In a first for Abhishek Bachchan, the star turned guru to give an Actor’s Masterclass as part of the Tongues on Fire 12th Asian Film festival. At a central London cinema, BollySpice was in the audience to get the gyaan from Junior B. To a packed audience of film fans and industry professionals, Bachchan opened the session by announcing he was not a follower of method acting, “I once tried being in character for three or four days and it was very boring”. Bachchan believes this system does not suit the cinema coming out of Bollywood, “In a Hindi film the characters do everything. So what character exactly are you going to play?”
Majoring in performing arts at university in Boston, Abhishek told of his early years of struggle. Despite being the son of Amitabh Bachchan, he started out as an assistant in the industry, making tea and cleaning studio floors, and as Arshad Warsi’s driver. Even after signing Refugee, his first film release in 2000, Abhishek reveals how he was not fully prepared for the job, ‘I think the initial few years were full of inexperience. I spent the first five years making a fool of myself in front of the camera when I should have learnt all that before’.
Forty-two films later, the award winning actor certainly knows his craft. Shooting on Mani Ratnam’s Guru, one of Abhisek’s biggest career hits, the audience was given insight into how the actor was able to present the journey of a character ageing on screen from a young man to middle age, through changes in his walk, vocal delivery and posture. Abhishek spoke about the impact of dubbing in a Bollywood film, demonstrating how the use of different sound equipment and positioning of microphones can impact the vocal quality of a character, explaining also how an actor will use small crutches to create character, such as putting cotton wool inside your mouth, as he did for the older Gurukant Desai.
In the ninety minute session, Abhishek highlighted the complexities involved in being a Bollywood actor, “The toughest part is to cry on cue. To hold your tear and let it drop at the right angle and at the right time, and make sure it gets picked up in the shot”. The actor also recalled acting advice he has received from Shah Rukh Khan, “When we were shooting on Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, SRK said, I play Shah Rukh Khan in every film because people want to come to the cinema to see Shah Rukh Khan. I act this way purposefully because people want to see that”.
Bachchan feels that film audiences have a definite expectation of how the Hindi film hero should look, and the type of roles fans want to see them perform. In a Karan Johar film the actor shares, ‘the hero needs to look lean and presentable in Manish Malhotra’ warning of the consequences if that does not happen, “Karan will murder you if you turn up fat”. Although television presenter and part time actor Johar is often as visible in front of the camera as he is behind, Abhishek jokes, “Karan sometimes performs in front of you and is a terrible actor so whatever he does – anger, sadness, happiness etc, always looks exactly the same, and it just confuses you”.
Abhishek remembers the most difficult scene he has had to shoot, the reunion between his character Rishi and Maya (Rani Mukherjee) in KANK, after a separation of three years, “I’ve seen actors break down for hours after a shot, and it happened to me when I was shown the photo of Sam (Amitabh Bachchan), played by my own Pa”. Abhishek recalls the emotional intensity of the scene and how he positioned himself in the corner after the shot so no one would see his tears, only to turn round to see Karan crying, which then led to tears from Rani and other members of the cast and crew. Wake up Sid director Ayan Mukerji, who assisted Karan on KANK then announced in tears he had to leave the set as he wanted to go home and see his father. “You play with your emotions so callously, no wonder as actors we are completely psychotic”, Bachchan signed off.