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‘The average age on a film set these days is about 25. I’m close to 70 and I feel very awkward at times’

Bachchan speaks about his new film Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap,riding a Harley Davidson in the movie and giving younger actors a run for their money.

Written by Priyanka Sinha Jha |
July 3, 2011 12:52:27 am

Amitabh Bachchan was at Express’s Mumbai office for a Screen Chatroom session moderated by Screen Editor Priyanka Sinha. Here,Bachchan speaks about his new film Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap,riding a Harley Davidson in the movie and giving younger actors a run for their money

Tell us about your new film,Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap.

Amitabh Bachchan: Ram Gopal Varma brought me the film. He came in one day and said,‘There’s this director,Puri Jagannadh,and he has a wonderful story and you must do this film’. I have seen Puri’s work in a Telugu film called Pokiri. He’s very famous in the Telugu film industry. So I met him and I read the story. I liked it,including the title,and we went ahead with it. So we produced the film and then later on,as the writing work started,the tagline,“Hoga Tera Baap”,came along because those of you who are familiar with it will know it is a commonly used phrase in northern India. It’s a story about an ex-gangster who’s living in Paris and is brought back to Mumbai on a mission. The movie is about what happens in the city and what he goes through.

There’s Hemaji (Hema Malini) in the film,Raveena Tandon,Sonu Sood,Sonal Chauhan and Charmi,a very charming girl from Telugu cinema. The music is by Vishal-Shekhar. The brief for them was that this is a light-hearted,escapist,commercial fare. It’s really funny how Vishal and Shekhar were briefed. I told Puri Jagannadh,whose Hindi is not very strong,to brief Vishal and Shekhar. Later I asked Shekhar about the brief he got. He said Puri just said: ‘Goli chalata hai. Ladki patata hai…Goli chalata hai. Ladki patata hai.’ That’s how the music came about. They asked me to sing,which is another terrible point,but anyway,they have wonderful machines now which put you in tune.

But you have a wonderful voice. That can’t be changed.

Amitabh Bachchan: But that doesn’t mean you can sing. The whole business of recording music has gone through such a change. And I feel so ancient when I think back. I remember the famous Tardeo in Mumbai,which used to have the recording studios. As young strugglers,we were told to stand outside because all the stars,all the prominent directors and music directors would come there everyday and who knows,maybe they’ll see you. So we used to hang around there and watch all these big stars move in and it used to be my great desire to someday just be able to walk through that door,go inside this studio and see how the music is recorded.

In the olden days,it used to be one complete take…the musicians,the orchestra,the singers,everything. And even if one violin made a mistake,it was the end of the song. The whole thing had to be scrapped and then you had to redo it. But now,singers don’t even know which film they are working for. Because they are told to tune and just go in front of the mic and sing a few lines. And then all kinds of other things happen. They put instrumentation inside it,then they cut it and paste it and put besuras like me into sur.

There has been a lot of talk about your get-up in the film: you’re riding a bike. Did you design your own look in the film? The two watches?

Amitabh Bachchan: We had a dress designer called Deepakshi. She has worked with Puri earlier in some Telugu films. And I think she worked for Salman in Wanted. Puri wanted something flamboyant. The character I play in the movie is slightly arrogant,has an attitude. He refutes the idea of anyone calling him old or ‘bbuddah’,he gets upset. So they sat down and said we want something colourful and bright and lively and then we all got together and put our minds into it and came out with whatever you see.

So did it involve a lot of bike riding?

Amitabh Bachchan: I’m not very good at riding bikes. I can ride them,but I’ve not done it on a regular basis. So I’m still a little nervous. But when they told me I had to ride one and that too a Harley Davidson—which,as you know,is a huge machine,an entire city by itself—I told them I need rehearsals. Take me to a place where there’s nobody around,no trees and traffic,so in case I crash,nothing happens. But somehow we managed. Everytime you ride a powerful machine,be it a motorcycle,a fast car,a sports car,or a plane,it’s a different kind of rush that you get.

Forty-two years in the industry and giving everyone a run for their money. How has it been?

Amitabh Bachchan: I don’t think one works to give anyone a run for their money. I’m just fortunate that there are people who still want to work with me and yes,it’s been a very long ride and sometimes I wonder how they have been tolerating me for 42 years. But fortunately,there have been roles that have come across and I have attempted doing them and hopefully,I have been able to give it my best. The kind of role I’m playing in Bbuddah,obviously,I haven’t done that for a very long time. Most of the roles that came to me during the latter half of my career were more considerate of my age. Patriarchal in their outlook,almost submissive,very sublime. And a lot of people said we don’t want to see you like this. Somewhere I think that remained in my mind when I was looking at the script for Bbuddah because it was making me do things that I hadn’t done for a very long time.

You have some famous lines in the film. Can you say one of those lines for us?

Amitabh Bachchan: Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain,line wahin se shuru hoti hai.

You did Paa and before that Cheeni Kum,which was very interesting. Like you said,actors get a certain kind of role,very patriarchal…and then,you completely turn things around with Cheeni Kum,which worked so well.

Amitabh Bachchan: Balki (director of Cheeni Kum) thinks differently. I don’t know what he drinks at night. His characterisation of the roles he’s written for me have been different. And happily,they’ve worked. It’s a huge challenge for me as an actor to play those roles. They don’t work all the time. That kind of romance was present in Nishabd too,but that didn’t go down well at all. Or indeed,Ramu’s other film,Aag,where they didn’t want me to play a negative character and least of all,one that had been,sort of,historically performed by Amjad Khan in Sholay. Giving an actor a moment of challenge is important. I would not have been able to do these things earlier on in my career. Because then,you’re young,you are the leading man and you’re supposed to look good and go and woo the girl and smash up the villain and ride away. Apart from that,any kind of characterisation given to the leading man doesn’t work. So in that respect,I am very fortunate that even though I’m now close to 70,there are opportunities coming my way and I can test myself. So I think this phase has been a lot more exciting and there’s been a larger variety of roles. That’s what all actors look for. They want to be able to do different things and put themselves in different kinds of roles. There are many who don’t get what they deserve until they leave the industry. And it’s not just in India. John Wayne never got off his horse in any of his films. And he’s like the American legend of cinema.

How does it feel to know that an entire generation of directors grew up watching your films,idolising you,and all of them wanting to make movies with you? I remember director Sujoy Ghosh saying that all of India started parting their hair in the middle after you.

Amitabh Bachchan: Yes,but that happens with each generation of stars. Everybody wants to look like either Salman or Shah Rukh or Aamir. We all are fans of people,of stars…and when we get to be in their company,there is this huge amount of fear and awe. I am still a great admirer of Dilip saab and just to be able to go and stand next to him was a frightening experience for me. And then to be working with him in Shakti,that was just unbelievable. It’s got nothing to do with any particular kind of aura. I think we’re all actors at the end of the day. We’re just very normal people.

In terms of the characters you have played,which are your favourite characters?

Amitabh Bachchan: I would like to believe that they are all good. I always try to answer this by dividing my career into various phases. So the earlier phases would have to be with people like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas,and his very socialist films which had great meaning and purpose. Hrishida because of the central path that he took—not too artistic,not too commercial,but yet,to be able to create that magic of cinema. Then equally,Salim-Javed for their brilliant writing. I think we really haven’t had such brilliant writing ever since. And I think Deewar was their finest script… indeed,I think Deewar is one of the most complete scripts that Indian cinema has had. Deewar itself was an inspired subject. There were moments of Mother India in there,there were moments of Ganga Jamuna,but on the whole,just the construction of the screenplay was brilliant. And then,working with Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai and Yashji and everyone. And then,moving on to the next generation,where we had Tinnu Anand and Mukul Anand and their style of making cinema. And then on to Adi (Chopra) and Karan (Johar) and their style of cinema.

You are one of those people in the industry who think of actors as brands. When you’re talking about ABCL,you talk of entertainment as an industry,a full-fledged business. So what would Brand Bachchan stand for?

Amitabh Bachchan: I don’t know. Around the early ’90s,I used to go on holidays sometimes to the West,to America,and every time I went to New York,I would get letters from all the big corporations—Warner Brothers,20 Century Fox,Sony,MGM—asking to meet me. And I thought,why would they want to meet me? They don’t know me. And so,I ignored all that for a very long time. And then a lawyer friend of mine in New York said I should meet them,see what they have to say. And when I met them,I was shocked to see that they had every bit of detail about India,about the Indian film industry,about actors,what we were doing and what our business was like. And I came back and told my friend about this and he said,‘Mr Bachchan,you need to get back to India because the Americans are coming.’ Each one of their letters was titled ‘India: The New Frontier’. And that’s why I felt that there was a need to turn corporate so that our house is in order before these guys arrive. I don’t know whether I’m being immodest here but I just felt that in ’95,when we did make this corporation,I had predicted that the Americans will be here in five years and they would destroy our industry. When Hollywood went to England,they wiped out the local industry. They did the same in France,Spain,Germany and Italy. I find that happening here in India. You see some of their films are doing better in business than our own releases. And they’re very systematic in their approach—they will enter in a very small way,through distribution,through exhibition,because they have that power. They are masters at marketing. And they have the money. What they don’t have is the content. And their content will not necessarily work here because our morals are different to theirs. All the films they make—Superman,Titanic,X-Men,Batman—all these films do extremely well because they’re backed by huge amount of technology. We need to fight that. Also,because of the advent of television,we are exposed to at times superior stuff—technically,content-wise—whether it is their cinema,whether it is their TV serials,whatever. So why would the average Indian who is watching television go out to a multiplex and spend Rs 500 on a ticket when he can perhaps see superior stuff sitting at home? The challenge for the Indian film industry is to pull this gentleman out and the lady out and the family out from their homes,bring them to the theatre and make superior stuff. Which is why I feel this generation,the young generation,the youth that has now taken over the film industry is brilliant because they’re aware of the dangers. They’re very aggressive,they’re keen to succeed and it’s admirable the way they think and work. The average age on a set where I work is about 25. And I’m close to 70 and I feel very awkward at times. We used to think a hundred times before we wanted to have a crane on the set. But now it’s just very normal.

Tom Hanks said on a television channel that he wants to work with you.

Amitabh Bachchan: It’s probably a joke or he’s just being polite. It’s nothing serious.

Apart from the movie,you are doing KBC-5. What can we expect this time?

Amitabh Bachchan: When I did it for the first time,it was killing. We had almost 300 episodes,so that could have been one of the reasons why it became stale. But this time,it’s a one-year contract. It’s fascinating to find small-town India coming up and proving themselves successful. This Muslim lady who came from a city that some of us might not have even heard of,travelled in a plane for the first time,came to Mumbai,lands up in front of me on KBC and wins a crore of rupees. That’s an unbelievable story. So it was really the factor of small town India suddenly having lot of hope and I find it being reflected in many aspects of our everyday life. Look at our cricket team. That’s what the aspirations of the youth and the opening up of the economy has done.

Have you at any point considered writing poetry?

Amitabh Bachchan: My mother used to say one word in the family is enough. And I don’t have that talent. I’ll be very blessed if I can understand all that my father wrote and to be able to imbibe his great philosophical mind and his depth of writing.

Transcribed by Pallavi Pundir; For longer text,visit www.indianexpress.com

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