Farzi Actor Bhuvan Arora: “Raj & DK are evil geniuses”

The actor is getting a lot of love for playing Firoz – one half of the gutsy money-counterfeiting team in Farzi
Bhuvan Arora talks about Farzi
Bhuvan Arora talks about Farzi

In an episode towards the end of Farzi, master counterfeiters from the streets Sunny and Firoz haggle for the purchase of a 9000-ton ship to transfer copious amounts of their fake currency. As the bargain begins, the spirit of every middle-class North-Indian aunty possesses Firoz. “Not your, not mine, come centre,” he negotiates, translating word-to-word the familiar Hindi refrain of “Naa aapka, naa mera.” You’d think the man was buying chappals from Pali Hill’s street market. The scene has the magic of improvisation done right and the result is laugh-out-loud, convincing and organic humour – a feature that regularly graces director duo Raj & DK’s projects. Bhuvan Arora, who plays Firoz, was frequently allowed to let loose in front of the camera and go where the moment took him. “With parts like Firoz, there is a very thin line that an actor has to maintain,” said Arora while talking to Film Companion. “There is a huge chance to go overboard because [these] parts have that kind of flamboyance or vibrancy [and you] are always on that verge. … But Raj & DK never asked me to stop,” he said. Arora has played multiple comic roles in the past and while he brings this arsenal to Farzi, he also injects the character with vulnerability – he might be a joke-cracking criminal but he’s also an elder-respecting good boy. Here’s more from Arora about Firoz and Farzi

What are Raj & DK like as directors? Was there anything about them that surprised you?

I've always wanted to work with them and I've heard a lot of great things about them. A couple of my seniors had worked with them and they all said that they are great people to work with. But I think jitna unhone ne bola, wo kam hi tha (the praises they had sung for Raj and DK were not enough). The more I compliment them, the less it is. There are no words that can do justice to the people they are – so warm, so welcoming and so encouraging. There would be times on set where I would feel like, "Am I even going in the right direction?" because, with parts like Firoz, there is a very thin line that an actor has to maintain. There is a huge chance of going overboard because the parts have that kind of flamboyance or vibrancy  [and you ] are always on that verge – aisa nahin lagna chahiye ki acting pe toot hi pade ho aap (It shouldn’t end up looking like you have gone overboard with the acting). That thought always crossed my mind. But they were always there to correct me. They would always tell me, "Go for it. I'll tell you when to stop." And they never did [ask me to stop], which is an amazing amount of freedom that I have personally never experienced.

Shahid Kapoor and Bhuvan Arora in Farzi
Shahid Kapoor and Bhuvan Arora in Farzi

You’ve played comic characters before but Raj & DK give equal importance to emotional heft. A scene can go from comic to heartbreaking in no time. Did that challenge you as an actor?

I like to be spontaneous. As much as I like to prepare, all that preparation is great before you come on set. Once you come on set, you've got to be alive. And I think that’s the beauty of Raj and DK – they make you alive in a scene. They will set it up in a way that you will feel like being there. I would always feel there are so many things happening around me so I shouldn't forget the fact that I also have to follow my natural instinct. I always abided by that and if we don't like it we can chop it off in the edit later, which is what the editors are there for. But I never refrained from doing what I really wanted to do. And most of that stuff was kept in the show. People are absolutely loving and tripping on the improvisations. I have so many messages! I remember we were at this screening and DK sir and I were talking and he said, “Buy a spare phone. Your phone is not going to be working properly from tomorrow. You're going to get so many calls.” They have been very reassuring like that. And their beauty is that they put humour in the least expected places. They are evil geniuses.

That's a great way to describe them. 

Yeah, like the chai scene – it was never really written on paper. It was Raj sir's quote-unquote, “Khurafaat” (mischief). He just came to me and said, “Bhuvan, why don't we try that?” I asked, “Sir, why such a long pause? We are just drinking tea.” He was like, “Just do it but do it in your style.” We shot one take of it and it got okay-ed in the first take. Everybody on set couldn't stop laughing. And that was the first time I said, “Raj sir, you are evil in the head, you know that, right?”

I love that Firoz drinks whiskey the same way he drinks chai.

As actors we take from life, right? This is something I took from my father. He's not there with us anymore, God bless his soul. But this is something my father would always do. I used to have chai with him every evening. And every evening, he would not look down until he finished his cup. These are the little moments you learn from life and replicate on the screen. It's probably a hidden ode to my father.

During our Front Row session with them, Raj & DK specifically mentioned that you brought a lot of improv to the character. What were some of the fun parts of playing around with this character? Do you get to do this on set very often?

I actually do because, like you said, I've done a lot of comic parts. I wouldn't say it comes easily but it does come naturally to me. Because in life also, I'm a guy who likes to keep people around me happy. I like to make people laugh. A lot of my friends also say that I should probably try stand-up comedy but I’m like, “Nahi yaar, yahan dhandha theek chal raha hai (No, the acting bit is working smoothly).” But it’s very liberal for an actor to work under Raj & DK. They would never say no to anything. There would be times when they would tell me, “Don't even do it in front of us. Just do it in the takes. Surprise us.” So we did a bunch of improv. That whole negotiation about the ship was written very normally on paper from a dialogue point of view. All those add-ons of “Not your, not mine, old ship, rust here, rust there” were improvs. We had to shoot that scene twice. The first time I did it, I enjoyed it. But the second time I did it, I went all out with it. And they absolutely let me.

There are so many parts that I improvised that are still not there in the show. I was talking to them at the Comic Con event the other day and I asked them, “Yaar, why didn't you keep that? Why didn't you keep this?” And they were like, “Bhuvan, [the show] would have nine episodes instead of eight if [we] kept all your improvisations.”

Shahid Kapoor and Bhuvan Arora in Farzi
Shahid Kapoor and Bhuvan Arora in Farzi

Bollywood has had its share of memorable sidekicks. Did you have any references for playing Firoz?

I've always hated the word “sidekicks”. I feel everybody is like the hero of their own story. It's just that you see this story primarily from Sunny's point of view. But if you see this from Firoz's point of view, he's the hero of his own story. In his story, Sunny is the sidekick. I never looked at the character as a sidekick or as a friend. He's got his own individual identity. And I think that reflected on screen, with immense support from Mr. Shahid Kapoor. He's become like a brother figure to me now. It was always clear to us that it was a two-man job. This job cannot happen if both of them are not together. He (Sunny) cannot print and Firoz cannot sketch. So one has to sketch and the other has to print. So, I didn't really have any references but I had references of how to not go about it – the parts that actually make people typical “sidekicks”. I saw those and said, “Yeh nahi karna hai (I don’t want to do this).” And I've been at this for a long time. I've played a lot of the quintessential hero's friend in a lot of movies and I stopped doing them about four-five years ago. Because I stopped enjoying it. But when Farzi came my way, I saw the potential of the character. Plus, I had immense trust in Raj and DK; they are magicians. So I was very confident but yes, in terms of references, [I had] references of what not to do more than what to do. And obviously, we cannot name them. 

You have great chemistry with Shahid Kapoor on-screen. How did you both arrive at that easy companionship? Did you get to meet before the shoot? 

No, we did not meet actually. The first time we met, he was at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) shooting Kaminey (2009). I was being ragged by my seniors and he was just standing behind witnessing this because he also probably wanted to learn from life (chuckles). 

The second time we met was at a costume trial of a film which never really happened. This (Farzi's shoot) was the first time I was meeting him extensively. And we didn't get a lot of time [before the shoot] because I was shooting for something else right before Farzi. But when we met, it was very easy-breezy from the word go itself. 

I went over to him on the first day of [shoot] and told him, “Shahid bhai, you should think of me as Ishaan (Khatter). You're obviously much more experienced. I've been at it for some time but I’m definitely not as sound as you. So, please guide me. If you feel I'm going wrong in any direction, just scold me, don't tell me. Don't be nice, don't be fancy, don't sugarcoat anything. Just tell me ‘You are doing this wrong.’ And I would happily take whatever you say.” 

He was very protective and those little gestures that he used to do would add a lot to my performance. Like if you see that scene where they [Firoz and Sunny] are running away after the first fake [note] doesn't work, they ultimately find a hideout and stand there. [In that scene,] he's constantly patting my head. He would also give these small nuances that would help me and help our chemistry translate on-screen. I'm very thankful for that and he's great to work with. Brother he is, brotherhood (makes a hand heart).

What kind of roles or films are you looking to do now?

Anything that excites me yaar. I'm not going in a particular direction. I've never [done that], really. I want to do a lot of negative bits because I feel I relate to them a lot. I also want to do some romance, but not clichéd romance. [Maybe] heartland romance, like probably what was offered in Masaan (2015). Or maybe something along the lines of No Country For Old Men (2007), probably Javier Bardem's part. Something like that, if [it] comes my way. These are the parts that I've seen and I felt, 'Oh, wow!' And that's what I want to try myself. 

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