There is more to Suhas Tandon from 3 Idiots than meets the eye. Olivier Lafont, who hails from France, is not just another firangi face looking for roles in Bollywood. He has worked as a model in over 70 commercials and also featured in a couple of Bollywood movies (3 Idiots, Guazaarish, Paa), but he hardly spends his free time waiting for roles to come his way. Reason? Olivier Lafont aka Kareena Kapoor’s fiance in 3 Idiots, is not just an actor and very few people know about it. Lafont has written screenplays for movies and TV shows, has done some good theatre and is a brilliant basketball player. And now he has authored a mythological adventure Warrior, which is released by Penguin.
Warrior is the story of Saam, son of Shiva, the God of Destruction. He challenges the mighty Shiva, his father, in midst of the catastrophic ending of the world. Interestingly, Olivier visualised the novel as a Hollywood feature film before he actually penned it down as a novel. Olivier who was exposed to Indian culture via Amar Chitra Katha comics now wants to write a graphic novel next.
He moved to India when he was seven from his hometown Leon. After doing his schooling from American Embassy School, Lafont graduated from National Honor Society and subsequently enrolled into International Thespian Society. Lafont also graduated in theatre and English from Colgate University. He moved to Mumbai in 2002 and wrote the screenplay for award-winning film Hari Om.
A person either cultivates certain skills in him or inherits them. In Olivier’s case both the factors come into play. His father Dr. Jean-Marie Lafont is a hisotrian and an author and his interest in mythology was passed on to Olivier. Yes, he has a sports genes too. His grandfather was a professional boxer and that explains his brilliant show at basketball in his university.
In an email interview with Indian Express Online, Olivier Lafont opens up about his roots, Indian connection, his choices in life and his latest book.
You were an outstanding student. What was the influence of your father, who’s a historian and an author, on you in your formative years?
The influence was substantial. My father’s passion for mythology clearly passed on when I was very young: when we moved from France to India my introduction to the culture was through its stories, via the iconic Amar Chitra Katha comics. My father’s passion for history was seeded and sprouted later, beginning to find its form in ‘Warrior’. I think part of my idea of what a writer was came from seeing him at his (then) high-tech typewriter. When I first wanted to write my own stories, I went and asked him rather boldly to use his precious typewriter, half-expecting him to say no because it was technology you couldn’t fix in India at the time. Instead he was delighted to set me up, explain to me how it worked, and leave me to my writing!
What inspired you to pursue theatre and acting?
Having moved from France, communication was difficult because of the linguistic and cultural differences. Theatre and acting were a way to express and open myself, and that developed into its own interest and then passion.
You were a brilliant basketball player too. Seems like you always had a winning attitude. Do you think this quality of excelling in everything you do, is a god gift or it came with a lot of hard work.
I think there’s always a balance between your inherent qualities and the skills you cultivate. My grandfather was a professional boxer, my father won medals at wrestling championships, and I believe I did inherit athletic ability. At the same time it was my passion for basketball, and my desire to become better at it, that drove me to work hard to learn the skills. I think everyone dreams of achieving something, and has, as you say, god-given ability – but the difference going forward is the individual’s will and the work they put in.
You have penned award-winning film Hari Om that’s about a French woman and an Indian rickshaw driver. How has your been your personal bonding with Indians. Do you also connect with people coming from rural backgrounds?
Really wonderful – India is such a marvellously multicultural country! Being multicultural myself, I naturally gravitated to Mumbai, which I think is the most cosmopolitan city of India. My wife is Indian, which only adds to my deep and strong bond with India. I’ve lived only in Indian urban areas, but I have travelled to rural areas, and have interacted with many people from rural backgrounds. The interactions have always been very natural, respectful, interested, involved, and the people have always been so sweet and kind. I think we connect on a very human level.
Your role in 3 Idiots got you noticed at a wider scale. How did the film come to you, and why did you say yes to it?
The casting director, Amita Sehgal, had seen my ad work and saw a fit for this role in the film. She called me in for an improvised audition, and it was the party scene where Aamir Khan throws chutney on Suhas Tandon’s shoes. So I did it, and I guess Raju Hirani liked it.
Saying yes to ‘3 Idiots’ was saying yes to a film directed by Raju Hirani, with Aamir Khan, with Kareena Kapoor – so the project was obviously extremely appealing just on that level. The character of Suhas Tandon was compelling, and raised the question of how do I portray this character in a way that is entertaining and memorable? For a young actor who was looking for a film in which to get noticed, ‘3 Idiots’ was the perfect project. Although I wonder if the role hasn’t stereotyped me somewhat, since I get called mainly for comic work. Now I really want to do more serious, dramatic acting, which is actually where I started in the theatre, playing heavy, tragic roles.
Also tell us more about your debut novel Warrior, published by Penguin. What inspired you to write the book?
‘Warrior’ is the epic adventure story of Saam, son of Shiva the God of Destruction. Saam is living in Mumbai today, part of a secret community of demigods who live amongst us incognito. Having inherited vast amounts of destructive power from his father, Saam has led a long and brutal life of war and killing. When the book begins Saam has left his traumatic past behind, living a simple and peaceful life in Mumbai – except that the past won’t stay there. Horrific cataclysms begin to occur, heralding the end of the world.
Saam has no choice but to take up the sword again and set out to confront his indomitable father.
I had initially written ‘Warrior’ as a feature film screenplay more than a dozen years ago, before I moved to Mumbai. My idea then was to write a great epic Indian action-adventure film, something like the huge Hollywood special effect blockbusters that come out every summer. I moved to Mumbai to write my first actual film, and
eventually I turned ‘Warrior’ into a novel. One of my sources of inspiration was the Mahabharata, actually. I wanted to create, like I saw in the Mahabharata, a fractured family at the centre of an epic, global conflict. So Saam has a very intense equation with his father Shiva, whom he must challenge in the midst of the catastrophic ending of the world.
An actor, a sportsman, a scriptwriter and…phew, now an author. Is there any other aspect of you that we will get to see in future.
I’ve been wanting to create something in the graphic novel/comic space for some time. France has bandes dessinées, a very distinct ‘comic’ culture that I grew up with. I’d love to bring my own vision to the burgeoning Indian comic culture, so maybe one day I’ll do something in that direction.