Abhishek Bachchan has marked his return to Bollywood after a two-year hiatus with Anurag Kashyap's love triangle romance, Manmarziyaan.
The movie from the critically acclaimed director has received rave reviews for good performances from the three protagonists, including Bachchan who reflects on the mid-life crisis and what led to this film.
"I had become complacent," he says of a career that has seen him being burdened as the son of Bollywood's biggest star, Amitabh Bachchan, and emulate his father's success. "Things had become too comfortable internally. The job becomes too easy and you start coasting, not adding the masala needed, but when doing that, somewhere the creative person in you is dying and that is a horrible place to be."
Bachchan’s career was on the slide when he took a sabbatical. Despite starting with three flops, he revived his career in a roller-coaster ride of films since 2000, fought being stereotyped and compared with his illustrious father and is also married to the high-profile actress Aishwarya Rai.
Nonetheless, the battery recharge was arguably needed for a career that was stagnating not for the first time.
Bachchan concedes in Toronto he felt spent. "It's very scary. You start feeling hollow. My father, mother and wife, we are all actors and I've been born and brought up in this industry and film is my life. I mean that religiously. This is my life and my being. I can't think of life without films and to think that if you carry on down this path you will lose it all and there is nothing you can do."
It was going to take something unusual or special to get the actor, 42, out of his slumber. The script for Manmarziyaan landed on his desk and immediately grabbed his attention: "When it said Anurag Kashyap and love story, they are two things that are not usually in the same sentence. I thought he would have a unique way of looking at it."
As the opening song in the film tells us, ‘Old-fashioned love stories need an update.’ Kashyap certainly does that, but in unexpected ways.
Inspired by Francois Truffaut's classic 1961 love triangle classic Jules et Jim, Kashyap has created a contemporary tale that has a remarkable central female character whose heart is torn between two men.
Movie review: Manmarziyaan (Husband Material)
Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) is an edgy, bold and determined girl enjoying the fruits of a romance with Vicky (Vicky Kaushal), a DJ who wants to party and not the boredom of domestic life. Rumi’s family want her to marry Vicky or find someone else. When Vicky doesn’t put a ring on it, Rumi reluctantly agrees to be put on a dating site for singles seeking an arranged marriage. Enter Bachchan as Robbie a London-based Sikh investment banker who is handed a photo of Rumi.
Bachchan plays against type of being selfless in love. Robbie is a self-assured figure who uses his wiles to get what he wants. After the frenetic behaviour of Rumi and Vicky at the start of the film he is the eye of the storm.
“When we did the character sketch what scared the living daylights out of me was that the two other protagonists were flamboyant, passionate, wild, expressive and emotional and here comes this guy who is the exact opposite. Robbie is introverted, silent and just absorbs. How am I to portray the passion of Robbie without being able to use flamboyance and flair?”
It was the director who put him at rest, “Anurag said I want to film Robbie intimately. I didn’t understand this at first and he explained I want to put the camera right up in my face.
"That scares an actor because you can’t get away with anything. Then I started to understand that this was Anurag’s way of helping me out as I just have to do it and emote like I never have before.” The director took away Bachchan’s beefy muscles and asked him to use his acting chops.
The film is remarkable, radical even, in its depiction of Rumi. “The first question I ask anyone coming out of the screening is did you judge Rumi?” Bachchan asks rhetorically. “If you judge Rumi, we failed. I believe it’s the first time in Indian cinema that you have two male protagonists in love with an unusual female leading character and neither of them want to change her or ask her to confirm. They are giving a very important message, especially to our society that love is love.”
It is also an important moment for Indian cinema. The uniting of Kashyap in a popular Hindi film marks a change not only for the director but also for Indian cinema as a whole, explains Bachchan.
"What's nice is Husband Material is a confluence of different styles. Anurag is known for a style of filmmaking, very gritty, visceral, violent and he loves to explore the underbelly of society.
"Producer Aanand Rai has done the opposite in the movies he has directed. This blurs the line between the two types of cinema. The intertwining of two threads of Indian cinema and when you juxtapose these two worlds you come up with something unique.”
And it is a refreshed Bachchan who says he has 3 or 4 projects lined up. "Now I'm back, I want to be fully committed."
Manmarziyaan (Husband Material) is on show across UAE cinemas today