Sunday, February 6, 2011

Filmi Girl talks to... Armaan Kirmani!

You all know I'm super-excited for Patiala House and I want to give a big thank you to Armaan for taking the time to speak with me about the film. - FG

Meet Armaan Kirmani, who plays Jaskaran Kahlon Singh (Jassi), the younger brother of Gattu (Akshay Kumar) in the upcoming film
Patiala House. The film revolves around a South Asian family in Southall, focusing on the generational conflict between father and son. Gattu is torn between following his own dreams and the dreams his father (Rishi Kapoor) has for him.

Patiala House isn’t just any story – it’s a British Asian story and one that many people will identify with – including Armaan.

“If I look at my parents generation, who were the immigrants that came into the country in the 70s and the 80s, they consider themselves very much to be either Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan and they felt that they were in a foreign land and they were just trying to just be there for a better standard of life. They were quite happy just to have a regular job and a regular wage – feed the family – and that was the old spirit, in terms of what their aspirations were. Whereas our generation - the sky is the limit.”

The fear that the children of South Asian immigrants would lose their culture stretches back in
filmi history to films like Manoj Kumar’s Purab aur Paschim (1970). The young British Asians in that film were so confused in their identities that one changed his name every other day and the other wasted her time on booze and cigarettes. But forty years on, we see the cultural ties of the South Asian Diaspora are stronger than ever, with actors like Omi Vaidya, the American-born breakout star of 3 Idiots and now Armaan returning to his parents’ homeland to be part of the films that were so much a part of his cultural identity while growing up.

“I grew up watching Bollywood,” says Armaan. “I think Bollywood in the West is a unifying cultural influence on families; it was a way for Asian families to touch base with their heritage. In India you take the film industry to be granted - it’s just part of society. Over here it’s more of an identity thing, which is why I think that different actors and different genres work quite well in the West. If you look at box office results for Yamla Pagla Deewana or even Dabangg, for example, they haven’t been critically acclaimed for the content of the film, but in their appeal to audiences they’ve scored top marks. And the reason for that, especially in the international market, is because people want to watch cinema not for necessarily story and content but because [of the cultural ties.] ‘This is the way they do it in India; this is my culture; this is the music; these are the songs; this is the poetry; these are our heroes.’”

One hero in particular inspired Armaan’s journey to becoming an actor and he volunteers his response almost before I have time to ask the question! “Shahrukh Khan” is the reply. And I can hear the grin over the phone as he continues, “I have grown up on a diet of Yash Raj cinema and Shahrukh Khan romantic dramas. What Western cinema lacks is… they look at melodrama and think it’s over the top and therefore highly unnecessary. That melodrama that [Shahrukh] brings is quite unique in terms of love stories and romance, which is increasingly a dying genre. People are almost apologetic for making romantic films, increasingly even in Bollywood now.”

It’s true. With the exception of surprise gem
Band Baaja Baaraat, most of the romantic films last year were cynical rather than emotional.

“Karan Johar, Yash Chopra, Nikhil Advani – that’s the cinema that I always wanted to be part of,” says Armaan, with conviction but it wasn’t an easy journey. After earning a law degree from Cambridge University, Armaan decided to follow his passion for acting instead and he enrolled in Anupam Kher’s
Actor Prepares course. “I didn’t even have any sort of experience before I went into [Anupam Kher’s] acting training, so for him to give me that platform, was very important in my career. Contrary to his comic image, he’s absolutely nothing like that in real life – especially if you’re in a classroom environment with him. I’m sure he will be very happy for me to share that he believes in a complete dictatorship of teaching and complete submission from students to teacher. He’s a disciplinarian in many ways but absolutely fantastic teacher at the same time.”

No matter how big a talent a young actor brings to the table, we’ve all seen nepotism at work in the Hindi film industry – one would think that an actor in Armaan’s situation would be a double disadvantage, not only for being from the UK but also being an outsider to the industry. How did he manage to stand out from the pack? “Yes, it was tough, and I returned back to London [after the Actor Prepares course] in April or May 2009 – not having given up but I'd come back knowing that if I wanted to work [in Mumbai], I was going to come back to England and go from here. I wanted to keep my options open to Western cinema as well, which I thought were going to be limited in Bombay whereas I could have had the best of both worlds while being in London because an increasing number of films are cast over here and shot over here.”

It’s an appropriate strategy for an actor inspired by the London-based Karan Johar films and it seems to have paid off. “Whatever I’ve achieved has been through luck and destiny – I cannot neglect that – but I’ve never had any contacts. Contrary to what people always say, you don’t [need contacts]. I’m the living proof of that. You need hard work, good strategy, and talent mixed with luck and I believe that those are the prerequisites. If you have the contacts, I’m sure they can help but contacts are not a prerequisite in the industry, both in my opinion and in my experience.”

And speaking of luck, I don’t think the journey from novice to film star has been captured more elegantly than in Zoya Akhtar’s 2009 film
Luck By Chance and I was curious about Armaan’s experiences versus the ‘reel life’ depicted in the film.

Luck By Chance is my film,” says Armaan. “I began acting in January 2009 at the Actors Prepares course in London and if you remember Luck by Chance released in January 2009. It was a journey of a character that wants to enter the Hindi film industry and the two people that he comes across that are really crucial to his success are Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor. Watching that film gave me the confidence to pursue acting and to try and learn some of the tricks of the trade and it just so happened by destiny that in my first film I was privileged to have Mr. Rishi Kapoor play my father and Dimple Kapadia as my mother.”

It really is quite an astounding coincidence – or should we say an astounding piece of luck?

“Luck plays a huge part but I’m of the attitude that luck is out of our control. It’s something that can’t be measured or defined. You can only sense what luck is when you look back.” In other words, we build up the narratives of our own lives after they happen, making sense of apparently random sequences of events and coincidences by calling them luck.

With that humble attitude in place, Armaan didn’t allow himself to be overwhelmed by the pressures of working with big name actors on his first film. “I wanted to embrace the opportunity that I had - to learn and appreciate the moments I got to spend with legends of Hindi cinema. I was fortunate that Jessi’s character is very close to Bhau-ji in the film, so not only did I get to spend a lot of time with Mr. Rishi Kapoor and understand his vision and learn from his experience but actually,
literally, I had a front row seat. In many of the shots when you watch the film, you’ll see Jessi is very close to Bhau-ji in terms of physical space, therefore I was able to learn while working by watching and observing.

“And not just Rishi-ji,” he adds. “Dimple-ma’am, too, who played our mum in the film and who is my favorite character in all of
Patiala House - which will speak volumes hopefully when you see the film. I think her performance… watching her and working with her was absolutely mindblowing for a young actor to learn and observe.”

I can only imagine what an honor it must to share screenspace with Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor and learning from all those years of experience. One of the real tragedies of losing the traditional parental roles in Bollywood films has been that young actors no longer have as many opportunities to work with esteemed actors like Rishi and Dimple on a regular basis. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Vinod Khanna was in my top two favorite films of 2009 and that Dimple Kapadia was in one of the best-loved films of 2010. And, personally, I feel that it speaks volumes about the quality of
Patiala House that Dimple and Rishi signed up to do it.

I had to ask after my favorite hero – Akshay Kumar. “Akshay was like an older brother, literally, in the film and was like an older brother on set. It was great to see how the modern day superstars conduct themselves in India, despite the contrary images that people may portray them in the India. When you’re actually there, it’s sort of – it’s a shock to the system because you expect certain stereotypes and when you’re there you don’t actually get them.”

This is something that struck me in a recent interview I read with Anushka Sharma, where she said that she was surprised at the difference between the rather silly caricature of Akshay in the media and the reality of working with him – that he is a dedicated and very professional actor.

“You can see his professional attitude just by the number of films that he churns out in a year,” explains Armaan. “He gets short shrift for that on occasion because some of these films haven’t won the acclaim that you would have hoped for them to have but the sheer fact that the individual has done approximately 150-200 films, if I’m correct in my research, suggests that he works very hard. And if you’re not punctual and you’re not hard working, I don’t think it’s possible to achieve that sort of number and that experience in such a short period of time.”

I agree completely and I wonder if the lack of consideration that hard working and crowd-pleasing actors like Akshay get from critics is that they treat acting very much like a job. Or is it something else?

[I like this pic - the guy you take home to mummy!- FG]

“Being in the West, I think we identify with Akshay Kumar slightly less because the films that he did… I don’t think they were marketed in the West in the same manner as they were in India. And so there was never really the same hype about Akshay Kumar films in the early 1990s but you did have hype about Akshay Kumar the star and actor, so he was almost larger than a lot of the films that he did. For [Akshay] I think the attitude he took and that I want to follow as an up-and-coming actor is any work is work and you learn from every opportunity and you shouldn’t say no to work… as long as you believe in it. Obviously that is very important, as well, and I think sometimes we obsess ourselves with box office and money and things which are increasingly important in a capitalistic world but ultimately we are artists and for us that’s secondary – the most important thing is for fulfilling our potential and satisfying our creative urges and that’s always going to be first for me.”

With the loud voices of box office analysts like Taran Adarsh, reviewing films, money does play a large part in how a film is perceived – something that Akshay, unfortunately, is quite familiar with, having had more than his fair share of poorly received films lately.

Armaan stops me halfway through a question about flop films. “I’m extremely against the use of the word ‘flop’ and the word ‘hit’ because there’s no definition for these terms,” he says. “I guess you could suggest that
Chandni Chowk to China did not get the critical acclaim or the box office results that it desired but the way I look at it Patiala House would never have happened if Chandni Chowk to China had not happened. So, you learn, as an individual, more from the mistakes that you do than from the successes. I’m a firm believer in that. So, I don’t like the term or the widespread use of the terms ‘hits’ or ‘flops’ or ‘blockbuster’ because there’s a lot of truth in between these words that we don’t ever really explore.”

I think that’s something we forget when we get caught up in the hype, positive or negative, surrounding a film. When we look back now at the so-called box office hits of the day, which have really stayed with us? And how many so-called flops have become classics?

“Also you have to understand that films are part of people’s extracurricular activities. It’s not a compulsory activity. If certain films are released at a different time of the year or in a different era or when political events are slightly different, they might have done much better and everyone would come out saying what a great film it was.”

Just for example, like if
Jaan-e-Mann hadn’t been released opposite Don.

Armaan agrees. “I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody that’s watched the film and come out of it saying, ‘I didn’t like it.’ Everyone who’s ever seen it has enjoyed it and loved it, including myself. Unfortunately, it didn’t get the same box office results but what I’m trying to say is that doesn’t mean the film is a flop. It’s a very crude and harsh, ignorant term to use, in my opinion. Because so much effort has gone into it and it’s a good film – whatever anybody says, it’s a good film.”

It’s so refreshing to hear that attitude from an up-and-coming actor, especially one with no connections in the industry to fall back on.

“I think an actor’s struggle never ends,” says Armaan. “And if the film is success and it leads to more work, then a brand new struggle will begin. As Shahrukh says in
Luck By Chance, your first film chooses you and from there on you chose every other film. So that’s a brand new game I have to start playing from the next couple of weeks. Hopefully.”

I hope so, too.

I wish all the best to Armaan and the cast and crew of
Patiala House!

You will also be able to catch Armaan in the upcoming
London Life and in the short film Shortcut.


maxqnz said...

People are almost apologetic for making romantic films, increasingly even in Bollywood now

So true, and so sad! Really looking forward to Patiala House, even if the idea of a fast bowler debuting at 34 is a big stretch.

Lime(tte) said...

Patiala House is even running in a town "near" me, so I might see it.

Long and interesting article/ interview - didn't read it fully, but what I read was interesting.

BTW, I love SRKs romantic films, but he did some awful stuff too.

Michael Barnum said...

Saw that trailer for Patiala House when I went to see the Deol family film the other week, it looks so good and I can't wait to see it.

And very nice to read Armaan's interview. Till now I was not familiar with him, but I will look forward to seeing him in this movi, and hopefully many more Thanks Filmigirl for bringing him to our attention!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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