I grew up in Malabar Hill in Bombay and my father was a film producer. So I was used to seeing stars coming over. But Amitabh Bachchan’s magnetism was something else. You couldn’t help but stand up when he entered a room. Since the age of four, whenever I see him, I get up and touch his feet.
Shweta and Abhishek [his children] keep teasing me about it. But I can’t help it. It’s like I’m on auto pilot. I could be anywhere in the world, Toronto, Cannes, anywhere. But I have to do it whenever I see him. That’s the kind of reverence and respect I have for him.
You just have to bow down to a man of his achievements. He commands that. When he was shooting for my father’s film, Dostana, he would sit on this high chair, alone. He always seemed to me like an unattainable god.
When he had that accident on the sets of Coolie and went to hospital, I – along with the entire country – wrote a letter to him. My father was always very close to him so he was in the hospital a lot. So I knew he (Amitabh Bachchan) would read my letter. He wrote back to me and that letter made me a star in school. I was the talk of the classroom. I was in class 7 and I had everyone coming to me to read that letter.
Amitabh Bachchan’s basic persona, his height, his baritone voice, his complete command over two languages (Hindi and English), his humungous sense of culture and tradition, his sense of dignity – all this has made him the icon he is. He has that stature, both literally and otherwise.
Even if he walks into a room in Czech­oslavakia, everyone in that room will know he’s someone famous. Whenever he walks into a room, you automatically feel you should get up and clap.
You have to admire his incredible consistency. Even when he was down, he never crumbled. He was silent. He never showed any sense of insecurity. He never made himself vulnerable. And he always rose like a Phoenix. He handled those periods with such grace.
After his comeback with Kaun Banega Crorepati, he emerged as the patriarch of the nation. No one can host a show like he can. His fluency in Hindi is incredible. In a land where the national language is so abused, he makes it sound so exotic.
When I had to first direct him in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, I fainted on the first day of shoot. I had a doctor on the set. I had wound myself up so much. When I recovered consciousness, he was sitting in front of me. And he said to me, “Don’t worry, I’ll dance well!” In terms of direction, you have to just explain a scene to him, that’s all. He’s beyond any instruction.
Mr Bachchan’s stardom is blessed by the universe. There is a divinity about it. In our film industry, maintenance and survival is all. Today he’s an even bigger movie star than he ever was. A ten-year-old knows him. A 70-year-old knows him.
He has stood the test of time.
Karan Johar is a film producer and filmmaker. He has directed blockbusters like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and My Name Is Khan
This article was originally published in the Hindustan Times Brunch Bollywood Special Collector's Edition, Summer 2013
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