BY RENU MEHTA, TORONTO: Farhan Akhtar, renowned Indian actor, musician and poet, was in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for the screening of his film, Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink on September 13. The film is the true story of a girl who is diagnosed with SCID (Severe Combined Immuno-Deficiency), a terminal illness. Zaira Wasim, who plays the character of 18-year-old Aisha Chaudhary narrates her life, her illness and the love story of her parents spanning 25 years. The real Aisha had watched the trailer of Bose’s earlier film Margarita with a Straw 30 times and told her mother that she hoped she lived to see this film, but died two weeks later in January 2015 before the film’s release. Her parents Aditi and Niren Chaudhary saw the film upon its release, loved it and began a search to meet Bose to make the film on their daughter.
We caught up with Akhtar in Toronto, who plays the role of Niren Chaudhary, Aisha’s father and, in an exclusive interview, speaks of his character in the film, challenges he faced and his music.
Q. How did you prepare for your character in the film?
I spent a lot of time with Shonali and Nilesh (Maniyar), the co-directors and writers of the film just to get an understanding from them, a feel of what they were hoping to achieve in this film. The story really speaks for itself. It’s a very very powerful script; it’s a very moving script. It’s got great moments. The characters are really well written, but you still want to get an understanding of this world of what you are trying to create, so I spent a lot of time with them, and a little bit of time with Niren (Chaudhary), who I play in the film. It’s an amazing love story. It’s a story of hope, it’s a story of celebrating life and I remember, when I first read the script, Aapne woh film dekhi hogi (You must have seen the film) Anand that was made. There was a dialogue in the film – Zindagi bari honi chahiye, lambi nahin (Life should be grand, not long). That was defining for me for the film. And that represents for me that life need not definitely be long, but it should be grand.
Q. Did you meet with the real life parents of Aisha Chaudhary to get an understanding of the character you were playing?
did not want me to meet with Niren in the initial phases of preparation. She
wanted me to first internalize the story as a story first. I had seen a video and there were a lot of
behind the scenes footage of the family, of the parents, of Aisha herself. I watched a lot of that. There was a documentary that Nilesh (Maniyar)
was making about them, so that was a lot of footage that I did see. Just to get an understanding of what that
life was like, what they were like and then to create a character, because Shonali
didn’t want to be something that would come across as impersonation, or come
across as a caricature of somebody else.
She just wanted me to almost absorb what this person stood for and make
it my own. I only met Niren when we
started filming; I didn’t meet him before we started shooting. When we started shooting, he came to set pretty
early on and that’s when I really met him.
I kept asking him when he was watching the shooting if what we were
shooting felt good to him. That was
important to me and I was happy about that.
Q. What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge in a film like this is that it’s about real people. It’s about Aisha, a girl who pretty much the world knows. She’s gone and spoken at Inktalks, you can hear her speak online and to somehow arrive at that place of truth, I think, was the big challenge. You want it to be as real as I felt watching the documentary. That was the big challenge, to keep it as real as possible and for that you have to find the truth in it somewhere.
Q. Is acting a learned thing, or this is something you are born with?
All people have the ability to act, because not everyone is honest all the time. And somewhere it’s how you hone that ability. Of course you have to educate yourself on what is good acting and bad acting, that’s what you have to do and also move with the times. Because the kind of acting that was amazing 40 years ago, will seem a little over the top now. Times are changing and the way people are expressing differently because time changes, culture changes so that does happen. I’ve always been interested in acting; I’ve always been interested in storytelling, and in writing. So creating characters has always been something I’ve been fascinated with and that’s somehow organically led me to this field. But you learn on every single film when you work with different directors. I’ve worked with Shonali and I’ve worked with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra or with Zoya (Akhtar). They are constantly educating you about the finer nuances of performance and you are constantly learning as you go along. You never know enough.
Q. Tell us something about your music?
I had an album out this year which is called Echoes which is available online for anyone who wants to hear it. It’s available across all music platforms and you will be happy to know that the first music video that I made was shot in Toronto itself. Once this film is done, once it releases, I will be very hectically busy shooting a film called Toofan for which I’ve reunited with Rakeysh Omparkash Mehra. That will see me all the way to January 2020, after which I will get back to my writing some more and recording some new songs.
Q. You believe a lot in propagating for Women’s rights. Tell us about that.
I don’t know about propagating women rights. I support women in whatever it is they choose to do for themselves. I don’t think that women need men to kind of propagate in what it is they want. But they do need support, especially in a world where there have been centuries and centuries of patriarchy. It’s a lot of wheels to get things moving and they are still not moving at the kind of speed that we like. There are still many forms of discrimination that still exist and all you can do of course is to raise your voice, whenever possible, stand by people when the time comes to support people in certain issues and stand by them. And also make it reflect in the way you live, in the way in the kind of work that you do. One can talk to people but that will just be considered talk. I think it’s what you do in your life. The way you behave, the kind of work that you do, that speaks a lot more.
When we make a film like Dil Dharakne do or Zindagi na milegi Dobara or this film The Sky is Pink, or when you associate with these kind of films, that tells you a lot more about a person than words can do. And that is important.