The Facets to Farhan: A Conversation with MARD Initiative Founder Farhan Akhtar
The Facets to Farhan
The debut album is a stark landmark in the distinguished career of Farhan, who up until now has made his name in the film and entertainment industry as one of Bollywood’s biggest stars. With over 11 million followers on Twitter and a global profile in the spotlight, he has already established himself as a household name across the world – particularly following his role co-producing Emmy nominated Amazon Prime Original series Mirzapur. This was the latest of his company, Excel Entertainment’s, smash hit productions having made their debut in 2001. He also made his name acting in some of Bollywood’s biggest hits such as Dil Chahta Hai (2002), Rock On!! (2008) and (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2012).
As part of his commitment to use his profile to elevate important social messages, Farhan also directed a short film titled ‘Positive’ (2007) to spread awareness of HIV and AIDS.
His album ‘Echoes’ has been well received, with ‘Seagull’ entering at number 12 in iTunes Top 200 tracks in India. It was recorded in Milan and was produced by Grammy-winning producer Tommaso Colliva (Franz Ferdinand, Jesus and Mary Chain, Muse).
Farhan frequently speaks of female empowerment and uses his profile to pedal messages of peace and equality. He was named as the first male UN HeForShe campaign, working alongside Emma Watson who initiated the movement. With the movement now harbouring the likes of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British singer Harry Styles and actors Simon Pegg and Tom Hiddleston, Farhan was the first male celebrity to join the campaign as an ambassador.
Farhan founded the MARD initiative – which stands for Men Against Rape & Discrimination (and also translates to Man in Hindi). This is part of his commitment to spreading awareness about gender inequality and rape, and empowering women around the world. He recently spoke with Metro and featured on SKY News about the #MeToo movement.
In February he marched with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse across London Bridge as the celebrity supporter for the #ItsNotOk campaign.
In our interview, Farhan tells us about how he got started in the industry, talks about his music and discusses what he thinks the future of cinema is in the Digital Age…
If you go to the very beginning of your career, how you got into the entertainment industry. Was singing always part of your plan?
Actually, music and singing were probably was my first love, films my second. My earlier influences were The Beatles, I just wanted to play guitar and be able to sing way before and play guitar way before I wanted to be a part of films so music is something I have been passionate about my whole life.
What about this particular album, Echoes, how do you feel about it? I understand some songs are from 15 years ago….
There is just one song that is from the early 90’s, it was not a song then it was just something I had written down as a poem, that’s the earliest one. But the rest are all 2014-2015 onwards.
How was the recording process? How did you find it? Did you record in India?
It was recorded in Milan, we worked with an engineer called Tumasu he’s amazing at what he does and he is a Grammy winning producer he has also worked with The Muse which a really popular band in the UK. He has just heard the scratch version of what we had recorded in Mumbai and he met a friend of mine who manages me as an artist, Anurag, and played Tumasu the music and he took a liking to it and had ideas of what he can do with the music and it sounded correct. He constructed every single production and found emotion of the lyric and that was music.
In terms of your future plans for music, do you have any other upcoming work?
Well right now my focus is really to get this album out, a lot of effort has been put into that but the song writing has not stopped since we recorded there’s been a lot more songs written we have been back in the studio and put them down with the guitar and voice. Now when these songs are released and what shape the album takes that time will tell.
Moving away from the album Echoes, what can fans expect from your music in general?
I would like to hope they just recognise the person behind the writing, that’s most important. I had written it about my feelings and emotional as openly as I possibly could and for that to recognise it is what any artist wants to accept your honesty and truth… that’s what I hope for.
And your new demographic, considering the fact that you have written this in English and promoting it internationally, how do you feel about that?
Well it feels like the natural thing to do because it is an album in the English language it allows for a new audience to listen to the music that I do. So it’s important for me to come and engage with them and show that they matter to me and their support as an artist.
London has great places for music, pubs and bars. Have you ever considered an impromptu performance?
I have yeah! I have done impromptu performances with this album in Mumbai, I’m sure we will, and we will be back in April solet’s see we might pop up somewhere.
Moving away from music and coming to films, you have recently produced a sports drama Gold; tell us about your experience.
Well it was an incredible story about a time in history of hockey that very few people were aware of and we were very proud to be the people to bring it on screen. The fact that people appreciated the film as much as they have and that it was as successful as it was made us feel really good that we had chosen the right story to tell.
You obviously have different roles; you are an actor, writer, director and musician. It is unfair to ask you to choose which one you prefer but does music come on top of the list?
It is difficult to say there is something unique about music, every single person at some point in their life has fantasied about wanting to perform be on stage, sing. And when you get to do it, when you have people who support you it fills you up with so much love. But to say that I love it more than films it would be difficult to say because I love movies, that’s been my job for last 18 years before I started working on this album. So I really can’t put it down!
Is there anything else you would like to do in the film industry, you have pretty much done everything!
No, not really. I think there is enough going on, I am working with people who are amazing at what they do, and I just hope I keep working with talented people.
Speaking of the talent, you have worked with many talented people in the music and film industry. Is there anybody in particular that you would want to work with? For example, you have always said you admire Robert De Niro.
Absolutely! If that were to happen that would be amazing! Yeah sure, why not!
Who inspires you from the industry? Apart from Robert De Niro and Amitabh Bachchan.
Well there are so many people who have done such great work. I mean directors like Martin Scorsese, look at his career its incredible and there’s so many other people whether they are actors or directors the kind of work that is going on it is really inspiring. It is difficult to take names… I mean Meryl Streep she has done an amazing career and every film that she does you want to watch it and you know she will do something amazing in it, so she’s another person.
You are a big part of the industry, but whom and what are you a fan of?
My two biggest celebrities in my life are my two daughters, completely head over heels in fan love with them. They are the ones I am routing for and the ones I support.
Is there a book that you are a fan of that has not been adapted into a film or a Netflix series that you would watch.
A book that has not been adapted into a film and came very close is and would be been an incredible film was Shantaram, which somehow has not been adapted yet.
With the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, what do you think the future of cinema would be? Do you find it moving towards a digital audience away from silver screens?
There is something magical and powerful in the community experience which you can’t take away, you can easily sit and watch your favourite band on streaming service at home, but what is it that makes you go and watch them live in concert? But there is this energy generated when being with people and having a common experience and feeling the same emotions with absolute strangers and it’s so powerful for that to happen. And this is the same feeling that happens when you go into a movie hall, you laugh together, you cry together, get disgusted, scared and you are doing this entire thing with people you don’t know. So that feeling of sharing something as a community is very special I don’t think that will go away. Cinema has many challenges, especially in India, we need to have a lot more theatres, so people can access it a lot more easily, we are very far behind. Given the population that we have and the number of screens that we have its abysmal, that really needs to change, and there is a push for it right now, so I do hope the powers that we recognise that this is something of pressing concern in the industry because it affects us directly.
Do you ever go to the cinemas disguised in India?
No, you don’t really have to go disguised – that is just for the story! You can go from the service side, they let the film stars sit down when it’s dark from the back and watch the film. You don’t have to do the drama of dressing up to watch the film or wear some disguise.