It was 1969. I was making Bhuvan Shome, an FFC financed film with a measly budget of Rs. 1.5 lakh. I wanted a fresh voice to do the voiceover. So I went over to the house of my friend, filmmaker Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, one day. He was with some people, but I asked him if he knew anyone who would suit
Before any of us could say anything, a baritone rang out and stunned everyone, especially me. "Dada, aami bangla bolte jane. (Dada, I can speak in Bengali)!"
I looked across and saw a lanky young man standing away from the group. I was hooked to the voice. I told him I didn't care about language, his voice had already impressed me! Abbas introduced him as one of the new cast members for his next film, Saat Hindustani, and said he'd work out a barter deal with me. "You get Utpal Dutt to act in Saat Hindustani, and in return you can use this boy's voice," he told me.
I stuck the deal immediately! I took the boy to a sound theatre in Borivali. He just had to do a three-and-a-half minute voiceover. After the recording was over, I told the young man with great awkwardness that I could only afford to pay him Rs. 300 as the budget of the film was very small and my own fee was pathetic. He didn't want the money, but took it on my insistence.
Another thing I must share. When I asked him his full name as I needed it to use in the credits, he just said, "Amitabh!"
I didn't push him for his surname, assuming that it would be Kumar or something! After the film was released, I got a telegram from a lady by the name of Teji Bachchan and her husband Harivansh Rai Bachchan, thanking me.
I learned his surname only then.
—As told to Afsana Ahmed