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It is not every day that an ensemble like this comes together. But Fanney Khan has managed to do just that. Here’s the lead cast – Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and debutante actress Pihu Sand – in conversation in with Bhakti Mehta

Music has always been important in Hindi films but the era of musical films was lost somewhere down the line. With the importance given to songs and music in Fanney Khan, will we see it making a comeback?

Anil Kapoor (AK): Music is truly an integral part of all our Hindi films. Yes, you can say that Fanney Khan is a musical because our entire album is absolutely beautiful. I think that after many years, we see an album where all the songs mean something and hold a special place for everyone.

There are old songs, new songs and melodies that are unforgettable. After a long time, there is a musical movie in its true sense. There used to be musicals before, like you can call Subhashji’s (Ghai) Taal a musical and Sooraj Barjatya films are musicals. His films, whether Hum Aapke Hain Koun! or Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, have 13-14 songs in them and I just love watching those musicals.

It’s a Hindi film and we are known for that all over the world. As a matter of fact, people who don’t know anything about our films are aware of Bollywood music, and they absolutely love it! It makes you happy, it brings a smile to your face. So, yes, I think you can call Fanney Khan a musical film in Hindi cinema after a long time.

Rajkummar, with so many different films in your filmography, how does Fanney Khan fit into the graph?

Rajkummar Rao (RR): When I heard the script of Fanney Khan, I was really excited. I was really moved by the story. It talks about aspirations and dreams which I am game for and I understand. I am a very aspirational person myself and I too had dreams when I came to the city. It also talks about an important aspect called ‘body shaming’, which is a big taboo in our society. It is a great mix of everything.

There is also a lot of humour in the film and I thought it was a great way to tell a story of this kind. And then, of course, we had such an awesome cast with Anil sir, Pihu and Ash (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). For me to get a chance to work with these stalwarts, it was a no-brainer.

Pihu, how did you feel about taking on the responsibility of being at the centre of such an important social message in your first film?

Pihu Sand (PS): When I got the film, I didn’t think about the fact that I would be sending out a message of any kind. At that time, it was, like, ‘Oh my God! I am able to act!’ But, as time passed, when I was reading the script and talking to people around me who had gone through this, who were probably body shamed, I started reading about it more. I had also faced it in my life but it didn’t matter much to me. Obviously, when I see someone doing it, I would try and put a stop to it. But when I went through the script, when I was playing the part, I actually realised how important it was to stop this in our society, in any society. This is my contribution to achieving that. Everybody is talking about it and that is an effort to stop something like that.

Anil sir, you have played a father on screen before. But, earlier, people would stereotype the role of a girl’s father which is not the case now. You are playing the lead role, the title character, in this film. What does it feel like to be a part of this change?

AK: I have always gone with my instinct. I have never thought about being at the forefront of bringing about any change. That is what all the actors all over the world do. They first try to see that the role is good and if the film works, they are termed as the ones to bring about change or else they are called failures. You just have to take those chances, those risks, and I have been doing that from the beginning of my career.

As a matter of fact, when all the other actors were doing hard-core mainstream films, I felt that for me, my right path would be to do something which is not run-of-the-mill and which somebody else has not done. I would do something that a Naseeruddin Shah or a Kamal Haasan was doing, or even what Marlon Brando did. The kind of films he did or James Dean did. I used to think about how these actors started their careers, the type of films they did. That is why I did MS Sathyu’s film Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya (1981), I worked with Mani Ratnam and Bapu saab. Then came the film Woh Saat Din (1983), where they didn’t need a young actor because the role was of a music director. And, at that time, all the music directors in our country were middle-aged. They wanted a senior actor like Sanjeev Kumar saab in it. And I was just a teenager. I said I would do it because this was something nobody had done before.

Heroes would ride either a bike or a horse. They would sing and play the guitar. I said I would do this character and then I played Prem Pratap Patiyala Wale. I thought that since everyone talks in Hindi or Hinglish, let me do a dialect. Then I thought that Dilip saab (Dilip Kumar) and Amitabhji (Amitabh Bachchan) had pulled a Bhojpuri dialect already. I asked myself what is that one dialect that I can do that other Hindi film heroes had not done? That is when I mixed Punjabi and Haryanvi, and learnt the dialect. This was 36 years ago.

Then, Karma came along. I had a normal role in the film. So, I thought of giving an Agra dialect to my character. That is the first time I went to Ranjit Kapoor. I went to the National School Of Drama. I met the students and the theatre directors there. I befriended them and sat down with them. I folded my hands before them, to teach me. I also met Neel Chowdhury from whom I learnt the Agra dialect. If you watch Karma, you will see that I speak with that dialect.

I did all this because I wanted to survive. There were so many handsome men and huge stars, and I wanted to prove that I was different. I wanted to stand out. Hence, I always tried doing something that nobody else had done before, so that I could survive and I could keep getting work. I never wanted to become a star or pioneer something. I only wanted to make a name for myself.

I did Dil Dhadakne Do because of that.  I did Fanney Khan because I liked the story. I did this because it is something that nobody has done. I play a 50-year old and she is my young daughter. All of us have daughters as old as she is by the age of 30 or 40. Still, I thought of colouring my hair white. This has got nothing to do with age. My character has white hair because he is out in the sun throughout the day. So many people get white hair at the age of 40 because of the struggle, the stress, the tension, the water of Bombay and its pollution. My look is a result of that. The struggles that my character goes through have turned my hair white. That is what I have tried in this film.

How do you instill straight-face humour in your characters? How do you do that?

RR: It is not a conscious effort; it is just the way I see comedy. Physical comedy is a different type of comedy where you make faces and you play with your body. But if you are doing a realistic film, you cannot really do all those things. In this character also, Adhir is a very naïve and innocent guy. He is a selfless lover, a giver, and he will do anything for his friends and his loved ones.

Anil sir’s character and mine are buddies in the film. My character has always looked up to him.  He thinks that his dreams are my dreams as well. They both are on their way to making their lives better. They are aspirational. But they are losers too. Circumstances put them together and they get to kidnap Baby Singh, which is Aishwarya Rai’s (Bachchan) character, but they don’t know anything about it. That is where the comedy comes in. It comes from the unknown. Life puts you in certain circumstances and situations and you need to deal with them. It is a situational comedy. I had to play this sweet and nice boy, which I can or cannot be in real life (Laughs).

Tell us about the father-daughter relationship in the film.

AK: It is very relatable. Anybody who sees the film will be able to relate to it. Every family will have this kind of relationship. Fathers and daughters are the same all over the world. It is an adaptation of a Belgian film. When I watched the Belgian film, it had the same kind of emotion in a father-daughter relationship. There is a certain conflict that two generations always have. The father believes in something but the daughter has her own way of looking at things due to peer pressure.

Everybody comes with different kinds of thinking. Children are today exposed to the internet and social media today. In India, especially, there is are lots of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. They are very diverse. Economically, they are not balanced. There are times when there are certain kids who want to be like others. There are those complexes. There are certain things they want that the fathers cannot afford. They don’t realise it. These little things are there in the film.

PS: We have a love-hate relationship.

AK: At the same time, there are certain children who are obedient daughters and sons. They share a different kind of relationship with their parents. The father is a dominating and strict person. They do exactly what their parents tell them to do. They even choose the boy and the girl for their children. I have nothing against anybody. The most relatable thing is the father-daughter relationship which we have in this film. This is 99 per cent of what happens in India.

PS: You are going to fall in love with them as the movie gains momentum and you will realise the love-hate relationship that they have and the struggle that the father undergoes for the girl without her even knowing it.

AK: We don’t realise it, but children are a part of their parents’ entire world. Children realise this only when they become parents. That is when they realise the real value of their parents. They also become exactly like their parents. So parents have to keep on inculcating values. My wife says keep talking to your children about this. They might get annoyed, upset and you too might become upset, but something will stick with them and then they will realise what we have done for them.  

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