x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Farhan Akhtar is Bollywood’s brightest star

Farhan Akhtar pipped a whole lot of stars to the Best Actor post at the Filmfare Awards, and his star keeps rising.

Farhan Akhtar. AFP
Farhan Akhtar. AFP

At the recent Filmfare Awards, Farhan Akhtar pipped a whole lot of stars to the Best Actor post, sweeping past, among others, Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s shahenshah (king), and the National-award winning Dhanush.

Akhtar, 39, won for his role in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a biopic on the Indian athlete Milkha Singh that took home a host of other gongs, too, including Best Director and Best Film. He shone bright at that awards ceremony, his famous wit and comic timing on full display even though he neither hosted nor performed at the event. Even his acceptance speech drew laughs: a quick nod to his parents, a funny observation about the nomination clips (“everyone else says a line in theirs but mine is a shot of my abs”), and a self-deprecating remark about his wasted youth.

Akhtar first made his mark on the industry not as an actor, but director: he debuted with the 2001 coming-of-age drama Dil Chahta Hai, starring Akshaye Khanna, Saif Ali Khan and the indomitable Aamir Khan as three friends on a journey of self-discovery.

The film received critical acclaim and Akhtar was hailed as the pioneer of Bollywood’s new-wave cinema. But Akhtar, then 27, shrugged off the title, pointing out that all he did was draw on his own experiences and tell it like it is. Because he’s the son of the Hindi cinema stalwarts Honey Irani (actress) and Javed Akhtar, (poet, screenwriter and lyricist), his success – and his sister’s, the filmmaker Zoya Akhtar – was immediately attributed to his genes. It’s a ridiculous view, considering the staggering number of star kids who’ve failed spectacularly in Bollywood.

But Akhtar is a man with prodigious talent. In 2008, he produced, acted and sang in the musical Rock On!, becoming one of the first in the industry to pull off an effort so massive it would have given most of his contemporaries a nosebleed had they tried. Then came Luck By Chance (2009) – a finely nuanced film within a film – and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), another coming-of-age drama that was an instant hit. Both were directed by his sister who, with an unerring eye, tends to cast him in the kind of characters he excels at playing: real people, with real problems and an indefatigable sense of ­humour.

But Akhtar has had a few bad moments, too. Take Karthik Calling Karthik (2010), a lame thriller in which he starred as a schizophrenic man haunted by his telephone. Or Don 2 (2011), which he wrote and directed, and which easily is one of the worst films of this decade – despite starring SRK, the man who can single-handedly take a stupendously bad movie to resounding box-office success (Chennai Express, y’all).

But if this criticism of Akhtar seems harsh, it’s only because the audience has come to expect magnificent things of him.

His new film should please fans: Akhtar stars in Shaadi Ke Side Effects (see review), opposite Vidya Balan. The movie is already generating a buzz for its gentle comedy, sparkling dialogue and laugh-out-loud scenes (there will be plenty of improv, knowing Akhtar).

So what’s next for Bollywood’s Best Actor? We think maybe stand-up on Indian television. Because there aren’t enough funny men out there, and because Akhtar would totally kill it, such is his genius.

ciyer@thenational.ae