Amitabh Bachchan is ending the year on a busy note: He is assiduously shooting in and around Kolkata for Ribhu Dasgupta’s debut Hindi film, T3EN and will continue doing so for another month, perhaps at the cost of promotions for his upcoming Farhan Akhtar-starrer psychological thriller Wazir. However, the superstar has found some time to interact with the media.
In a free-wheeling chat, Amitabh Bachchan talks about the various phases in his Bollywood career, his upcoming films, TE3N, Wazir and more.
Tiredness, as always, evades his face. He looks smashing (and I am drooling as always over his style) in a brown high-neck jacket, black trousers and tiger-skinned shoes, aptly accessorised with a wristwatch that has, wait, a fluorescent green band! Without wasting a second, he sits down and is ready to take questions. “I am really excited to be back in Kolkata. I started my independent life in this city in 1962 and have spent eight of the most valuable years of my life here. It’s always a great feeling coming back to this city.” He’s probably said this a thousand times before, but every time with the equal passion and fondness for Kolkata.
Bachchan nostalgia is obvious every time he is in this city. He was here last year to shoot for Shoojit Sircar’s Piku and has been a permanent fixture at the Kolkata International Film Festival for the last five years. “Last time I rode a bicycle, this time I rode a phatphati (scooter) and also a toto rickshaw at Shalimar station. I was told that no film has ever been shot inside the Writers’ Buildings. It is such a wonderful building and I had a great time shooting there,” he says.
Wazir , which also stars Farhan Akhtar and Aditi Rao Hydari, is another reason for all the excitement. Bachchan plays a paralysed chess player in the film and says that it was quite a task. “I feel every role is challenging but this was physically more demanding. I play a chess master who has lost his legs and I am on the wheelchair throughout the film,” he says, adding, “We had various discussions on hiding the feet. One of them was to sit on the haunches and cover the feet with a shawl but that makes things uncomfortable as they tie your feet and shooting for eight-nine hours would have been difficult because that would have stopped the blood circulation in my feet. So, we decided to use visual effects, which I am not too conversant with.”
That certainly was difficult for Bachchan but he doesn’t mind going that extra mile to get into the skin of the character. “They used to cover my feet with a black cloth and put marks on them and I was asked not to move my feet. It’s not that cumbersome but the role was demanding because here I couldn’t use my feet to express myself. There are two wheelchairs that I use. The first one is ordinary which gets destroyed and is replaced by a mechanical wheelchair that is controlled by a lever. Vidhu Vinod Chopra (producer) is very particular about all these and he started looking for a wheelchair six months before shooting. We checked around 40-50 wheelchairs and finally settled for this,” says the National Award-winning actor.
Prakash Mehra, the late director, who was instrumental in given Bachchan a series of hits, had once said, “Amitabh Bachchan is like a Halley’s comet, which comes once in 76 years.” The veteran actor, however, is too humble while accepting the compliment. His undying spirit has kept him going even at 74 and he plans to continue working. “No, no, I am no Halley’s comet. I am just a normal human being, who the industry has tolerated for 45 years. I don’t call myself experienced because I believe no one can ever attain complete experience in films. I am lucky to be working with the new generation and that there are still people who want to work with me. I may not be getting leading roles anymore but I am happy with the character roles I am being offered. As an actor you always need to remember that the audience is changing. People who saw you when they were six or seven years old had a different opinion about you that might change when they grow up to 17-18. So, you need to change yourself. Today people are watching international shows on television, the standard of which is really good. They might think twice before spending Rs 1,000 or Rs 2,000 on a film the standard of which they might feel is not on par with these television shows. So, it is a challenge for us to compete with television and make films which they will go and watch at the theatres,” says Bachchan.
That said, he is excited about working with Farhan Akhtar. “He is a great performer. I have known him since he was a kid when he used to play around with Abhishek. I worked with Farhan in Lakshya, which he directed, but this is the first time that I am working with him as an actor. I must say Bijoy has presented this film in a very different style. The young generation is doing a great job. People like R Balki, Shoojit and Sujoy have a different vision. Every generation’s vision and ideas are changing and they know what they want. I kept asking Balki (when he offered me Paa), ‘What have you been drinking before coming here? You ask me to play a 13-year-old and do all weird things. Shoojit made a beautiful film in the form of Piku . The beauty of the film was that it didn’t have a typical story. It was like an endearing conversation between a father and daughter…rather a constipated father...and it was so nice to see people getting attracted to the film,” he says.
Ask him about his most memorable period as an actor, and Bachchan slips into nostalgia. “It’s very difficult to recall one period. I would rather divide it into five periods the first starting with Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, who gave me my first film followed by some very memorable films with Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He was both Jaya’s (Bachchan) and my godfather. He gave me so many memorable films like Mili, Anand, Chupke Chupke...there was a long time when I had done the maximum number of films with him. Then came Salim-Javed who gave me beautiful films like Sholay... Deewar... Trishul when directors like Ramesh Sippy were working. Then came Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra. There were times when Manmohan saab used to narrate a story and we would say how ridiculous, but then there was a certain genius in him and the films worked. Prakash Mehra came up with powerful stories and had a great sense of music. That period was followed by Mukul Anand and Tinu Anand. I did films like Hum with Mukul and worked with Tinu Anand in films like Kaalia and Shahenshah. Finally, came the likes of Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar and now it’s the likes of Bijoy, Shoojit...Balki and Sujoy. So, I have been really very lucky,” he says.
But what has kept his enthusiasm intact compared to his contemporaries? He once again smiles, shaking his head in disagreement. “I don’t think I am the only one who is working. Dharam ji (Dharmendra) is still working. Shashi ji (Shashi Kapoor) can’t work because he is unwell. Shahtrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna too are working. In fact, I feel Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna are two exceptional actors. They started as villains and went on to become heroes. They have also managed to actively involve themselves in national politics. I still think I am just an ordinary man who the industry has tolerated for 45 years,” he signs off.