Abhishek Bachchan Tells Subhash K Jha How Difficult It Was To Put On Weight To Play Bob Biswas
Bob Biswas is your second film in a row after Big Bull where you have gone for a completely transformative approach to your character. The slouch, the girth, the accent…
What accent? We were very very clear on this. We didn’t want Bob Biswas to have a pronounced Bengali accent . Such distractions take away from the performance. But yes, you’re right about the slouch—I had to practice the Bob Biswas walk for weeks—and of course the girth. I had to put on almost 20 kilos for the role.
Are you serious? But that’s dangerous after 40. Losing it is very difficult at that age?
It is dangerous. But I did manage to lose the avoirdupois –pardon my French—after gaining it. This time I did the weight gain and weight loss under strict medical supervision. So I did not suffer any medical side effects. When I had put on weight fifteen years ago for Guru I had done it unsupervised. And I suffered some serious health issues.
Kamal Haasan had screamed into a plastic bag for a role. He damaged his vocal chords permanently?
Fortunately I didn’t damage anything permanently when I gained and lost weight for Guru. In the fifteen years that have passed since then the film industry has become a far more professional place. No one is expected to take unnecessary risks for a role.
Why was it so important for you to put on weight for this role?
Sujoy Ghosh who produced Bob Biswas , his daughter Diya who directs the film, and I sat down to discuss the character. We imagined Bob Biswas as portly. So my character needed a potbelly. Sujoy and Diya suggested prosthetics. But I was completely opposed to it.
Because prosthetics, no matter how professionally done, always look fake. At least they don’t feel right for me. It always feels like an artificial part of my performance. I needed to feel Bob Biswas’s belly , and not just pretend with a pillow tied to my midriff. Nowadays audiences catch on to any kind of fakery in a performance.
After Guru and Big Bull , Bob Biswas is your third transformative character? Is it easier to play a role when you change your look?
It is important for the actor to surrender to his character completely. Any artificial props are immediately caught out. Today’s audience watches cinema from the worldover. They know when an actor is faking it.
Thanks to the OTT, your competition are global characters, not only Bollywood colleagues?
I don’t believe in competition. I never allow myself to look anxiously over my shoulder at what my co-star is doing.
But you can’t deny that it(competition) exists?
Of course it does. So does one-upmanship jealousy and rivalry. I just don’t want to indulge in them.Or even think about such negative things.
Earlier you’ve worked with Sujoy Ghosh. Now In Bob Biswas it is his daughter? Did you feel you were carrying on a lineage?
I don’t know about that. But I did feel very emotional watching Diya at work. I had done cameos for Sujoy’s films .But we haven’t got down to doing a full-fledged film as yet. Bob Biswas is written by Sujoy. When I was offered the film and told his daughter was directing, I didn’t even think twice. I just said yes without even reading through the script. To me relationships have always mattered above professional interests.
Did Diya deliver the directorial skills that you expected?
Believe me it is hard to believe Bob Biswas is her first film. She’s just 26 and so sure of what she wants from her script and actors, and how to get it. It is amazing how much talent these kids of today have.
Is it any different shooting with a female director?
No. Male directors can be as sensitive perceptive and gentle as the script wants them to be. I’ve worked with women directors in the past Farah Khan and Revathi.But I never looked at them as women directors.
What attracted you to Bob Biswas?
You know I’ve always tried to pick roles that challenge me. What makes Bob Biswas so special is that he is such a normal regular guy.If you spotted him in a crowd you wouldn’t be able to tell him apart from others.This nondescript Everyman looks ordinary.And he kills people .That’s his job. If looks could kill….This film gives an entirely new interpretation to that phrase.
What was it like shooting in Kolkata for Bob Biswas?
I admit Kolkata feels like home. My Maa is a Bengali and my Paa is considered the son-in-law of Bengal . They consider me their grandson. And it’s a huge honour for me to shoot in Kolkata whenever I can,It is very heartening to return to Kolkata. I shot in this city for Mani Ratnam’s Yuva in 2003.I’ve also shot for Rituparno Ghosh’s Antar Mahal in Kolkata. Then I did another Bengali film Partha Sengupta’s Desh where I played my own mom’s son. Each time I’ve been given a royal welcome here. It feels like coming home.
This seems to be a specially cluttured time for you workwise?
I wouldn’t call it a clutter. Because I enjoy what I do. But yes, I have Bob Biswas. Then soon after that I’ve another film Dasvi which I’m proud of. Then I’ve just shot in Chennai for a film that I’m producing. I’ve also completed another season of the webseries Breathe .
Do you think the era of the starsystem is now over?
The love of stars will never wane. What would you call Tom Cruise? But yes, with the OTT emerging as a viable option for releasing films, audiences want to watch good content. They still love their stars. But they want to see them in good content.
Final question, do you think there will ever be another Amitabh Bachchan?