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Actor Abhishek Bachchan returns to films after his self-imposed sabbatical of two years with director Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan, an eventful love triangle, out in the UAE on September 13.

Bachchan, 42, was last seen in the 2016 comedy caper Housefull 3. But don’t mistake his self-exile for idleness.

The son of veteran Amitabh Bachchan was busy expanding his sporting ventures as he rebooted and began reevaluating his acting career, which at that time was studded with a spate of forgetful entertainers.

But the seemingly self-assured actor didn’t disown that phase as he promoted his complicated love story.

“First of all, I don’t think we should try and dodge it. It was a self-imposed sabbatical. It was a well thought-out move and it was something that I wanted to do. I wanted to take a step back and revalue, reassess, recalibrate and come back to films,” said Bachchan in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!. And he has no remorse over lost time.

“I am happy because it was one of the best things that I ever did. I feel more assured right now,” he added.

And what could shake things up than to join hands with a maverick director such as Kashyap, who famously expressed his doubt over Bachchan’s acting prowess? Bachchan isn’t fazed. We speak to him about Manmarziyaan, his life choices and whether he’s a poster child for nepotism…

What should we know about Manmarziyaan?
You can classify it as a love triangle. It’s a story of Rumi played by Taapsee [Pannu], DJ Vicky played by Vicky [Kaushal], and my character is Robbie and the love story that plays out between them. In today’s day and age, the youth or anyone who is in love is forced to make choices that are wrong for them or make decisions thrust upon them by their families.

The basic message is that no matter what choice you make in life, about love or however you want to make that choice, you shouldn’t feel guilty about making it. There shouldn’t be any pressure either from your family or your society. The heart should get to do what the heart wants to do. It doesn’t require any justification. In matters of the heart, there’s no logic.

But isn’t there a dance of being fickle when you are confused in love? Does Manmarziyaan tackle that propensity to shame such confused souls?
Absolutely. It’s an interesting point and it’s a debate to be had. Who considers them fickle? It’s generally by a generation that hasn’t had the liberty to do things the way the youth do it today. Who are we to judge? And who do we judge? These are all issues that need to be explored. It’s a fair point that today’s youth is judged — rightly or wrongly — for being fickle. But this film says that nobody can be judged.

Your character Robbie seems to be the perfect husband for Rumi…
Robbie is a mature and a staid character and that’s nice because Rumi has a contrast of two different extremes in her men. Vicky’s character is flamboyant and passionate. He’s out there and he’s fun loving. Robbie’s character is calm and introverted. The idea was to show the extremes and explore who would she go with and why.

Staid men in movies can come across as boring. Were you aware of that stereotype and did you speak to Anurag Kashyap about it?
In fact, that is one of the underlying themes. Just because someone is introverted and shy, it doesn’t mean they are boring. What I loved about Robbie is that he has done everything that Vicky did in his past and he just chooses not to do it anymore. So it’s not that he is a boring person, but it’s just that he thinks it’s a side to him that isn’t important enough to display to Rumi.

There are various elements that have been nicely handled by Anurag. He was very conscious that from the fun-loving guy to the introverted guy, the latter shouldn’t come across as boring. We have tried not to get into that rut.

What was Anurag’s direction towards his actors like?
Anurag gives his actors a lot of space. He believes in allowing them to interpret their scenes. He believes that his actors are well-prepared to know how their character would do particular things. What I liked about his process was that he enjoyed talking about a scene a lot and he likes his actors to come back and organically play that scene from within. Manmarziyaan isn’t a film that’s generally associated with Anurag Kashyap.

Generally, his films are dark and dysfunctional, and has an edgy filmmaking style. Suddenly, you see him exuding a different energy here. Love story and Anurag Kashyap aren’t words that go together. It was interesting for me as an actor to work with a director who hasn’t been in that zone before. Here, it was the case of ‘opposites attract’.

Anurag has stepped out of his comfort zone and reinvented himself. There are no dark tones in this film. The youth of today is going to relate to this film and they are going to relate to Rumi, Robbie and Vicky. The character traits in each one of them will make them go: ‘hey, I am a bit like that’. It’s a relatable film with no serial killers or dead bodies.

Was it gratifying to work with a director, who in the past, has called you an
actor with questionable talent?

I never thought of it like that per se. I thought if I was going to work with a director who isn’t entirely convinced whether I will be able to do that part or not, then they will push me. If everybody is convinced that being in a film is going to be a cakewalk, then we may end up making a terrible film because of our complacencies.

I want my director to be also on edge, to work on me and to push me. As I said, Anurag is one of the finest directors I have worked with. His direction is immaculate and the notes he gives you to incorporate in your performance made me enjoy the process. In the creative process, I hope there’s always a bit of doubt and an element of uncertainty.

Did you push his buttons too?
No. The kind of perception that I had of Anurag was completely shattered when I met him. He’s the complete opposite of what you expect of him. He’s cherubic, ever-smiling and [an] all-giving director. He’s like a child and it was wonderful to have him direct me. He is one of the most giving directors that I have ever worked with.

I believe you aren’t a fan of the word ‘sabbatical’. But what would you call this self-imposed break from films?
First of all, I don’t think we should try and dodge it. It was a self-imposed sabbatical. I wanted to take a step back and revalue, reassess, recalibrate. But I was working every day and working on my sporting ventures and investment portfolios.

So would you advise a break to all those who are in the midst of an existentialist crisis?
It’s unfair to tag it like that. Everybody is on their own journey and everybody has their own journey to fulfil. You just have to do what you’ve got to do. I felt that I had to reevaluate, reassess and repackage my film career. That’s what I did. Somebody else might not feel the need for it. It’s not like I was at a breaking point. It was none of that. I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to toss things up in the air again. At that point [before the sabbatical], I felt this is not what I wanted to do and this is not what I wanted to be.

Let me guess, you detest the word ‘comeback’ …
Comeback is something that the media will say because they have nothing else to say. I don’t have a problem with being on a sabbatical. It was a dedicated decision that I thought over and it was premeditated.

Finally, we just have to address the N-word — nepotism. You are the poster child for nepotism…
Did you just call me a poster child for nepotism? I am going to complain to Karan [Johar, producer-director who was accused of casting stars based on factors other than merit] right now. But seriously, at the risk of sounding aloof, I have never thought about it.

Everybody has an uphill task and hurdles that they have to surpass. Everybody has to go and figure out their own problems. If you are asking me if the children within the film industry have it easier, let’s not skirt the issue and just say: of course they do. They have unprecedented access. But should we hold it against them? I am not sure about that.

It is easier, but tell me which industry does not have that? It is life but at the end of the day you have to prove yourself. The great late Mr Chopra, who is a dear family friend of mine, at the premiere of my first film ‘Refugee’ put all of it in perspective. He said: your father has brought you till the premiere of Refugee. But tomorrow when your show starts [in cinemas], you will have to do all the hard work’.

At that end of the day, a talented actor, producer, director or music director will carry on doing their work because they are talented. It does not matter whose child you are after your first film. I am a living example of it. I have had my fair share of my films not doing well and being thrown out of films because I wasn’t a bankable actor. I had my share of struggles. You should not look down upon anybody who has struggled in whatever way. Industry kids have it easy to start with and we appreciate that. Nobody takes that for granted.

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Manmarziyaan releases in the UAE on September 13.