Never off limits

Bollywood buzz

Never off limits

His debut film as actor, Saat Hindustani, released 45 years ago, a year after Bhuvan Shome, that saw Amitabh Bachchan debut on screen — but as a voiceover artiste. This All-India Radio reject (as a voice!!) and one of seven not-so-famous actors in his debut film soon became a one-man industry a mere seven years later, starting with Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). He soon began singing his own occasional song, Mr Natwarlal (1979) onwards.

After a serious accident in 1983 and a misguided affair with politics, despite Aaj Ka Arjun, Hum and Khuda Gawah, Bachchan had a dull phase in the 1990s. In the late 90s, he had also pioneered the first corporate entity in the movie industry, called ABCL or Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited, which also did not work.

However, Bachchan reinvented his career in the millennium with Mohabbatein and the television show that made Star Plus the leading channel — Kaun Banega Crorepati. He thus became India’s first actor after Dilip Kumar to become a superstar at 60, with scripts revolving around him.

Ups & downs
Owing crores to his creditors after his company sank, the indefatigable Bachchan, with his supreme efforts, cleared his debts and stunned even die-hard fans with stunning performances in Baghban, Black, Waqt — Race Against Time, Sarkar, Cheeni Kum and Paa among many others. And now, Bachchan reunites with R Balki, that magical maker of the last two films, for Shamitabh.

“Balki offers these adbhut (strange) characters to me every few years. I always tell him that he is inebriated when he thinks of them for me,” says Bachchan, as always poker-faced. “After Cheeni Kum and Paa, we are both looking at Shamitabh as another challenge.”

Shamitabh is one of those movies, like PK, whose subject is shrouded in mystery, though we know some basic aspects, like Bachchan is playing a past superstar and Dhanush playing a young actor. “There are two ways of promoting a film — tell almost the whole story or hide the subject,” says Bachchan. “In the latter case, we give a hint or two to make it more attractive, and the expectations higher. In such cases, we feel that the story should not be revealed in advance because that would deprive the audience of the surprise factor.”

How much did Bachchan get involved in this marketing? “Oh, I am not so intelligent!” he says with characteristic self-deprecation. “I am barely managing to be in front of the camera.”

The mystery element starts from the movie title — is it, as stated, a combination of the last two letters of Dhanush, his co-star, and his name Amitabh, or do the letters ‘Sh’ stand for Shah Rukh Khan, whom they originally wanted in that role? “It is neither,” replies Bachchan. “If you don’t get an idea from the second trailer that is out now, you must wait for the film.”

Bachchan admits to recommending Dhanush for this role. “He is an accomplished actor and a huge star down South,” he explains. “I have known him for years and watched so many of his films, besides Raanjhanaa.”

Seniority no bar
How comfortable were Dhanush and leading lady Akshara with him? “It’s a wrong thought that people get intimidated by a senior or big star. We were all doing a job,” he says shortly. “They all work hard.”

Eulogising all the young actors and filmmakers of today, Bachchan feels that their talent is so wonderful that it’s a great time now for Indian cinema. “Their talent is amazing. I hope that some youngsters have the capacity to think for me and make me do something I have not yet done,” he says.

Bachchan does not disown a single role he has played. “I go with the likes, dislikes and vision of my directors,” he notes. “I have liked all my characters, and for an actor, there is a challenge in all films. And that is because we are not the people we play in every film. Where do we beat up 10 or 12 people in real life? We don’t have that ability. Where do we romance such beautiful women all the time? I am not an alcoholic, as I played so often.”

Being vocal
Extending this thought to his vocals, Bachchan insists that he is a besura (off-key) singer, whose voice is set right by his composers with the software currently available. “So I sing in my besura way and after I leave, they correct my voice!” he says.

But Bachchan has sung often even before such “machines” (as he terms them!) were available in India, and not badly either. Refusing to list any favourites or challenging numbers among those early songs, he just shakes his head and says, “I am sure that I must have been an immense disappointment. Look, I am petrified of singing, but in certain circumstances, everyone feels that I should do so.”

Would he like to act on television again after Yudh flopped, though his acting was appreciated? “Why not, if there is something I like? In Yudh, we tried to break away from the current style of stories. But what is the use of my performance being liked if the audience did not like the show itself?”

As an active blogger and tweeter, does Bachchan look into the column his daughter Shweta has now started writing in a Mumbai paper? “I am no writer,” he says. “But somewhere Shweta has inherited my father’s talent. So I am happy that her work has been praised and that she has got this column on her own steam.”

We move finally to his extraordinary innings as an actor. How would he analyse that? Would a part of this success be due to his punctuality, for example? “The media looks upon my punctuality as a kind of exercise to be maintained and a category, “he replies. “I just think that if you are a professional, you must adhere to the time given to you. As for my career, it is all my good luck and the Almighty’s benevolence. I am not the only person working hard. And I think everyone is busy in their own ways. In particular, look at Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha — they were such successful villains and still made the transition to frontline heroes. Then they went into politics and became so successful there as well.”

Speaking of his male co-stars in the many multi-star films he has done, how was his experience with them all? Was there bonhomie or rivalry? “A healthy rivalry makes for a positive competitive spirit, as long as we do not damage each other. I enjoyed working with all of them,” he replies.

And with this, as there is a crowd waiting for him, it is time to take leave of the man who changed the industry forever.

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