|Amitabh Bachchan on The Front Row With Anupama Chopra|
On this week’s “The Front Row,” film critic Anupama Chopra is in conversation with Bollywood veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan. He talks about icon status, aging gracefully and why he’s always in search of the perfect shot.
Anupama Chopra: Your character in “Satyagraha” has been described as a new age Gandhi but Prakash Jha [the film’s director] has consistently denied that he was inspired by Anna Hazare. So tell us about him – who is this man, what are his motivations?
Amitabh Bachchan: He is a retired principal of a school. He is moralistic and very conscious about society, social events, what’s happening in the country and he really wants to impart whatever he has learnt and gathered through his years to the people he is teaching. He comes across a young man who is filled with modern concepts of this generation, of greed and of business. Money is their main intent in life. Various circumstances take place in the course of the film and the story and he discovers that there are many things that are wanting in the system and which the young are unable to achieve or get any response for. Along with his son and the hero of the film, Ajay Devgn, they get together to form some kind of a system to revolt against the system. Obviously, the preachings of the revolt are peaceful. It’s really a story about a father who has lost his son and a son who is in search of his father.
Anupama: Prakash Jha was describing how you work. He said you would show up at 8.45 for a 9 am shift. And after doing the shot you would say, lagta hai aap khush nahi hue mere shot se [It looks like you are not happy with my work?] He says he would keep asking you, itni bhookh kyun hai? So what was your reply, why are you so hungry?
Mr. Bachchan: It’s important for me to know whether the shot that I have given is correct or not. Sometimes you go back to your hotel and say, “Gosh! I don’t know whether this was right,” and so there were many times when I would ring Prakash Jha up and tell him, “I don’t know if we did this correctly and can we possibly do this again?” And he has been very accommodating. I think these are very normal procedures that go on in an actor’s mind. We are never totally satisfied. It’s not to take away from the expertise of the directors that they work with, but even after that coaching there is a certain element, which all actors feel within themselves, whether they have actually performed well or not. I think a very discerning actor would want to search within and find out whether this was actually right or not. And if there is an alternative, I don’t know about the others but I would certainly like to hear it and perhaps be given another opportunity to perform it.
Anupama: I had posed this question to Aishwarya [Mr. Bachchan’s actress daughter-in-law] also – the Bachchans are such an iconic family so when you as individuals are signing roles, does the last name become a hurdle? Do you consider your stature, your reputation, how people view you? Or do you respond instinctively and if you like the role, you’ll do it no matter how transgressive is?
Mr. Bachchan: I think the concept that you have of ‘iconic’ is in the mind of the people outside. It doesn’t impress me and doesn’t ever have space in my work. I don’t think about that. But yes, I want to do something which is challenging and good. When you are playing the typical leading man of Hindi escapist commercial cinema, you are perhaps confined doing certain things and nothing more. But I think as you age, you are no longer bearing the responsibility that normally comes on the shoulders of a leading man and therefore you are free to do many more experimentations. That’s a wonderful phase. Sometimes when we have digressed and gone beyond what the audience might think, they have given their opinion and not gone to see the film or criticized you so heavily, that you begin to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing that.” But I still feel that as an actor, if I am challenged by something irrespective of the demands of the audiences, I would like to go ahead and do it.
Anupama: The sociologist Shiv Visvanathan wrote a lovely line about you. He said,” Stars like Rajkumar, Dharmendra became wax dolls while only Amitabh discovered the secret of perpetual youth by learning to age.” Was there a conscious decision on your part to make peace with aging and becoming something other than the traditional Hindi film hero?
Mr. Bachchan: I think this is a very important decision that most actors have to make. There is somebody younger, somebody better than you who is going to be taking your place and this is life. The sooner you realize it and the sooner you accept that fact, the better for you. There are many that don’t and when they don’t they either just partly slip away and retire and say, ‘We don’t want to get into that phase,’ and that’s perfectly acceptable. But there are some that want to continue. I felt that I needed to continue and I am okay with that. There is always going to be somebody who is better than you and more popular than you as time goes by. If you are a true professional, you will accept that. I was very quick to understand that when I walk out with Shahrukh [Khan] or Salman [Khan,] the crowd will look at them and not at me. As opposed to 20-30 years back when the reverse would happen. When the camera goes on, whether I am performing a role to my satisfaction, to the satisfaction of the director or not, that is all that I am bothered with.
Anupama: As we embark on the 67th year of Independence, what gives you the greatest hope for India as a country?
Mr. Bachchan: I think the youth. We are the largest youth population in the entire world. Youth have always guided the progress and the future of any nation. Look what’s happening in our own film industry and the youngsters that are coming up. There is massive talent, not just in the performing arts of acting but in direction, production. Look at the women that are now working on film sets. Where did you hear of this earlier? Never. So, don’t you think that this is an indication of a progressive nation? I think we need to be proud about that.