June 15, 2010

Roar of Raavan

Abhishek Bachchan on being Beera in the modern-day adaptation of ‘Raavayan’

Everyone’s been waiting so eagerly for Raavan... How have you been feeling in the run-up to the release?

I have just come back from an outdoor. (Abhishek was shooting for Abhinay Deo’s thriller Game in Greece and Turkey.) So all this buzz is just sinking in, you know. But I am definitely excited because everyone’s worked so hard on the film and we have given it our best. We can’t do much more than that. I am very, very happy with the film. It’s really turned out very well. Mani is fantastic in the film... he is in top form and yet again he has given me a memorable character. I have no complaints whatsoever.

When Mani Ratnam offers you a film, do you ever ask for the script or just blindly say ‘yes’?

The way it happens is that whenever Mani is ready to make a film, he would just call me and ask: “Are you on?” and that’s it. We take it from there. I never ask him for a script. I trust him implicitly... my bond with him is beyond that of an actor and director. He is family to me. And he just has to order and I will be there. It’s as simple as that.

How does it feel to be Mani Ratnam’s hero? He has never repeated a Bollywood star and you are doing his third film on the trot...

I am very proud. I can proudly say that I have done three films with the Mani Ratnam. I am very honoured and humbled at the same time. Of course, there’s a lot of responsibility. When this great man is bestowing so much faith on you, you shouldn’t let him down. I sincerely hope that. Every day at the end of shooting, I would ask him, I did okay today, naa? And he would turn around and say: “You did okay but did I do okay?” I would say, “Come on man, you are Mani. You shouldn’t be asking that!” (Laughs out loud.) I am so happy when I work with him. I believe he is the best in the business.

But you did say no to the Tamil version Raavanan...

In fact, I had said ‘yes’ at first! Mani had bullied me into doing it initially. But then I went and pleaded to him. I told him... look Mani, I would love to do this and you know I would do it for you, but the fact is I don’t know Tamil! And I don’t want to be in a situation where I am panicking about just learning my lines and doing the role without any proper feel of the emotions. I have Beera which is a complex enough character to play and I want to concentrate on that. He understood that.

When did he first share with you the idea of Raavan?

I was shooting for Delhi-6 in Jaipur when he called me one day. And he asked: “Should we do it again?” I was like, do what? And he said: “Should we make another film?” I said, of course... I was waiting when you are going to call me. He told me about the idea of this one guy and the basic story. I asked, have you thought of a title for the film? And he said, Raavan. I thought it was fantastic... the whole project was appealing from the word go. Working in a Mani Ratnam film is a big thing in itself and to play a character like Beera is just amazing.

What makes Beera so special?

I really believe Beera is going to be memorable. He is really loveable. Although at first he looks intimidating and evil and mad and wild and almost animal-like, but once the film carries on, you will start liking him. He is very interesting.

Is Beera Munda based on Birsa Munda the legendary tribal leader? Or is he a Maoist leader as has been speculated widely?

Not at all! It is absolutely not inspired from any Maoist or Naxalite leader. He is a completely original character. In central India Beera is a very common name. It’s just a name.

So how did you create Beera?

As Mani and I have always done. We sit down and flesh out the character. We do a lot of work on the characteristics before we get onto the floor... from the way he talks to the way he walks from the way he looks to the way he dresses. I look upon Beera as the purest character in the film. In life, there is a grey shade to everything. What I love about Beera is there is no grey. There is only black and white. You are either good or bad. If you are good, he will give his life for you. If you are bad, he will take your life. I like his clarity... that’s the purity in him and that’s why you start liking him. You realise at heart he is a very correct person.

Are you in a position to rate Beera vis-a-vis Lallan (Yuva) and Gurukant Desai (Guru)?

I would like to believe it’s bigger and better. If it’s not then Mani and I have failed as a team. When we were making Guru we were very conscious of doing something totally different from Lallan Singh... something which could top Lallan. And when we did Raavan, we wanted to top Guru. Otherwise why would you work together if you can’t outdo what you did last?

The analogy with Ramayan... how much of it is obvious or is it entirely subtextual?

Everybody says it’s from Ramayan but I say no, it’s the Raavayan! I really believe that in our films we have always borrowed from our scriptures. No matter which film, you will always find some angle because our scriptures are so vast and so in-depth. You will always find a jhalak of them in our work. And I don’t think Raavan is any different. It is a modern-day story with wonderful characters and if people draw parallels to Ramayan, go ahead! I am not going to say no it’s not. I do believe Mani is inspired... but not just from Ramayan... from a lot of things.

Did Aishwarya come on board as Sita after you became Raavan?

She came on board almost immediately. When Mani first spoke to me, he did mention that he wanted to take Aishwarya in it. I thought it would be cool and I said, of course! I think the very next day he spoke to her. With Aishwarya and me, there’s no question of saying ‘no’ to Mani. He is too special. He launched Aishwarya in Iruvar. So, he is very close to both of us.

Aishwarya had turned down Dostana because she wasn’t comfortable playing a character being pursued by you. There were no such concerns with Raavan?

No, never. Once you see the film you will understand how our two characters work in the film. And if I tell you now, you won’t enjoy the film. Dostana was a different kind of film. The entire dynamics between Aishwarya and me in Raavan is absolutely amazing! It’s something very unique and it’s something never been done before.

Finally, do you remember your brief Calcutta shoot for Raavan?

Of course! I only shot there for two-three days this time. Calcutta is always fantastic to come to. You know what I think about Calcutta. It always holds a special place in my heart and to come back there with Mani after Yuva was that much more special. The best thing was we actually got some time to sneak away and rush to Victoria Memorial and have phuchka quietly and run back!

Pratim D. Gupta