together in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan (2010), Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai will soon be seen sharing screen space, after eight long years in Sarvesh Mewara’s Gulab Jamun (produced by Anurag Kashyap). “I love working with Aishwarya. She is an unbelievable professional and a wonderful actor. I have enjoyed every film done with her. I also want our home production to start making films again. But I will take about a year-and-a-half to do that,” said Abhishek.

Lastly, we move on to the topic of nepotism, the debate that doesn’t seem to die down and Abhishek says, “Let’s call a spade a spade, let’s be honest. Is it an advantage? Yes. Is that something I am aware of, Yes. Is that something that I have respect for, absolutely, and I don’t undervalue it ever.” “But”, he continues, “I will never forget something that Yash (Chopra) uncle told me at the premiere of Refugee. He said, ‘Child, your father has brought you till the premiere. Tomorrow is your first show but after that it is going to be you because after that if they don’t like your work they will not go to the second show.’ In fact, this industry has far many more examples of industry kids who have not made it than outsiders who have.”

However, Abhishek also points out that how the media was also responsible for “making it exciting for people to go to see somebody’s child”. “For example, the talking point when I was being launched, it was Mr and Mrs Amitabh Bachchan’s son who is coming. You all end up taking pictures of actors’ children. I wish that wouldn’t happen but that is the way it is. But again, that interest in movie star kids is going to last till the first show,” signs off Abhishek.

Fanney Khan: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan may pay tribute to Lata Mangeshkar in upcoming musical

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, whose next film is Atul Manjrekar’s Fanney Khan, has been a huge admirer of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar. Moreover, the interesting part is in Fanney Khan, she will not only be seen as a singer but will also reportedly pay tribute to Mangeshkar as she plays her fan in the upcoming movie.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. YouTube

Nothing has been officially revealed yet about Aishwarya’s role but Deccan Chronicle reports that she plays a popular singer in the film and a fan of Lata.

The same report states that co-producer Prernaa Arora is looking to acquire the rights for some of Lata Mangeshkar’s famous melodies. “Apart from a few original tracks, Aishwarya will also recreate a few of Lata’s numbers. That is not the film’s only connection with Lata. Anil Kapoor’s daughter, who plays an aspiring singer, is named Lata.

News Nation quotes Mangeshkar’s reaction to Aishwarya’s onscreen tribute, “It is good to hear that she is fond of my singing. I think I sang for her for the first time in Mohabbatein. The song ‘Humko Humhi Se Chura Lo‘ was a hit. It’s a beautiful melody and Aishwarya looked lovely lip-syncing it.”

Fanney Khan will be co-produced by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, KriArj Entertainment and T-Series Films. Apart from Aishwarya, the musical comedy also stars Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and Divya Dutta. It is slated to release on Eid, 15 June, along with Remo D’Souza’s action thriller Race 3.

Amitabh Bachchan pens a letter to granddaughters Navya, Aaradhya; imparts life advice

Mumbai: Megastar Amitabh Bachchan has penned a heartfelt letter to his granddaughters Navya and Aaradhya, telling them to be independent and strong women as they grow up.

Navya, 18, is the daughter of Bachchan’s daughter Shweta, while four-year-old Aaradhya is his son Abhishek’s child.

Bachchan wrote that the two girls enjoy the luxury of a rich legacy but being the fairer sex, they are bound to face judgments and opposition from the society. Nothing, however, should bog them down, said the actor.

Amitabh Bachchan with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Aaradhya and Abhishek Bachchan

“You both carry a very valuable legacy on your tender shoulders — Aaradhya, the legacy of your great-grandfather, Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan, and Navya, the legacy of your great-grandfather Shri H P Nanda,” Bachchan wrote.

“Both your great-grandfathers gave your present surnames celebrated fame, dignity and recognition. Both of you may be a Nanda or a Bachchan, but you are also girls, women! Because you are women people will force their thinking, their boundaries on you. They will tell you how to dress, how to behave, who you can meet and where you can go. Don’t live in the shadows of people’s judgement.”

The 73-year-old star further wrote that both of them should choose their own path, one which is dictated by their
choices not the world’s.

“Make your own choices in the light of your own wisdom. Don’t let anyone make you believe that the length of your
skirt is a measure of your character. Don’t let anyone’s opinion of who you should be friends with, dictate who you
will be friends with.”

Amitabh Bachchan with grand-daughter Navya Naveli Nanda

“Don’t get married for any other reason other than you want to get married. People will talk. They shall say some
terrible things. But that doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone. Never ever worry about what will people say!” the veteran actor wrote in the letter.

Towards the end of his missive, Bachchan said being a woman is not easy in today’s times but he hopes the two girls will change the situation.

“At the end of the day, you are the only one who will face the consequences of your actions, so don’t let other
people make your decisions for you. Navya — the privilege your name, your surname offers you, will not protect you from the difficulties you will face because you’re a woman. Aaradhya, by the time you see and understand this, I may well not be around. But I think what I am saying today shall still be relevant. This may be a difficult, difficult world to be a woman. But I believe that it is women like you that will change that. It may not be easy, setting your own boundaries, making your own choices, rising above people’s judgement. But you can set an example for women everywhere,” he wrote.

The actor said he would take more pride in being known as their grandfather than by his own name.

“Do this and you would have done more than I have ever done, and it will be my honour to be known not as Amitabh
Bachchan, but as your grandfather!”

Fresh claims about Amitabh Bachchan in Panama Papers; actor refutes the report

New Delhi: Even as a fresh report on the Panama Papers alleged Amitabh Bachchan “participated” in board meetings of two off-shore companies “by telephone conference”, the actor himself has said his name was “misused” and that nothing illegal has been attributed to him.

The Indian Express reported on Thursday that Sea Bulk Shipping and Tramp Shipping had passed a resolution each on December 12, 1994, in connection with a loan of $1.75 million from Dallah Albaraka Investment Company.

Amitabh Bachchan

The loan was for Constellation Ship Management for the purchase of all the shares issued by Tramp Shipping and held by Sea Bulk Shipping. Besides Tramp and Sea Bulk, the paper had said Bachchan was managing director for two other offshore entities — Lady Shipping and Treasure Shipping.

“Both resolutions recorded Bachchan’s participation in board meetings ‘by telephone conference’. In their certificate of incumbency issued the same day, both companies also recorded Bachchan as director. The companies had the same directors, including Bachchan, and officers,” it said.

In response, Bachchan’s office sent a rejoinder, which was also posted on his Twitter account.

“On Panama disclosures, I wish to state that queries continue to be sent to me by the media. I would humbly request them to kindly direct these to the GOI (Government of India) where I, as a law abiding citizen, have already sent, and shall continue to send, my responses,” the post said.