Abhishek Bachchan exudes an easy-going charm both on screen and off. One of the most well-spoken and articulate actors there is, his sharp wit and sense of humour remain unrivalled. Although his surname spells power and stature in Bollywood’s hallowed halls, Bachchan Junior hasn’t let it weigh him down. Now, after 22 years in the industry, he’s recalibrating his career with Bachchan 2.0—a phase he describes as nothing less than fulfilling.
One of the first mainstream actors to take the plunge into the OTT space—“They call me OTT ka Bachchan”— Abhishek earned much-deserved praise for Dasvi, his latest release on Netflix. Playing the rogue chief minister who finds himself studying for Class 10 exams in jail, he admits that his choice of films are instinctive.
“I react on a very broad-stroke kind of a level. I take on projects instinctively or emotionally, which works both ways,” Abhishek says. “I agreed to do Bob Biswas the moment Sujoy Ghosh mentioned it was his daughter’s directorial debut. I didn’t even wait for the narration. Similarly, when Dasvi came to me, I loved the character of Gangaram Chaudhary, who owns his space even when faced with difficulties.”
“Today’s audience is not interested in black-and-white characters. They want to see them grey. It makes them more tactile and realistic. I realise that the new generation doesn’t conform to the moralities that actors had 20 years ago. They want to see people who can achieve despite hurdles. There’s room for mistakes and to showcase your humanity. It’s these stories and ‘flawed’ characters that appeal to me.”
Between 2016 and 2018, Abhishek invested all his energies into his pro kabaddi league team, Jaipur Pink Panthers, also taking a sabbatical from the silver screen, returning with Manmarziyaan. “It wasn’t a brave thing to do; it was a necessity,” he shrugs with his typical nonchalance. “I was stagnating and not getting the kind of work I wanted. I knew if I didn’t do it now, I’d be stuck forever.”
From the big screen to the small
In 2020, he made his digital debut with Breathe: Into the Shadows and has been a consistent presence on the streaming space ever since, with back-to-back releases like Ludo, The Big Bull, Bob Biswas and now Dasvi. We wonder whether he feels liberated from the burden of box office numbers...
“At the end of the day, what matters is how many people watch your content. This can translate from the tickets sold at cinemas, or the views received online. Even on a streaming platform, the barometer of your success is the number of people who watch your show or movie and whether the platform wants to cast you again.”
Box office numbers or online views may fail to sway AB, but there’s one aspect of the industry that he fears—auditions.
“I’m terrible at them! I have huge respect for people who can audition confidently. It’s a very unnatural situation to be in: you’re given a line and sent to a room; you know nothing of the characters; and most of the time, the director isn’t present to guide you. To be judged for a job on the basis of that moment is extremely nerve-racking.”
“We all have our insecurities, but they should keep you on the edge and constantly hungry to achieve more. Insecurities are good to have, but they shouldn’t get the better of you. They should propel you towards your dreams.”
A man who takes criticism on the chin and has an innate ability to brush off incessant trolling in all joviality, Abhishek laughs: “You can’t take yourself too seriously. A sense of humour is a must, and sometimes, these so-called ‘trolls’ come up with funniest things... I’m often asked how I deal with them. I don’t have a how-to book, but you can’t be taking everything to heart. My life is, anyway, an open book and I’m not scared to show my vulnerabilities.”
Though predominantly jovial and ever-ready with a well-timed quip, Abhishek has one personality trait that continues to surprise and intrigue many—the absence of an overactive public relations machinery, or a retinue of managers and publicists around him.
“It’s not the PR executives or the number of people in your entourage that defines you. Your work needs to speak for itself. No one is interested in you if your work is not good enough, PRs or no PRs.”
The first family of Bollywood
He’s been followed around by cameras all his life, but more often than not, Abhishek managed to escape them during his courtship with his now wife, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The two recently celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary.
Giving us a little insight into their relationship, he shares: “My wife had once told me, ‘You get a thousand positive comments, so why focus on that one negative one?’ And that rings true for me.”
He also admitted to one of his quirks—his complete inability to dial in room service on location. It’s often Aishwarya who orders his food for him. “I’m just shy and get conscious while talking to strangers!”
The past few years have been rife with rumours about the couple making another on-screen appearance together. They were last seen sharing screen space in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan in 2010.
“We are open to it as long as there’s something good for us in it to do, but there’s nothing as of now,” he says, no doubt disappointing the many who read this tête-à-tête.
Talking about parents, the inimitable Amitabh Bachchan and the fiery Jaya Bachchan, Abhishek says the only time he ever received a handwritten note from his father— known to send congratulatory messages to the fraternity—was for Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya in 2000.
“I guess he felt I needed the luck,” he says with a laugh. “But my most precious memory is of when he got emotional while watching my performance in Guru and told me so. I cherish that to this date. Though it’s my mother’s feedback that’s usually brutally honest. If she doesn’t like my work, she doesn’t comment on it at all, and if she likes it, she shares a few words.”
And the one thing he imbibes from the industry stalwarts is: “Just be honest with what you’re doing. Things may seem tough, but they eventually fall into place.”
Coming to the end of our conversation, the sports buff in Abhishek brings it to a close comparing himself to a slip fielder: “You never know what’s coming your way. You just have to be ready to grab it!”
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s May 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!