With the release of Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang and Angad Bedi, here’s taking a look at how Amitabh Bachchan is still the only megastar this country has.
You’re the only actor from your generation still going strong. What do you attribute this sort of longevity to?
My contemporaries are all in films much like I am and attract equal attention in whatever they do. Those who do an odd role once in a while are the ones who have excelled in other vocations as well. Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha are excellent examples of this diversity. They started off in villainous roles, excelled in it, went on to become successful leading men, further expanded their interest in politics, and have succeeded there as well. Shatrughan has even done television. This is no mean feat. There aren’t many examples like them in our industry. Indeed, I think they’re the only ones. Dharamji continues to work in cinema, and Jeetendra has magnificently created and heads one of the most successful entertainment conglomerates in the industry. I have no such qualification.
How do you look at contemporary Indian television?
Television is yet another medium for content building, which, as we all know by now, is the main ingredient in any form of communication broadcast. Contemporary Indian television has made very rapid and successful progress from the time of the state-run single channel. It has to be respected for this. Most of my viewing has been restricted to news, sports and some serials and, of course, game shows and reality television. Er, that’s not too many restrictions, is it? How do you think KBC struck a chord with audiences, given that it garners new viewers every season? I don’t have an answer for this, except that I have enjoyed being associated with it, and that it has been running for the past 14 years. There must be something in it for the channels to still be investing in it. It has garnered several reactions, but the best has been that ‘yahaan sirf paise hi nahin, dil bhi jeete jaate hain’.
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan once said, “Only Amitabh discovered the secret of perpetual youth by learning to age.” Do you think that’s helped you in getting the kind of roles you have?
I’m grateful to MrVisvanathan for referring to me thus. I’m certainly not worthy of such assessment. Age shall catch up with us all, and the sooner we accept that the better. In our profession, much like in any other, you move with the times. The times today dictate that only particular roles shall fit and suit me. Those that do, I accept with grace and gratitude. Not much comes your way at this age.
It is now 40 years since Zanjeer and your first success with Salim-Javed. Tell us about the characters they wrote for you?
I once asked Javedsaab what prompted him to take me on for a film like Zanjeer, when I had several failures before and no one wanted to work with me. He said he remembered an action scene from my film Bombay to Goa, in which I get punched in the face, roll over, take a couple of somersaults, get up and am still chewing gum. I have yet to figure out how the chewing of gum can be associated with a role in Zanjeer. I also asked Salim-Javed why they wrote the kind of scripts they did. Their explanation was that the country itself was going through a turbulent time — people weren’t happy with the system, things were going wrong, the Emergency was around the corner. They, perhaps, felt it was time for one individual to stand up and take on the system. Thankfully, the roles they wrote for me embodied those characters that could fight the system single-handedly and come out victorious in the end. That, perhaps, struck a chord with the youth of the nation at that point of time.
Which roles have taken you out of your safety zone in the last few years?
Acting doesn’t have a safety zone. No creativity does. All my efforts in each performance have, and should have, the push to make me go beyond boundaries.
What was the turning point in your career?
Turning point? How do you mean? I’d like to believe that once you are in it, there are no turning points.
What does success mean to you?
Each role has been a challenge for me. They’ve extracted from me equal anxiety and the persistence of a challenge. Success to me has meant what it has meant in several dictionaries in the English language: achievement, accomplishment, victory, triumph, defeat, realisation and attainment, none of which I have accomplished or ever achieved.
How do you pick scripts?
I’m bad at picking scripts. I just look for an opportunity to get work. I’m only bothered about the fact that what I deliver is respectable. I don’t look at the kind of impression it would create. I find that a huge departure from how the younger actors think. They’re so organised and well-planned. I’m amazed at the kind of talent today. The very first appearance they make is bang on. I’m 180 films old and still trying to figure out how to make the right impression.
You were among the first actors to blog in India. What attracted you to the idea of blogging?
It started as a substitute to running a website, which, at the time of discussion, was taking far too much time in its conception. After writing for the first time on the blog, getting two responses was most exhilarating. I persisted and am now on Day 2275. I’m writing every day, without a break, and getting an average of 300-400 responses each day. I call my well-wishers on the blog my EF, my extended family, and now have a very committed and generous fan presence that I speak and listen to each day.
How do you cope with the constant attention and the ceaseless demands on your time?
Thank god it happens. Most lament that it doesn’t. When an artist stops getting attention, his or her days are numbered. I doubt many in the fraternity would honestly appreciate that state.
After so many years, does success continue to mean a lot to you? Or, can you do a film and leave it to its own destiny?
One does one’s best and leaves it to the film’s own destiny. But, yes, its success does ensure meaning.
What scares you most as an actor?
The inability to live up to expectations, most of the time, my own. The fear of not being able to deliver the next morning what has been asked of you the previous day. And, the absolute fear of not being able to adequately answer such questions when asked by a journalist of your eminence.
How do you deal with failure?
You accept it with a resolve that you shall learn from it. To not commit those mistakes again and to know that failures are common — they shall come to all.
Which movies did you grow up on?
Mostly those recommended by parents and teachers and, later, when personal likes and dislikes took over, the ones that touched me emotionally, both in its content and performances.
If you weren’t acting, what would you have liked as an alternative career?
I’ve come too far in life now to be able to consider this probability.
If you could turn back time, what would you change?
Personally, nothing. Generally, many things, but those cannot be discussed within the limitations of this interview.
How would you describe the acting styles of the other three actors in your family?
Jaya: Spontaneity, and without any lurking effort to prepare for it. Abhishek: Screen presence. His eyes and his silences speak volumes. Aishwarya: Clinical, clean and blemish-free.
Which was the biggest decision you made in your life?
The decision to follow, without any doubt or misgivings, the wisest teachings of my father.
Do you write? Have you ever written poetry?
No, I don’t write and don’t even think of writing poetry. My mother would often answer this question with a tinge of humour and say, “One poet in the family is enough.”
This story first appeared in the year 2014
Creative Direction by Kapil Batus