One of the biggest names in Indian cinema talks about masculinity, morality and finding a director to love…
WHETHER this will be a career-defining performance only time will tell but one thing is certain – Abishek Bachchcan is back and is killing it in ‘Husband Material’ or ‘Manmarziyaan’.
The new film, directed by great Indie auteur Anurag Kashyap, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Tuesday evening (September 11).
We were in Toronto and the very next day we were able to catch up with Bachchan himself in a one-to-one interview.
But before we get to that, a little more context.
Bachchan, the one-time Bollywood megastar faded from the scene following the franchise ‘Housefull 3’ – and now he’s right back in the thick of it alongside Vicky Kaushal (whose stock has risen considerably since his supporting sidekick role in ‘Sanju’) and Taapsee Pannu.
Along with her and Kaushal, the three make for an engaging trio caught up in a very powerful and passionate tug of emotions.
In the middle is Rumi (Pannu), independent, mouthy, unconventional and a woman who knows her own mind and body and is not scared of either – or where her desires take her.
On one side of her is ‘Vicky’ (Kaushal), punkish, hedonistic, passionate, creative and equally volatile and impetuous. Rumi and Vicky make for a sparky pairing.
In between them – and invited into their lives comes ‘Robbie’ (Bachchan) a UK-based banker, considered, thoughtful, reflective and restrained on all fronts. Mostly his professional credentials give him an edge as ‘husband material’ but love is never so simple, is it?
Looking dapper and sharp in his suit in Toronto on Wednesday (September 12), Bachchan was in good spirits and a jovial mood – the response of stars to a celebrity screening in Mumbai overnight had gone down extremely well and so it should have – few Indian films have the subtlety and power to change hearts and minds as this does – should and must…
Bachchan Junior, as he likes to refer to himself on Twitter, is extremely proud of that – though it was not a conscious aim at any time.
“I am not too sure anyone on this film set about it to make any social change,” confirmed Bachchan to www.asianculturevulture.com
No one sets out to change the world with one film, but ‘Manmarziyaan’ has a freshness about it that is inescapable.
Bachchan told us he just liked the script from the outset.
An Eros produced film in conjunction with growing superpower producer, Aanad L Rai (as a director he was behind the Bollywood hit, ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ and produced Kashyap’s ‘Mukkabaaz’ and his Yellow Color Productions outfit, the film came to them from novelist and screenwriter Kanika Dhillon.
The film has immense power but you would not recognise that immediately.
No. It is a love story and that too, a familiar one in being a love triangle and who does our Rumi choose…
We can’t reveal and nor should we (and it’s not that straightforward) because if you don’t see this film you will be missing out…
“My only criteria for doing a film is – is this going to entertain an audience, is it going to touch them – that is the most important criteria,” stressed Bachchan.
Kashyap is not your conventional Bollywood director – in fact, he is not even Bollywood.
He made his name directing indie films (low budget, gritty and often politically subtle), and is frequently – to those living in the West – referred to as India’s version of Quentin Tarantino.
Actually, he has a more complex body of work and while he broke through here and in the US with his epic-two part ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (2012), his last release, ‘The Brawler’ (‘Mukkabaaz’) was deemed a hit and harked back, perhaps, to 1970s Bollywood type of film, which gave rise to Abhishek’s father, the immortal (in a cinematic sense), Amitabh Bachchan.
‘Husband Material’ challenges a lot of preconceptions people have about the way marriages should be arranged.
It certainly takes on the way they’ve been portrayed in most mainstream films in India.
“Everybody realised this film is about a reality out there – which might not be spoken about – but the intention has always been just to make a good film,” revealed Bachchan.
It is. In fact, it is superb – at least to this critic.
What is powerful is the way the characters interact with each other and how unpredictable the ebb and flow of emotions are in this film.
The story is mostly set in Amritsar, in the heart of Punjab and essentially has a Punjabi (and Sikh) sensibility throughout – but only subtly. There is slightly more comic but still relatively subdued part set in Kashmir on a honeymoon.
“That is what I liked about it – it’s done in a very subtle way, it’s not something you walk out of the cinema thinking about.
“It just seeps into you and subconsciously puts its message across – which I think is the beauty of the film – nobody is standing on any soapbox and preaching.”
Most impactfully is Bachchan’s character and he conceded that perhaps ‘Robbie’ had something otherworldly about him.
Bachchan told acv it was Robbie’s dignity that most stood out for him.
Yes, but beyond that is a maturity and understanding of the world that you do not see in many or enough (Indian) men right now.
“No, not many of us have (seen Indian men like Robbie); he is the only aspirational part of the film, the rest is very real.
“The characters are very tactile and you know they exist and you’ve encountered them. With Robbie, we have taken a leap of faith.
“And I have had a lot of men come up to me and say, ‘Wow, I’d like to be like him’. He is a bit like an ideal of what men should be. It was like that in the script. Anurag and I added a few layers to him, which we thought enhanced the character but it was very subtly done.”
As Bachchan pointed out, Robbie is your moral anchor; he is not judgemental and that is what gives him real power.
“I think the idea is to give you a character that has got the moral high ground but also anchors you morally in the film.
“The one thing that is flying all over the place is the morals in the film. And the great thing is nobody is judging that.
“He does not make the judgements you would expect.
“I enjoyed his dignity and there is a maturity about him, which is almost saint-like,” Bachchan rasped.
It’s clear he had a great time making this film – he enjoyed working with both Kaushal and Pannu.
“She’s a whirlwind,” he said, describing Pannu, “She is exactly like that in the film.”
He credited Kaushal with being “one of the few actors who genuinely listens to you in a scene” and he said Kashyap exploited that to the full.
Of the director he is more fulsome yet.
“I believe I have made a friend for life and I think we are very similar as people – we are both very emotional and a bit impulsive and fiercely loyal. I found a truly wonderful and creative soul.”
As we wound up our conversation, Kayshap bounded into the hotel room in Toronto and told acv, he had found a new love – the junior Bachchan. (He has made a mini-film about his admiration for Bachchan senior in ‘Bombay Talkies’.)
Bachchan had revealed earlier to acv, “I was very excited about this film, and very happy. It was one of the happiest professional decisions of my life and I was very happy to be back and doing what I love doing.”
He was emphatic about not leaving his next film for two years.
“I took the time off for personal reasons and did what I had to do and now I am back and very happy to carry on my work.”
“I am going to be doing a lot more work; Vicky and I have put in our CVs to Anurag for his next film, we are not giving him a choice. He just has to tell me when to show up and I will.”
It would be a shame to leave this partnership to just one film – Kaushal memorably appeared in Kashyap’s ‘Raman Raghav’ as an out of control cop and his ability to get the best of out of actors is widely acknowledged.
Let’s hope for Indian cinema, we see these actors and director work together on different films.
THIS is Bollywood but not as you know it.
Director Anurag Kashyap was always likely to do something different and in a short exchange with us (see below), said he didn’t want to change Kanika Dhillon’s script and wanted to retain its essence. What he might not have pointed out is that he and his co-collaborators probably added layers to it, as Abhishek Bachchan told us in the above interview.
On many levels, this is a gorgeous film, the cinematography, the music, and the acting all make it a beautiful and worthwhile experience.
As Bahchan said, let it seep into you. It’s only when you consider Rumi’s (Taapsee Pannu) choices and the way she and Robbie deal with the situation at hand, that you appreciate this is a film with a level of sophistication and depth, not normally associated with the genre.
It is a not romantic comedy – there is comedy and romance but they don’t really go together in this film.
If you are interested in Bachchan or a new type of Bollywood film aesthetic emerging, this really is a must watch.
ACV rating: **** ½ (out of five)
Interviews on the Red Carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11 2018
Abhishek Bachchan LIVE
Tapasee Pannu on getting the role and a very modern love story – the first she has made…
Vicky Kaushal on what it meant for him to work with one of his acting heroes – Abhishek Bachchan
And director Anurag Kashyap on the making of Manmarziyaan/Husband Material
Manmarziyaan/Hushand Material is out now (opened September 14 worldwide)