An iconic artiste

An iconic artiste

Bollywood buzz

An iconic artiste

That the man needs no introduction can be the understatement of the decade. Amitabh Bachchan, film, television and (as an amateur) theatre actor, television host, voice-over artiste, brand ambassador of various social and ad campaigns, singer, iconic blogger and Twitter enthusiast — there is nothing the 74 years young global icon from India has not done — and that too remarkably well and with exemplary success. In fact, way back in the mid-‘90s, ahead of all others, Amitabh had introduced corporate film production to Hindi cinema as well.

It is almost an anti-climax to meet him only for one film — his latest movie TE3N (a fancy way of writing teen or three), but we do try to inveigle some non-TE3N questions to this iconic legend who is a teenager mentally! Yes, Amitabh is so young at heart that he can give any teenager a complex!

A touch of mystery

Ask him about his latest film, a thriller, and Amitabh says, “This is a remake of a Korean film. Originally, Sujoy Ghosh (creative producer of the film) and I were planning another film to be shot in Kerala, but then Ribhu Dasgupta came to him with this subject, and we thought this was a better film to do. We wanted to shoot this film in Goa too, but permissions were difficult to obtain, and so we shot in Kolkata, on real locations, with actual lighting, and without a single set.” Ribhu, he adds, had worked with him in the television serial Yudh, so the comfort level was there.

The research, says the veteran actor, was interesting. “I play an Anglo-Bengali Christian named John Biswas, and though I had the experience of about 7 to 8 years interacting with Anglo-Indians in Kolkata, especially with the amateur theatre group I worked in before I became a film actor, our research showed that the Anglo-Bengali speaks Hindi like any of us.”

Describing his character, he says, “John is a retired bureaucrat who just wants to know what happened to his granddaughter. Otherwise, he is quite disinterested in humanity. He’s just anxious, not aggressive, and he certainly does not have revenge in his mind for whoever might have harmed his granddaughter. My brief was so meticulous that if I even spoke a sentence in a slightly raised voice, my director would correct me.”

The actor has high admiration for today’s filmmakers. “They are very particular and conscientious. Quality and content are both given importance, and there are so many different kinds of stories being attempted.”

About differences between filmmaking when he started out and today, he says, “In our times, there were certain reasons why we could not wait to do only one film at a time and would have to do multiple films. I also love the way today’s generation, including actors, are so natural — that is so difficult in front of the camera — and relaxed and concentrate so much on their work. The talent available today, as well as the technology, is so amazing. We have to learn from these people, and I am still learning. I like being with them, watching them enjoy their work so much.”

One example of Amitabh’s connect with the current generation is his immense flair for blogging and tweeting. He considers that a learning process as well, and is astounded at the reactions, perceptions and analysis by many of his fans about almost everything. “It’s wonderful to talk and listen to them,” he declares.

How did it all begin? “It started with a blog,” recalls Bachchan. “Someone suggested that I start my own website, as there were some 500 sites in my name, and a legitimate and new thing was needed. I was not conversant with such things then and asked how long it would take to get going. I was told it would take some weeks, and someone else suggested that I write a blog, which could be done immediately.”

Being social

Amitabh feels that social media is a great way of connecting with people. “In my time, we never had so many opportunities. The only connect was fan mail. Yes, there would be the rare public function. There was nothing we now know of as promotions. We would either quietly watch how people were reacting by going to a movie theatre, or someone would tape audience reactions and play them back for us!”

Films were extraordinarily successful even then, so is the glut of promotions today justified? “Today, the budgets are huge, and it’s a 3-day life for most movies, unlike in my time when films ran full for weeks. All this is also needed as people have to be reminded about a movie, as the attention span is too short. Budgets too have to be smart. A Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan film collects more than Rs 50 crore over the weekend. But it would be a waste of money to make high-budget films with me. For TE3N itself, a week or more might be needed for recovery.”

The digital era has made things a lot easier, he concedes. “In our era, the most precious thing was the film, which was known as raw stock,” he says. “Things had to be done in a way that it was not wasted. We would often have shots of 15 to 20 minutes duration between multiple actors to save on stock.”

A question we asked his son Abhishek Bachchan and would like to ask him as well: are they planning a film together? “We don’t plan, unless a script comes up and a filmmaker approaches us,” he replies. “We still get such proposals, but we should find them worthwhile.”

Do all the awards, especially the National awards and honours put pressure on him? Very simply and quickly, he answers, “I do not think they are on our minds when we are working on a film. People go to see something they want to watch and must like, and we actors want to do something we like as well.”

To return to the film, he has sung a song, ‘Kyun re’ that has been appreciated — and that makes the film almost the 40th movie in which he has lent his voice, either in a few lines or in a full rendition of one or more songs (Amitabh is also learning the piano when time permits!). Why does he keep saying that he cannot sing, yet manages so well? “Actually I was unwilling to record this song too, but when I heard the song’s lyrics and concept, I agreed,” smiles the actor. On a serious note, he goes on. “I always record my songs with some regular, familiar and understanding musicians at the late Aadesh Shrivastava’s studio, but here I knew I was singing rubbish.

Then Clinton Cerejo (the composer) came up and sat 6 inches away from me, cajoling me into singing the way he wanted. And he kept telling me utter rubbish like how fantastic a singer I was and that even well-known singers could not match me. He also did not want me to be forceful as the song was to be in a background track and I was a frail, weak man remembering his granddaughter. And yes, nowadays they have these machines that process whatever you sing so that it sounds alright!”

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