Although he initially started his acting career with "The Fakir of Venice", his official debut was with Rock On!! (2008), for which he won a second National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi as producer, and indulged in further experimentation before he wrote the dialogues, produced and acted for the critical and commercial success Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), which won him two Filmfare Awards, including Best Supporting Actor. In the same year, he directed a sequel to Don titled Don 2 (2011), which remains his highest-grossing film till date. He achieved further success by portraying Milkha Singh in the 2013 film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, earning him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor. In 2016, Akhtar received praise for starring in the crime thriller Wazir and the comedy drama Dil Dhadakne Do.
Farhan Akhtar was born to screenwriters Javed Akhtar and Honey Irani in Mumbai. His sister is writer–director Zoya Akhtar. His parents divorced during his early days, and his father married Shabana Azmi in 1984. Akhtar has termed his parents the "harshest" critics in his career, and also considered Robert De Niro as an "inspiration" in the film industry. Akhtar is of Zoroastrian Irani origin, from his mother's side. Akhtar grew up in an agnostic environment and along with his sister Zoya and father Javed Akhtar, he does not believe in any religion.
His great-grandfather, Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, a scholar of Islamic studies and theology, notably edited the first diwan of Mirza Ghalib on his request, and later became an important figure during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in his native Khairabad. He is the great-grandson of renowned Urdu poet Muztar Khairabadi and grandson of Jan Nisar Akhtar. He is also the cousin of Farah Khan and Sajid Khan. He did his schooling from Maneckji Cooper school in Mumbai, and went on to study for a law degree from the HR College, also in Mumbai, during which he was dismissed from the institution in his second year due to lack of attendance.
He married Adhuna Bhabani in 2000, after being in a relationship with her for 3 years. They first met during the filming of his directorial debut Dil Chahta Hai in 2001, which also marked Adhuna's debut as a Bollywood hairstylist. The couple have two daughters named Shakya and Akira. On January 21, 2016 the couple officially announced their separation after 16 years of marriage.
Akhtar worked as an apprentice in cinematography and direction for Yash Chopra's Lamhe (1991) when he was 17 years old and later shifted to an advertisement production house named "Script Shop" to spend an approximate 3 years there. He also assisted Pankaj Parashar as a director in Himalay Putra (1997) before launching himself into direction and writing.
Akhtar made his writing and directorial debut with the critically acclaimed film Dil Chahta Hai (2001), produced by Excel Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., a production company he established along with Ritesh Sidhwani in 1999. It was shot over a period of three months in Sydney, Goa and Mumbai. Due to its acclaim, he called it a "turning point" in his career. The film dealt with the lives of westernised urban youth in Mumbai. Akhtar had written the script based on his trips to Goa and New York, as well as a narration of a story outline by a friend of his. It received international critical acclaim and attained an iconic status, with Akhtar receiving credit for starting a "new wave" in Indian cinema. Critic Ziya Us Salam praised Akhtar's direction and commented for The Hindu: "In his maiden venture, Javed Akhtar's son shows enough glimpses of his pedigree to indicate that promise will attain fulfilment sooner than later." Various award shows conferred accolades on the film and nominated it for several categories. The year's National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi for 2002 was won by the film. It was also screened at the International Film Festival of India, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the Austin Film Festival. In the same year, he and his sister Zoya Akhtar assisted their father in writing the English lyrics of a song in Lagaan, for which the soundtrack was scored by A. R. Rahman.
Akhtar's next project was Lakshya (2004), a film about an aimless youngster finally setting a goal for himself, starring Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta. It was shot in Ladakh, Dehra Dun and Mumbai, and marked the beginning of the collaborations between Akhtar and Hrithik. He had to research the army before writing the script and directing the venture. The theme of the film, as stated by Akhtar, was about "finding oneself". He also believed that if the same characters and situation were set elsewhere, the main core of the story would remain the same as the film was not about war, as it had been reported. Post-release, the film failed to make a mark at the box office and became a commercial failure. Parul Gupta of The Times of India gave it a negative review and explained that "It's hard to reconcile to such triviality when it comes from Farhan Akhtar, considered the ultimate symbol of cool in Hindi filmdom." On the contrary, Manish Gajjar from BBC wrote, in his Positive review: "Young Farhan Akhtar, proves yet again that he is one of the finest directors Bollywood has to date. He has paid full attention to the script and the technical aspects, giving rise to a polished product".
Meanwhile, Akhtar wrote the English lyrics of Gurinder Chadha's Hollywood film Bride and Prejudice (2004), along with his sister, Zoya Akhtar, after being recommended by his father. The music for the film was composed by Anu Malik and consisted of a mixture of Hindi songs, West side story, Fiddler on the Roof and Grease.
In 2006, Akhtar directed, produced and wrote the screenplay of Don starring Shah Rukh Khan in the title role, a remake of 1978 film Don, starring Amitabh Bachchan. It marked his first project holding the status of a remake. The character of Don became iconic and popular. Despite this, he noted that he did not mean to be a "torchbearer of the remake brigade" and did not feel comfortable with being credited for the trend of remakes in the film industry. The film released on 20 October 2006 and was declared a "hit" at the box office, grossing around ₹105 crore worldwide. It became widely known for its dialogues. However, critics predominantly condemned Akhtar's direction and screenplay. Taran Adarsh of Bollywood Hungama said Akhtar had "climbed the ladder as far as craftsmanship is concerned [every frame is well decorated and makes a spellbinding impact] but despite a readymade classic at his disposal, the storyteller just doesn't get it right this time."
In 2007, Akhtar produced the film Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., directed by debutant Reema Kagti and starring Abhay Deol, Minissha Lamba, Shabana Azmi and Boman Irani. The music for the film was composed by Vishal-Shekhar, marking their first collaboration with him. Akhtar was supposed to make his acting debut with the project, but he had to be replaced by Abhay Deol as he was involved with Don. The film was financed and funded by Exim Bank. This was the first time Excel Entertainment collaborated with a different director as all their previous projects had been involving Farhan as a director. The story of the film revolved around six couples who went to Goa on a honeymoon. The film opened up on 23 February and received mixed reviews from critics, and ended up with an "average" box office result.
In the same year, Akhtar directed Positive, a film produced by Shernaz Italia and Frenzy Kodaiji, starring Boman Irani and Shabana Azmi. It was a short film running for 12 minutes. Dealing with a family's attitude towards a person suffering from HIV-AIDS, the film was shot in Mumbai and aimed at creating awareness about the problem. It also introduced Arjun Mathur in the film industry. Speaking about the purpose of the project, Akhtar stated that "Just as a social stigma, many people believe that an HIV patient should be isolated. They also have certain misconceptions about dealing with the disease. And since India has a lot of joint families, it becomes very important for them to understand the value of support to the person who has acquired this disease. This is exactly what Positive talks about." The film had its background score composed by Ram Sampath but had no soundtrack. It was a part of the "AIDS JaaGo" ("AIDS Awake"), a series of four short films, directed by Mira Nair, Santosh Sivan, Vishal Bhardwaj and himself, in a joint initiative of Mira Nair's Mirabai Films, voluntary organisations Avahan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Akhtar's first project in 2011 was the drama thriller Game, directed by Abhinay Deo. The lead cast consisted of Abhishek Bachchan, Kangana Ranaut, Boman Irani and Jimmy Shergill. He wrote the dialogues and produced the venture. The film received highly negative reviews after release, with critics panning almost all the aspects of it. At the box office, it had a poor opening, and later resulted in giving losses for the distributors, due to a heavily negative word-of-mouth. It was described as a "washout" by trade analysts.
Later that year, Akhtar wrote, produced and directed Don 2, a sequel to his 2006 Don. It marked his return to direction after a gap of nearly 5 years. His decision of making a sequel was explained by him in an interview: "I am wary of sequels having to be made. With Don 2 I could finally make an action thriller the way I wanted to. Good story, classic action and simple plot which has one goal and work towards it effectively and dramatically." The film was a major success in India and went on to become the year's highest-grossing Bollywood production abroad with a worldwide gross of ₹210 crore. It received mixed to positive reviews from critics, with Khalid Mohammed stating: "Throughout, you can’t help feeling that Farhan Akhtar could have made three far more valuable films out of the budget squandered on this thriller where cars are smashed as if they were tea cups."
Next year, Akhtar produced and wrote the dialogues of the neo-noir thriller Talaash: The Answer Lies Within. His production work was followed by the comedy films: Fukrey (2013) and Bangistan (2015).
In 2008, Akhtar made his acting and singing debut in a musical film titled Rock On!!, for which he wrote the dialogues and also produced. The film was directed by Abhishek Kapoor. Prachi Desai, Arjun Rampal and Purab Kohli co-starred along with him. As he had been learning guitar ever since the start of his directing career, he had been well-versed with it and used it for the film. The role played by him was that of Aditya, lead singer of the rock band "Magik". He sang five songs for the soundtrack album. The film was acclaimed by critics and received positive reviews upon release. Gaurav Malani of The Economic Times wrote that the film seemed to be "clearly designed by Farhan Akhar as his own acting debut and he doesn't let himself down. Lending voice to all his songs helps him to get into his character with effortless ease. One could certainly overlook the lisp in his dialogue delivery." Manish Gajjar of BBC wrote of his performance: "Director-turned-actor, Farhan Aktar surprises all with his superb, flawless performance, transforming from a hippy-style lead-singer to a subdued, dismal workaholic banker." Akhtar received several accolades for his debut performance. The film, in addition won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. However, it did not create an impact at the box office and turned out to be an "average" grosser.
After refusing an offer to sing a song for A. R. Rahman's album Blue, Akhtar acted in, and produced his sister Zoya's directorial and written debut Luck by Chance, which had Hrithik Roshan and Konkona Sen Sharma in the lead roles. He was cast in the film after being deemed as a "perfect choice" for it. The story of the film revolved around a struggling actor who arrives in Mumbai to become a film star. It was released on 30 January 2009. Though failing to do well at the box office and being declared a "flop", the film received generally positive reviews from critics. Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times said: "It is Mr. Akhtar whose understated performance holds together this far-ranging, cameo-filled film. He manages to remain sympathetic even while wreaking romantic havoc." Rajeev Masand noted: "Farhan Akhtar delivers a simple-enough likeable performance that is just what the film required — no showy flourishes, no loud outbursts, just a straight off spontaneous act that works like a dream."
Following Luck By Chance, Akhtar acted in a project titled The Fakir of Venice, which was initially scheduled to release before Rock on!! and was supposed to be his acting debut. Due to several delays, it was released in mid-2009. It was written and directed by Anand Surapur, and accepted by Akhtar after he described its script as "very powerful", while emphasising that it "touches upon weaknesses and confusions in all human beings." Before release, it premiered at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Venice Film Festival at the ArcLight Hollywood. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film and felt that "Akhtar, a producer, director and writer making his film debut here as an actor, is talented and handsome enough – and with looks that could translate into any number of ethnicities – to have a huge career ahead of him."
Akhtar acted in, and produced his next film Karthik Calling Karthik (2010), a psychological thriller directed by Vijay Lalwani. He played Karthik, an introvert character, starring alongside Deepika Padukone for the first time. Preparation for the role involved working on the Rubik's Cube, which he learnt from the director. The film received mixed reviews and praise for Akhtar's acting from critics, with Sukanya Verma highlighting that "He conveys the anxiety, simplicity and frailty of Karthik even when the script isn't doing it for him. Perhaps it's his innate filmmaker instinct." The film had a good opening at the box office, as it was targeted towards the youth of the multiplexes. However, it failed to continue on its business and went on to become a "below average" grosser.
Akhtar produced and appeared as one of the three leads in his sister, Zoya Akhtar's coming-of-age film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara along with Hrithik Roshan and Abhay Deol, Katrina Kaif and Kalki Koechlin, starring opposite Ariadna Cabrol. He was also credited as the dialogue writer for the film. He was the first actor to be cast in the film, and described his role as a "fun character" and a "guy who for the longest time takes nothing seriously." His real life father, Javed Akhtar wrote poetry for the film, which he performs as a voice-over. His performance was favourably received by critics, with Shaikh Ayaz of Rediff.com highlighting his dialogues as "gentle, they won't make you ROFL; they are more like tender dig in the ribs." Kaveree Bamzai of India Today called his acting "sensitive, soulful", further saying that he was "perfectly capable of reading out his father's poetry." The film made ₹153 crore worldwide and was declared a commercial success at the box office. It also became one of the highest grossing Bollywood films overseas, earning around US$7.25 million. It won two National Awards, the Best Choreography and the Best Audiography.
Following Don 2, Akhtar was signed up for the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. He plays the role of Milkha Singh. For his role, he had to undergo a training phase at the gym and study the character of Milkha Singh by researching his body language. He also had to prepare his looks to depict a 17-year-old army recruit and endure an on-the-spot preparation at an army cantonment. In 2014, Akhtar acted for the romantic comedy Shaadi Ke Side Effects alongside Vidya Balan, a film directed by Saket Chaudhary and produced by Pritish Nandy. It was a sequel to Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006).
Next year, Akhtar featured in the supporting role in his sister Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do, an ensemble comedy-drama starring Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma.
In 2016, Akhtar played the lead role of an Anti Terrorist Squad officer in Bejoy Nambiar's Wazir. It was his first action role as an actor, and for which he went through intense physical training and put on eight kilograms of weight. Raja Sen in his review called him "pretty good [..] early on in the film, but his performance starts to unravel once the film hits hysterical gear and he is required to do more than frown." Akhtar also sang the duet "Atrangi yaari" with Amitabh Bachchan for Wazir. The film was a box-office success. Akhtar's final release of the year was the rock musical drama Rock On 2, a sequel to the 2008 critically acclaimed Rock On!!. He reprised his role of Aditya Shroff, the lead singer of his band. The film was Akhtar's attempt to bring northeast India into popular culture. His next release is Lucknow Central, which is scheduled to release on September 15, 2017. The film is about a prison escape drama planned by a group of prisoners who also form a music band. The story of the film is inspired by a real prison band based in Lucknow Central jail. The film also features Deepak Dobriyal, Gippy Grewal, Ronit Roy and Diana Penty
Akhtar appeared as one of the nine judges in the beauty pageant Femina Miss India (2002). He was the judge on the first season of the dance-reality show Nach Baliye (2005). He hosted a TV show on NDTV Imagine, called Oye! It's Friday! in the same year. He has endorsed several brands as a part of his career, especially after the release of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. These include Hindustan Unilever's water purifier product titled Pureit, Chivas Regal, Britannia Nutri Choice Biscuits, IndusInd Bank, Dulux Paint, and Titan Industries, to name a few. His endorsements are managed by Kwan Talent Management Agency Pvt Ltd.
Men Against Rape and Discrimination or MARD is a social campaign launched by Akhtar. The idea came to the mind of Akhtar when in August 2012, Pallavi Purkayastha, a lawyer by profession, was sexually assaulted and then killed by her home watchman.