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Bollywood Interview

Exclusive: Art Malik interview: 'I would love to work in Indian film again'

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Art Malik is renowned for his roles in a succession of films and TV dramas in the '80s centred on the experience of the British Raj.

His evocative portrait of the young Hari Kumar in the ITV production of The Jewel in the Crown led to David Lean casting him in his sweeping epic A Passage to India. Malik was later cast in MM Kaye's The Far Pavilions.

Art Malik

© PA Images / Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Art Malik



The Pakistani born British actor has achieved the rare feat of making his presence felt in the realm of international cinema with prominent roles in films such as The Living Daylights, True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sex and the City 2 and City of Joy.

The versatile star appeared on stage in the West End in the Tom Stoppard play Indian Ink with Felicity Kendal and there was a stint in BBC hospital drama Holby City, in which he played Dr Zubin Khan.

Starring as Francesc Gacet in the television series Borgia, directed by Tom Fontana, Malik also has a key role in the forthcoming biopic Diana about the life of Princess Diana.

Thirty-one years into his prolific career, Malik makes his Bollywood debut in the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag the story of Milkha Singh, in which Malik portrays the legendary athlete's father Sampuran Singh.

In an interview with Digital Spy, Malik tells us how he bonded with on-screen son Farhan Akhtar, what it was like working on an Indian production and how Bollywood finally came calling.

You're making your Bollywood debut with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. It's great to see you in this film, but how did this association materialise and why now?
"It was brilliant because I was doing Upstairs Downstairs. I was playing a Sikh and so I already had the full beard. Rakeysh (Omprakash Mehra) had sent me this script. And that's all it takes. No-one from Bollywood has ever thought to just do that before now. It's very simple. It's just never been done before. Farhan was producing and he asked me to do it and I agreed. You only react to a script. The fact that it's being done in Mumbai and under the umbrella of what we now regard as Bollywood isn't important. It's not Bollywood as people know it. If they're expecting that they are going to be disappointed."

Art Malik in 'Upstairs Downstairs'

© BBC

Art Malik in 'Upstairs Downstairs'



You portray Milka Singh's father in the film. What are the difficulties that come with portraying real life characters in such an emotional story, particularly when the subject of the film will be watching?
"I met Milkha Singh yesterday for the first time. Extraordinary man. I could only do what the script required. That we, through a few scenes, suggest the life that was there. We don't dwell on it. We don't need to dwell on it but the life was there in the sense that pre-partition it's a part of the Punjab as it was and it's in a village. This man has status. He has his respect in the village. So he has certain things that make him a high status character to play. That's true regardless of who you play. The thing to do is to play that high status position so that it was a believable high status of a character in a village. And that's all it is. We met up in the first week of filming as actors who would be playing fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, wives, and the thing about acting with good actors is that you just get in there together to create a world. Get to know the actors and by getting to know the actors you kind of have an intimacy on screen which people will hopefully read as intimacy within the family."

As someone who is well-versed in the Western tradition of filmmaking, what was the experience of working on a Bollywood production for the first time like?
"I felt no difference. We had scripts, we had call sheets, we had a schedule, we had cars that picked you up in the mornings. They said 'action', they said 'cut'. All the toys were there. It was as big a train set as I've ever played on. It's extraordinary what technology has done. And it was the technology that needed to come because once you do away with the actual film as such then you lose a lot of the other bits of the industry that you don't need any more. Now you've got digital cameras, now you've got people making movies on phones. So the technology is decreased, but what's left is the same passion that people have for getting up in the morning to do their job with the attitude, "Today's gonna be a good day. Today we're gonna do it right." Everybody. From the driver to the director, to wardrobe, to hair, to the actors. That passion I believe is universal."

You're working with major Bollywood stars like Sonam Kapoor and Farhan Akhtar. Can you describe the interplay between you, particularly with Farhan, who plays your son in the film?
"We were very lucky because we shared a house. And I went off to work and he went off to the gym. I watched him train and we spent a lot of time in the evenings chatting. And of course, I know his stepmother - I've worked with Shabana (Azmi) and I've worked with Javed (Akhtar). There is something about Farhan that is joyous to be around. He's such a lovely guy. My only regret is that because of the story and the truth of the story we cannot play in the same scene. That was a great shame. But hopefully one day."

Art Malik

© BBC

Art Malik



How important is the soundtrack in telling the story?
"You know, my all time favourite films - one is Mary Poppins and the other one is Pakeezah. Pakeezah was an Indian film. The beauty of Pakeezah was that it had a soundtrack which was pure poetry. It's what we've gone back to. It's what we've done in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The soundtrack's there but the songs are not set pieces. They're not time out. They're about the other voice. And that's what I have always wanted to do. I thought if I was going to do an Indian film, I wanted to do an Indian film that uses music and the words of music - the poetry - that we don't do in the West."

How relevant is the film to a modern audience when it tells the story of the sacrifices of previous generations?
"You don't need a partition to experience abandonment. You don't need a partition to know history. Today loss is something everybody feels. It could be the loss of a friend moving away. It could be your best friend moves to the other side of town or his family does. It's a loss. We all understand loss. It's about what you do with that. What we have in this film is two countries being created; in the process of creating those countries there was devastation on the population I as a Brit will be eternally ashamed of. But what does he do? He goes on from this to achieve the one goal he sets out to do, which is to break that record. When you're watching it, it affects you. And if it doesn't affect you it doesn't affect you. Something else will."

What was the most positive aspect of this experience and would you like to work in Bollywood again?
"Oh, all of it. Your mind's flooded with images, people, places, going to the Golden Temple at three in the morning. Being in Delhi for a day. There's loads of things. I hope to work in Indian films again. I would love to. I'd hope to use this Hindi voice that's got a very bad British accent attached to it and spend the time trying to get rid of the accent."

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag releases in cinemas today (July 12). Watch the trailer below:

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