This once, he’s back to surprise and awe with R Balki’s film Shamitabh wherein he reportedly, is the voice of the film. In his eloquent style, the freshly minted Padma Vibhusan honoree speaks of creative collaborations, the subject on which the film is hinged and more.
Q: After playing a very unusual character in Paa, you play a voiceover artiste in Shamitabh, which is yet again a very unique idea, so tell us something about it.
Amitabh Bachchan: Balki keeps coming up with unique ideas and this is no different. I think this is the first time that a film with this kind of plot is being made. It’s unique, entirely different; certain basic elements to storytelling are obviously there but the whole approach to how to tell that story is entirely different. It’s actually two individuals who come together because of Akshara. She realises that there are certain qualities in one which the other lacks, and if they were to come together… How she manages to get them together and then together they achieve what they do, and then of course, as it always happens, there is the ego that comes in between. In any combination there is always this factor of: ‘I am better than you or you are better than me’. ‘If I wasn’t there you wouldn’t be there’ or vice- versa.
There’s a conflict of emotion and interest and how it plays out in the climax. I think the premise of the film is the film industry, so you will see many normal happenings that happen within the industry. You will see a lot of characters from the film industry—writers, producers,
artistes, directors, but behind all this is really the story of these two individuals who come together because they need to come together to move forward. I think what happens in life is that, if you are in possession of something and you are happy with it then you don’t realise its importance until it’s gone. And in some ways it’s about that. It’s not just that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’; it’s more that when you have something, you need to appreciate it. If you don’t then you repent and realise how important it was for you. You lose your mobile, and suddenly you discover what a valuable thing it is. You have a friend, you have a relative, someone very dear or close to you, an association, and you feel that everything is fine, but the moment they go away or you lose them, you find out what an
important element that person was in your life.
Many a times, things come back. That can happen in physical moments too. Say for instance, there is an illness that is very debilitating and it robs you of certain faculties, and that’s when you realise, ‘gosh, how important that element was’. Thankfully, many a times you recover and get back to normal again, but there are many who do not. What happens to them? How do they go through it? And I keep giving this example, not really to summarise what this film is all about. But an element of that is there because I feel that many a times I, too have personally gone through many of these episodes, so I know how important it is.
I blew my hand up with a bomb and it was all gone—no nails, no fingers, just a mass of flesh— and that’s when you realise how important one’s hand is. You can’t wear your shirt, you can’t button it , you can’t pull up your trousers, can’t go to the washroom. And if you are a leftee you can’t eat, can’t change or write. I am fortunate that I got it back.
But what do people who suddenly lose these faculties which may never come back, do? So the idea is to value it, respect it, look after it and allow it to remain there with you because if you don’t, it doesn’t help you at all.
Q: Purportedly, in the film, there’s an ego clash between the two protagonists, so given that there is a creative ego that comes with a knowledge of one’s talent, is such dissent common in the film industry?
Amitabh Bachchan: I think that whatever discussion, argument or point of view that you have, creatively, needs to come out during the time of acceptance of the project.
You need to discuss it with the writer, director and if you have any view points that you wish to make, you should discuss it with them. If it’s accepted and incorporated, fine. If not, and you are so adamant about it then don’t do that project. But if you have consented to do it, then it must be sorted out before you actually go on the sets.
I am not in favour of very strong opinions and discussions with the director on set; I will follow what he says. I may want to make my own interpretations and I will request him if I can. But I will do what he wants me to do. I may say, ‘can I do this also and then you choose’. For instance, there’s a particular shot and the director okays it, but I feel that I could perhaps try once again. Maybe I could do it better. Or do it differently.
If the director is favourable enough then sometimes he may give me the opportunity to do it again, but most of the times I would like to follow what the director says. I may speak with him in private, but I will not do it publicly because I think that is beyond my professional sphere. But yes, individually I may sit with him and have many discussions and if he incorporates it then fine, but if he doesn’t then I will accept that he is the captain and I must follow him.
Q: In the past, have you ever had any creative disagreements with anyone?
Amitabh Bachchan: I won’t call them disagreements. I would call them debates, discussions — why, how, when —all those kind of things pretty common in any kind of creative exercise, particularly so in film-making. In films, a writer may have a view point. Films are made with three-four different stations. There’s a writer that writes it, a director that conceives it, the cameraman that picturises it in his own way.
It then goes to the editing table and the editor thinks that the film should be like this (sic). Then you go to the background score and the background musician disagrees, because that would enhance or not look proper in that particular scene— and then finally, you have the distributors and exhibitors. A film goes to so many different platforms and by the end you don’t really know whether what you have performed is going to remain. Or (for that matter) what is going to be portrayed in the final product. That is always a point of discussion.
As actors, we feel we could have done this scene in a particular way and ask, ‘why are you cutting away or removing so many lines’? But then eventually, you have to leave it to the discretion of the director. So, to answer your question, yes, there are many stations and as I said earlier, everyone has a creative point of view, that I think needs to be respected. If you have major differences of opinion then you must either withdraw from the project, but if you have accepted it then you go ahead.
Q: Are there any projects you have withdrawn from?
Amitabh Bachchan: No. others have left me and gone( laughs). But that’s another story.
Q: You mentioned that the film is about the going-on within the film industry. In the last few years, a couple of films based on the film industry have been made, so what unique facet of it do we get to see in Shamitabh?
Amitabh bachchan: I would have to disclose the story which I can’t. I shall just say that it’s an idea and an aspect which has not been seen before. Perhaps after this, may not be seen again. That’s all that I can safely say to you, because otherwise, I would be revealing the
story. I had been reminded last night, that I should not reveal the story. I said, ‘ok. There are many opinions, you know even at the completion about what to say to the media and what not to say to them and how to publicise the film. There are many who opine that, ‘reveal the story, so what’? Karan Johar for instance. They have the confidence that despite revealing the story, the film will do well. Balki feels we should not, so I think it would not be proper to reveal what the story is. It is a basic idea of a conflict between two people having different qualities, coming together and moving forward and then realising that together they are good and separately, they have not been able to reach the kind of opportunities and success they had when they were together.
Q: In that sense, it is also about creative collaboration and we have seen that several people when they collaborate with a professional associate, do very well and then when they part ways, they may never be as good as how they were together?
Amitabh Bachchan: That is a fact. Perhaps Balki has been inspired by that. There are many combinations that creatively, worked extremely well together. But when they drift apart, they lose the plot. I think there are several examples from the industry. It’s quite prominent—not the separation, but the coming together of music directors.
In the industry, we have had almost 80-90 per cent of combined efforts; whether it was Shankar- Jaikishan, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Shiv -Hari, Shankar- Ehsaan- Loy (it’s getting bigger),Vishal – Shekhar—somewhere, there is a recognition of the other person’s creativity and how they come together and move forward. Thankfully, they haven’t separated, but sadly, when one is lost
like in the case of Shankar -Jaikishan when Jiakishan ji passed away, Shankar never did anything (after that). Or in the case of
Laxmikant-Pyarelal or even Kalyanji – Anandji—they were all brilliant (together), but they were unable to do anything as separate
entities. Though circumstances are not like that in this film, but yes, it’s just trying to say that when people are together, they can create
magic and you recognise that and appreciate it.
Q: What about those that you have had successful and fruitful collaborations with?
Amitabh Bachchan: They have all been good. Everyone that I have worked with has gladly wanted to work with me again, which is good. Sometimes it’s been physically impossible to do that, but there are many and right from the beginning—whether it was Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Salim-Javed, Prakash Mehra, Manmohan Desai,Tinnu Anand, Mukul Anand, Karan Johar, Adi (Chopra) — not just in direction, but in his productions as well, Balki, Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma)— we have done a huge number of films. I am doing my second film with Shoojit Sircar, and hopefully we will continue.
I think it’s more to do with the level of understanding with each other and yes, of course, creativity does come into play. So, somebody like
say Balki with whom I have done three films, if I ask him will say, ‘when I conceive something, I conceive it with you in mind, because I have worked with you so I know this, this, this’ . Not everyone does that, but if they do, then we are very grateful that we can get to work again in that project. There is this level of comfort within me, and I am sure there must be some level of comfort with them too. There is always some kind of a hesitation when you are working in an absolutely new set up. It takes a long time to be able to understand, so it’s an awkward moment.
Although as a professional, I don’t think that should really bother you. I think you need to be aware that this is what’s going to happen. But yes, there is a level of comfort when you work repeatedly with somebody and that goes for not just the makers but also your co-stars and colleagues. It’s a benefit really I think, and as I said earlier, filmmaking is a collaborative effort, so you have to make sure that the product in the end comes out good. You should not look at yourself and want to upstage the other person deliberately. It doesn’t work because then it destroys the product.
You can make out on the screen that somebody is trying to be one up on the other. If the film runs, even if you have an insignificant role,
you will come out shining. I personally feel that the presence of a brilliant colleague actually helps me. Getting a fantastic reaction from the leading lady or a colleague who is in front of me helps, as what is important in the end is that it should all look good. If I am not getting the proper leads or proper reactions, then I could be the greatest actor in the world but the performance could fall flat and not reflect on the screen. These are some of the things that could help a product.
I dislike the fact when people say, ‘oh you have been in the industry for 45 years and Akshara (Haasan) is working for the first time, so she
must be overawed by you’. It’s a very childish approach to look at something like this. When you are designed or contracted to work, you don’t come with any kind of legacy. You don’t come with any kind of baggage.
Whether, this is your first film or last film does not matter—you have a character to play. Am I portraying what the director wants me to portray, that’s it. But to ask, ‘oh you must be in awe’ or ‘how did you do it’, is very childish. We are all there as professionals and we must perform accordingly. You don’t ask a doctor that, do you?
You are expected to deliver. It is another matter that you may have personal opinions. I may have personal opinions about Dilip sa’ab for example but when we are in front of the cameras then we are the characters. At home I think about it and I say, ‘gosh! he’s my my idol and I got to sit with him in the same frame’, but these are wonderful things that come to our minds and you get to hear some of them. When you are in some sort of a senior position, you hear the younger generation talk like that, but in front of the camera, you are what the character is.
Q: You went to great lengths to put child actor Parth Bhalerao, your co-star at ease in Bhoothnath Returns when he was nervous about
facing the camera. Is camraderie between coactors a necessity when facing the camera?
Amitabh Bachchan: He was not scared at all. He was damn good and I was finding it difficult to keep up with him, but you know, you just chat with people. He may think I am chatting with him to keep his morale up and things like that, but no, I genuinely enjoyed to talk to him like that and I genuinely like to talk to my colleagues. If they don’t like it then I can sense it and I stop. I think it’s important to have some kind of atmosphere which is conducive to friendliness rather than, ‘what is this guy doing’? Because then it kind of portrays on your face. That shouldn’t happen.
If we understand each other as friends and colleagues, who work together it’s a nice atmosphere. Many a times you make suggestions for the other person which is even better, because then you realise you are one unit and not separate entities even though it may be happening at your own cost . Like hey, ‘I don’t think in this story this fellow would behave like this, so I think he should hit me or slap me or get annoyed with me’. And there are many instances like this. Then again, there are many examples to the contrary, like if there was a fight scene they would actually say, ‘Mujhe woh nahin marega main hi maaronga usko.’ That’s bringing yourself into the picture.
Then you are not the character then you are you are what you are in real life. I don’t think that’s right. And many a times you get a more senior person making suggestions for you to do things.
It happened to me in Gatsby for example. In that one -two minute scene it was Leonardo (Di Caprio) who did that. He came back and
said, ‘You know Baz, in the book this chap, talks about his molars, how he makes things of them and I think it’s very important for him to say that because in the book, in this scene he actually talks about it’.
I was actually quite surprised because the script had been written for months and we had rehearsed it endless (number of) times for
this just one minute scene but for him to have said that… and then we actually shot it. I don’t know if you have seen the film, but the scene
when he talks about his tie-pin and cufflinks being made of human molars, has been actually retained. So, things like that. It shows to you that the person is thinking of the film collectively, rather than the individual thinking of. ‘Main aisa karonga toh neeche gir jaonga
woh aisa karega toh main aage dikh jaonga’.
Q: Shamitabh also has you pitted against a debutante (Akshara Haasan) and Dhanush who is relatively new to Hindi films so was there any facet/quality to them as actors that you found noteworthy?
Amitabh Bachchan: Dhanush is already an established superstar. His quality really is that he looks so ordinary and simple, but there is an immense amount of internal energy that you will see once the camera starts. That’s fantastic. You don’t see somebody of his physical bearing or physical nature being associated with what he can perform. It’s only when he performs it, you find out, Akshara is new, she has a wonderful and expressive face. I think her face conveys her experessions and thoughts more vividly than if she were asked to
say it. And there is of course, the lineage that she comes from. I am so happy that Balki chose her and I am so happy that he chose Dhanush, because I think they ideally fit into the characters they play.
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