Two days before Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan got admitted to a hospital in Mumbai after testing positive for COVID-19, he was in an upbeat mood as he revelled in a new career milestone — 20 years in Bollywood.
Bachchan’s symptoms are mild and he’s stable, and perhaps that’s why he sounded sprightly during our Zoom call, days before his diagnosis on July 11. His father Amitabh Bachchan, wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and daughter Aradhya also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Abhishek Bachchan completes two decades in Hindi cinema this year and his web series debut, ‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’, streaming now on Amazon Prime Video, remains a testament to his long innings.
But he has two words that he would tell his 20-something self if he could go back in time: “Pay attention.”
Ask him to elaborate and he clarifies that it doesn’t mean he was distracted while working on his 2000 film debut ‘Refugee’, also starring Kareena Kapoor Khan.
“You only wish that you could have been a bit more aware of the stuff you were doing at that time,” Bachchan told Gulf News ahead of the premiere of the thriller.
“Today when I look back at my 20 years and 66 films I have made so far, I go: ‘Oh, my God! I wish I would have thought that much into the future back then knowing that 20 years later I will think about the mass of work that I have done… Be more aware as it’s my history,” said Bachchan.
The son of legendary actors Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan is blessed with a certain acting pedigree, but the weight of expectations has not broken him down. His career has not been as electrifying and momentous as his father, who has achieved a cult status in Bollywood — it’s been more of a mixed bag.
For every cracking act in films such as ‘Manmarziyaan’, where he played a patient husband to a woman who was in love with another man, or ‘Guru’, in which he played a ruthless, street-smart businessman, there have been a slew of underwhelming features such as ‘Dhai Akshar Prem Ke’.
But there was never any denying that he had the necessary acting chops to play intense roles in blockbusters such as ‘Paa’, where he starred as a dignified politician, and in ‘Yuva’, where he was a roughed-up thug.
But describe his 20-year-old career as a ‘checkered’ one and Bachchan goes on the offensive. He asks this journalist to explain what that adjective meant in the first place.
“I don’t know any actor who’s managed to have just a successful career! At the end of the day, you make creative choices based on what you feel like doing at that point in time. Sometimes that is what the audience wants to see and sometimes it’s not. As long as there’s a learning at the end of that, you learn to move on,” said Bachchan.
He believes that people are ‘judgemental’ and tend to forget that an actor is a creative person.
“But you know this is the only art form in which you we judge based on success alone… We don’t do that with an artist who’s a painter or a singer. We tend to forget that an artist has made choices based on what inspires them.”
His dream is to learn from the sum of all his choices.
“There have been so many learnings. As long as you are improving as an actor in your own eyes, I think you’re doing a good job,” said Bachchan.
Being part of a web series like ‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’ is one such creative gamble that made sense to him when it was offered by director Mayank Sharma.
In the series, Bachchan plays a distressed father whose six-year-old daughter gets kidnapped. The ransom demands get progressively bizarre and morbid — his character has to murder a random set of people in Delhi to secure his daughter’s freedom. Actress Nithya Menen plays his wife Abha Sabharwal.
“‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’ is the story of Avinash Sabharwal and his wife Abha. They have a young daughter and they lead as ideal a life possible. He’s a successful psychiatrist … And the question is to what extent will Avinash and his wife go get his daughter back.”
The psychological thriller has received mixed reviews. Bachchan says that this role was a ‘demanding’ one. Being part of a web series was the equivalent of doing at least four to five films, the actor said.
“It’s a role which challenged me a lot as an actor. However, it was very enjoyable because you get so much to work with and sink your teeth into,” he said.
Bachchan found his role emotionally complex too, since there were so many layers to his character. Like any good artist, he felt vulnerable.
“In a web series, even just physically keeping up with the characters can be very difficult, but very enjoyable too … The material that you get makes up for everything though … It’s scary because you understand that this is a medium where a viewer will immediately flip if two scenes are slow … They just switch.”
The material has to grab you by the throat and not let up, believes the actor.
After watching him in action, the slow-burn series did not have a lot going for it. While Bachchan’s acting was riveting, the series was wobbly and uneven.
His fear that even a single episode that is ‘loose or weak’ will be instant turn-off for a viewer wasn’t an unfounded one. But if you go by his philosophy in life and work, as long he evolves and learns, then it’s all good.
“I loved it instantly and that was that. I think my meeting with the show creators lasted about half an hour [to] an hour and I had already said yes,” said Bachchan.
Did you know?
Abhishek Bachchan spent several months preparing for ‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’.
“Mayank [Sharma, director] and I spent a good four months prepping for my role … There was so much material. You really got to dive deep into it. You know what I am saying? So we had all the material that we could really work with and so we got opportunity to just work and really define every little character trait and every nuance. We spent painstaking hours working on it.”