December 10, 2017

Actor turned author more than good looks and a French name

Olivier Lafont who played Suhas Tandon in 3 Idiots, published a new book, Warrior

An interview by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Olivier Lafont

Olivier Lafont

Olivier Lafont is a French author and actor who has lived in India for almost thirty years. A star student, actor, and athlete in school, Lafont attended Colgate University of USA on  scholarship and graduated with academic distinction, earning B.A. degrees in acting and writing. He moved to Mumbai to write the screenplay for the critically acclaimed international film, ‘Hari Om’, which opened at the Toronto Film Festival and won many awards at film festivals worldwide. Lafont began to work and establish himself in television commercials, which led to his role in the blockbuster hit movie, 3 Idiots, among other Indian films. A polyglot who speaks English, French, Spanish, and Hindi, he has done voice work in feature films, animated films, and cartoons. Lafont has written editorials for many leading men’s magazines, and has been published internationally. Warrior is his first full-length novel published by Penguin India.

Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Olivier. From acting spotlight to writing under lamplight, how does it feel to oscillate between loud and quiet work environments?

Olivier Lafont: The change of work environments is a welcome contrast, one from the other. Acting, by definition, involves other people—actors, directors and crew—and it’s sometimes nice to move from that space to the quiet equilibrium of writing. However, writing can sometimes become too insular, at which point it’s great to rejoin a cast and crew.

Vinita Kinra: Given your academic and sports background, you could have pursued almost any career. Why did you pick acting?

Olivier Lafont: Acting is one of the things that most fulfills me—creatively and intellectually—and allows me to express the specific intersection of my ideas with all of who I am. I’ve always been drawn to stories and storytelling, both as an actor and writer.

Vinita Kinra: What memories do you have of your native Lyon in France?

Olivier Lafont:  I go back to France at least once a year, so the memories stay fresh. Growing up in Lyon was close to idyllic; it’s a really beautiful city. My fondest memories are of my visits to my grandparents’.

Vinita Kinra: Of all your creative talents: acting, modeling, writing, directing and more, which is closest to your heart and why?

Olivier Lafont: The particular combination of acting and writing is my favourite. It’s one thing to write a story, but I also love telling the story myself, as an actor. For me, that’s the ultimate artistic expression in this field—to write and act in my own stories. Recently, I’ve started doing that seriously. In fact, right now, I’m looking for a producer for a film I’ve written with myself as the main character—a really fun comedy.

Vinita Kinra:  How did you land a role in the blockbuster Bollywood flick, 3 Idiots, and did you visualize it would become such a huge success?

Olivier Lafont: The Casting Director knew me from my work in television commercials and called me in. I did a small improvisation based on the chutney scene, and that was it! I thought 3 Idiots would be a big film, given the director and cast, but I didn’t anticipate it would be the genuine phenomenon it became.

Vinita Kinra: Tell us about your debut mythological epic novel, Warrior, and how the idea germinated in your head.

Olivier Lafont: Warrior was originally a feature film screenplay I wrote more than a dozen years ago, before I moved to Mumbai. I wanted to write an Indian film that would have the same scale and special effects as a Hollywood blockbuster. I have always been into fantasy and sci-fi, and mythology as well. So, in looking at something that would be a big story, but that would also be a very personal story, I created Saam—demigod son of Shiva—stuck in this Armageddon with a traumatic history with his father.

Vinita Kinra:  What does your dream acting role look like, and will it be a Bollywood or Hollywood venture?

Olivier Lafont: I think I’d love to do something like James Bond, which is dramatic, spectacular, current, but also archetypal. Something that touches a particular mythology or the collective unconscious. I guess that would imply Hollywood.

Vinita Kinra: Share with us your stint as a cartoonist.

Olivier Lafont: My childhood in France was particularly formative because of the French tradition of bandes dessinées comics. I’ve always been drawn to art. I started a graphic novel sometime back, but was too busy to complete it. Recently, I did a photo shoot and editorial with Men’s Health, and for that I also created a comic strip called Gégé about the adventures of a French expatriate working and living in India. It’s fun, but for now it’s more of a hobby.

Vinita Kinra: Having lived in India for most of your life, are you completely indianised now?

Olivier Lafont: It depends on how you define it. I’ve taught myself to write and speak Hindi, so to that extent, yes. I can navigate all parts of India comfortably. Intrinsically, I’m not any one culture entirely—not completely French or American or Indian, since I grew up with all three. That makes my life interesting as I can legitimately embrace what I like about, and what fits best from each one. A part of my heart will always be Indian, especially because of my wife, who embodies the best and most beautiful parts of India.

Vinita Kinra: Our readers would like to sample an excerpt from your debut novel, Warrior.

Saam tucked the keys into his pocket and went to his bicycle stationed by the store. It was a spindly affair with more spokes and bits than seemed necessary, but he was fond of it. He was reaching for the bicycle when he heard the first horrified exclamations from the crowd.

The people gathered by the sea wall were staring halfway between ocean and sky, their faces fixed in disbelief. He followed their gazes and, for a moment, didn’t understand. It seemed like . . . ash? Ash was falling from the sky?

A flock of greyish matter drifted down from the clouds, resembling motes of dust caught in sunbeams, harmless and captivating. Then the wind kicked up again. From the belly of the storm broke a gust of such brutal iciness that the crowd recoiled. The arctic cold bit into their damp flesh, turning rainwater to ice instantly, stealing the breath from their lungs. Saam stood there, stunned. His wet shirt was crisping from the chill, ice biting into his skin. This was not ash, he realized.

Snow.

Snow was falling in Mumbai.

The crowd dispersed fast under the onslaught of the blizzard. Saam found himself standing alone facing the sea as the snow intensified, veiling the ocean from sight. Behind him a couple hailed a taxi, clinging to each other, shivering uncontrollably. The wind whipped around in a frenzy, the temperature dropped minute by minute, frost grew in widening pools of crystal on the ground. The howl of a terrified dog echoed pitifully.

Saam hardly blinked, absently brushing ice from his eyebrows, ignoring the clinging grip of his frozen shirt.

It lasted another ten minutes: the wind blasting over the city, snow thickening the air, the sea tearing at Marine Drive hungrily. Then the wind dropped, suddenly. The blizzard quietened to persistent snowfall, leisurely thickening the ground’s layer of frost.

Saam stood alone on Marine Drive. The air’s summer heat had given way to a brittle cold. He watched the storm clouds clamber up over Mumbai until it seemed another metropolis of grey had mounted atop the first.

And still the snow fell.

Saam kicked his bicycle free from its stand, mounted it and headed home.

From the shadow of a street corner the lunatic watched him leave, shivering in his pile of rotting carpets. He cried and rocked himself for comfort. ‘Ice from the sky . . . He’s coming for you, Saam . . .’

Source and images courtesy Gina Lafont and Freebase Entertainment LLP

Olivier Lafont can be reached via Twitter: @OliLafont and his blog: oliviersanjaylafont.blogspot.ca

Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013.

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