‘People have emotional connections to certain films': Farhan Akhtar on why Ranveer Singh was his ideal choice for 'Don 3'

The filmmaker, actor and singer, who's all set to perform live in Dubai on September 1, talks about his love for all-things rock music, his return to the silver screen and taking the 'Don' legacy forward


Somya Mehta

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Published: Mon 21 Aug 2023, 4:18 PM

At the turn of the century, a young voice broke the archetypal mould of what mainstream Bollywood movies were meant to be, setting off a new trajectory for films representing modern-day India. Dil Chahta Hai (2001), which was Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut, went on to become a culture-defining film showcasing contemporary urban life in ways that had never been done before. Apart from directing, Farhan also went on to establish himself for his acting chops, helming movies like Rock On!! (2008) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), among others.

Versatility and wearing multiple hats come naturally to the artiste, who over the years has also pioneered a unique blend of rock music infused with Bollywood melodies, creating powerful soundtracks for his movies. All set to perform live in Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on September 1, Khaleej Times caught up with the artiste, who recently sent shockwaves across the Internet announcing Don 3 with Ranveer Singh as the new ‘Don’.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q. You're all set to perform live in Dubai on September 1. How are you anticipating the performance?

I'm excited about coming back to Dubai to play. It's been a while. We haven't played here since the pandemic happened. Really looking forward to it, we've been constantly getting messages with people saying, 'Why aren't you coming back to Dubai to play?' So, I hope to see everyone there!

Q. Do you have any rituals you follow before going on stage?

Yes, I do. I have to go for at least a half an hour, 45-minute run. It just gets me in the mood, the energy levels spike. It's just something I have to do before every gig.

Q. You've also introduced this very unique blend of rock music infused with Bollywood melody. How did your interest in music, specifically rock music, take root?

It was a different kind of rock back then, but I started by listening to The Beatles. I am a huge fan of all four of them and the album's that they made. And as I got older, I started listening to other bands such as Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple, and then more into psychedelic rock, Pink Floyd, and all that kind of stuff. I've always really, really been into rock music. I love the sound of the guitar, whether it's electric or acoustic, it's very soothing to me. So that's something I wanted to bring into the concert, to create a rock concert experience and not the Bollywood show experience. So we produced all the songs accordingly.

Q. Who are some artistes that you draw inspiration from in current times?

Well, it's very difficult to keep up with all the music that's happening right now. Fortunately, my younger daughter is someone who keeps sharing her Spotify playlist with me but please don't ask me to name anyone (laughs) because the music landscape is changing so quickly. The number of artistes that are constantly popping up on the scene is great. It makes the music more diverse. But it's difficult to keep track. My go-to is still classic rock music.

Q. You've proven your talent as an actor, director, and singer. You wear several hats in the realm of cinema. If you had to pick one out of the three, which one would you pick?

I don't think I can, I love what I do. I'm very grateful to people, to the universe, that I've had the opportunities over the last 22 years to continue doing what I'm doing, to be challenged by scripts, to be challenged by filmmakers, to be able to write music and have people who believed in that music, so I just approach it with gratitude. That's all I do. And I love all of it.

Still from 'Rock On!!'
Still from 'Rock On!!'

Q. So, there's absolutely nothing you would pick over the other?

I can't choose one in terms of a professional career but I must admit, the feeling of performing live on stage is incomparable. There is something so true, so immediate, for the lack of another word, that happens when you're performing live. It's difficult to compare to anything else.

Q. That's what everybody missed in the pandemic as well...

It was horrible... to not be able to perform and not be able to go and watch performances. The performance is as enjoyable for the people performing as it should be for the people who are watching it, only then does it become memorable.

'Maybe, I'm a sucker for pain. I did it once before, in 2006, and I wanted that feeling to come back so I'm doing it again,' Farhan jokes about why he wanted to revisit the world of 'Don' all these years later.
"Maybe, I'm a sucker for pain. I did it once before, in 2006, and I wanted that feeling to come back so I'm doing it again," Farhan jokes about why he wanted to revisit the world of 'Don' all these years later.

Q. You recently announced a humongous film project, which has broken the internet. Over 12 years later, what made you want to revisit the world of Don?

It's something that's been brewing in my mind for a while. Pretty much since the end of Don 2, there's been this question 'When is Don 3 coming?' Even if I didn't want to think about it, I was forced to think about it. So, somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a little pot kept on a stove. And about two and a half years ago, there was an idea that felt like this could be the one, so I started working on it, and here we are today.

Q. Introducing Ranveer Singh as the new Don has also been receiving polarised reactions online. How did you soak that in?

Ranveer has proved himself to be a really good actor and a versatile actor. So, I'm not worried and he shouldn't be either. I can say that without a shadow of a doubt, he's going to give an absolutely slamming performance in the film. It's natural for people to react in this way. In 2006, everybody said 'How can you touch Mr Bachchan's Don?' and how would Shah Rukh play the role. So, it's understandable. People have emotional connections to certain films, certain songs, and certain people, and you cannot deny that. You can't diminish it by pretending it doesn't exist. You have to respect it. And I respect everyone's feelings towards Don. The people who have been disappointed, I respect their feelings, the people who are excited, I respect their feelings. My focus is to make a good film and hopefully, people will come in and love it, like they loved the one in 2006.

Q. There's obviously a lot of pressure on Ranveer to fill in the big shoes of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan but how much of that pressure are you feeling as the captain of the ship?

Maybe I'm a sucker for pain. I did it once before, in 2006, and I wanted that feeling to come back so I'm doing it again (laughs). But jokes aside, as a filmmaker, I have to stay focused on what I want to make. There will be all sorts of feelings and reactions but that cannot dictate what I'm going to do next.

Still from 'Don 2'
Still from 'Don 2'

Q. The million dollar question: Who'd be taking on the role of 'jungli billi', the character of Roma, previously played by Zeenat Aman and Priyanka Chopra?

Well, all of it is a work in progress. I've never been someone who keeps my cards so close to my chest. I'm happy to let everybody know but I don't want to throw a name out there which isn't true.

Q. Another one of your much-anticipated projects is Jee Le Zaraa, with a stellar star cast including Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif. What can you tell us about that film?

Right now, I'm just waiting for the dates to align, it's not been easy at all. So, my focus is currently on Don 3 and Jee Le Zaraa will be picked up post that. I'm also doing two films next year before we get into Don 3, as an actor. In January, I will start a film which is being produced by Aamir Khan Productions. It's being directed by RS Prasanna, who directed Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. He's a great director. Then I will do another film for Excel Entertainment, which will start roughly in June or July. And then I get into directing Don 3.

Q. We're going to be listening to you on loop, leading up to your live performance. What are you currently listening to on loop?

Currently, I'm tripping on soundtracks of films, in terms of the background scores. So, Hans Zimmer has currently taken over my playlists for these last few weeks. I recently watched him play live in London and it just reminded me of all the incredible soundtracks he's done.

Still from 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'
Still from 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'

Q. Do you think there's a gap for that kind of background score in Bollywood?

We have the music but we don't have a market for people to listen to it. For example, Hans Zimmer did the background score of Dune and the movie doesn't have songs. So, we listen to the background score. We have songs in our film, so people tend to listen to the songs and sing along. But the scores of films that I've worked on, be it Dil Chahta Hai, Lakshya, Don, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, are stellar soundtracks that deserve a place in the sun. But at the moment, there is no big market in terms of people listening to it, which is a reality we have to face.


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