The better half

Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan consider Raavan as the most challenging film of their careers

How do you look back, now that Raavan is complete and ready for release ?

Aishwarya: I am not nervous at all. In fact it is a very exciting moment for me as I always enjoy the release phase where I can discuss a film and share the experience of shooting for it. When we are shooting, we generally do our work and come back. But shooting for Raavan was a very unique experience, different from anything we have done before.

Abhishek: And very challenging as well! We discovered many unknown facets of our own personalities especially our physical endurance. I never knew that I could plunge down a 90 foot cliff into a fast-flowing river, get up at five and go trekking, stand under forceful waterfalls, and prance in forests with snakes and leeches stuck on our legs.

Aishwarya: And all the time we were being dragged, pulled and pushed, Mani-sir kept saying ‘Keep it real’. It was like being on a reality show like Fear Factor. And there he would be standing quietly watching us as we struggled, but with a very protective look on his face.

Abhishek: The reality set in when he put us under the waterfall for two hours on the first day itself! But anything for sir – I can give my life for him.

What was your first reaction when Mani Ratnam approached you with Raavan?

Aishwarya: He gave me a hint about the film when we were shooting the song Barso re for Guru. I got hooked on to it there and then. But then Mani-sir is like that, he draws you into his own world.

Abhishek: I told him that with a title like that, people would definitely draw comparisons to the epic. Then he just asked me to name one film that was not influenced or not inspired from our epics or a great story from the past. And trust me I could not name a single one.

Then what is the film all about?

Abhishek: Beera, my character in the film, is a very contemporary person that Mani created. It has nothing to do with a Maoist leader, anyone from politics or from the epic Ramayan. The only similarity that the film has to the epic is the title and that my nickname in the film is Raavan!

And why is that?

Abhishek: That is because like Raavan, Beera has many facets and shades to his personality. It is a fun character who is most unpredictable and can do anything, unlike the Gurukant Desai of Guru who could only do certain things. Actors rarely get a chance to play roles like this and at the end of the day there was a satisfaction of having done something good.

Aishwarya: I could say the same for my character, Ragini, who is the wife of a cop, and a dancer who teaches classical dance to children. She is an amazingly strong woman who embodies all the five elements of fire, water, earth, air and is energetic, emotional and ruthless. She is a complete woman and at the same time very real, as there were no fancy clothes or make-up and half the time I am drenched with mud all over me.

Abhishek, why didn’t you do the Tamil version of the film like Aishwarya did?

Abhishek: Mani was adamant that I do the Tamil version too, but I am not comfortable with the language and then I had my hands full with Beera. It would have diluted my attention.

Did you get cold feet when you were asked to plunge from a height of 90 feet into the swirling waters below?

Abhishek: I was not asked to do the scene as Mani was dead against me doing the dangerous plunge. But just when I was contemplating the stunt, I saw four or five of these little boys who for a small sum of money would happily jump off the cliff. I told Mani that if they could it, so could I and before he could react I jumped off. I won’t deny that I was paranoid once I flew off, thinking I was definitely going to die and then there was Mani to face, as he was furious and told me that I should leave such things to the professionals.

Aishwarya: But then Mani-sir is a director who inspires an actor to push the envelope. I remember the time that he was ill and we literally had to force him to rest. And once back he was there in full force and as energetic, spirited and determined as ever. If he asked me to go through this all over again I would do it!

Abhishek: Me too! The experience was especially memorable because every time the director said “Pack up!” I would go back to my wife and get pampered.


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