The earliest memory that film critic and writer Bhawana Somaaya has of superstar Amitabh Bachchan is from her days as a cub reporter. “I was very young. It was my first job. I had gone to interview Rekha, but she hadn’t arrived so I thought I’ll interview her co-star instead,” she says. It was only after a polite refusal that Somaaya became aware that Bachchan wasn’t open to the media. “Everyone was astounded by the idea that I even approached Bachchan, since he was known to avoid the press in his haydays.”
Forty years on, Somaaya has interviewed the Bollywood actor umpteen times and even written two books on him — The Legend (1999) and poster art book, Bachchanalia, a decade later in 2009. Now, out with her latest novel titled, Amitabh Lexicon, the author feels complacent about having finished her trilogy. “The first book was a conversational biography, the next pictorial and now it’s verbal depiction—with dialogues, terms derived from his work,” she says. Ask the author what makes Big B her favourite subject and she’s quick to reply, “When I started my career, Bachchan was a super star. Four decades later, he still remains one. This says enough about why one can’t get enough of writing about him,” says Somaaya, who has authored over 10 books on films.
Her latest offering, Amitabh Lexicon, has been a work in progress for over a decade now. “I thought about it over 11 years ago, when I was meeting some old friends. I remember how one person quoted a dialogue from Sholay (1975) and there on, the whole conversation took the form of famous Bachchan film dialogues. The amazing bit was that we all connected. That was the first time I realised that Amitabh Bachchan, through his repertoire, had created an alternative vocabulary,” she says about her A to Z book on the actor, who walked and talked English.
The 335-pager that features 174 works by Bachchan over a span of 41 years works as a dictionary for Bachchan fans. So A for the ‘arrow’ from Toofan (1989) and B for the ‘bottle’ from Sharabi (1984).
Ask her what research went into the book and the author confesses to being a neo-Luddite. “I was never so tech-friendly. I’m an old-school journalist this way. I prefer writing with pen on paper,” she says. Armed with a copy of the concise Oxford dictionary, Somaaya rummaged through her head by corresponding every alphabet with a Bachchan scene, word, song or dialogue. “It was all out of memory — friends’ and mine.”