He’s a legend of Indian cinema and one of the rare few who wouldn’t shy away from experimenting with fiction TV at the ripe age of 71, even when they don’t need to. But what Amitabh Bachchan
is still not ready to risk is being seen as supportive, or opposed to any political party. He opens up in a chat with HT, but is characteristically evasive on all things politics.
Many wondered why you didn’t attend the swearing-in of PM Narendra Modi, despite being a brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism. Did you call him later to congratulate him?
Well, I congratulated him just like many others. I have a very busy schedule. I work late hours and couldn’t make it to the swearing-in.
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As someone who belongs to Uttar Pradesh, what do you have to say on all the talk about lawlessness in the state?
Rape has been a very serious topic in our lives, particularly in the last few years. People have had very strong reactions on this issue. They came out on the streets when the Delhi gangrape incident happened.
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People actually showed their displeasure through voting and convinced the government to change laws. Rape is a horrible, horrible act. Strongest legal action should be taken against rapists. And somehow we must educate people and tell them that this is absolutely not in tune with the morals of our society.
Does this also include the need to educate the politicians who make insensitive remarks?
I don’t know. I guess that’s for them to realise. They are representatives of the people.
Every person in your family, including little Aradhya, is under constant media scrutiny. Recently, Abhishek tweeted that there’s no trouble in his married life with Aishwarya. Ash also issued press statements denying a second pregnancy. Do you sometimes feel ki kuchh zyada hi ho raha hai, by way of speculations around your family?
Zyada aur kam toh aap logon ke haath mein hai. Aap log jo likhenge, woh janta believe karegi. We are normal people, just like you or anyone else. Yes there is a celebrity status given to us and I think the moment we accept the celebrity-status, we know that this is what’s going to happen to us. It’s not something new to me or my family.
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I always say that I was born a celebrity, since I was born to who my father was. It’s part of the deal for me.
Legendary radio announcer Ameen Sayani recently said that many years ago you desperately wanted to be a radio jockey and waited for hours to give an audition but he didn’t allow it since you’d come without an appointment. Do you recall that?
I’ve also read that report. I did give some auditions for All India Radio in Delhi to be a news reader many years back, but I don’t remember this incident at all. But, if Ameen Saab is saying it happened, it must have happened.
How was it attending Dilip Kumar’s biography launch recently? Shobhaa De tweeted that it was sad that younger biggies gave the event a miss.
Saira ji (Saira Banu) had been wanting to launch the biography for a while. It was narrated by Dilip Saab to Udaya Tara, who’s the author. It was a wonderful evening. People said such nice things about Dilip Saab. He deserves so many more nice things, considering so much that he’s contributed to cinema.
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Dilip Saab doesn’t keep too well. He doesn’t speak too much, but registers a lot of things. I’ve been visiting him quite often at his home, too. As for what Shobhaa De tweeted, I wasn’t in-charge of the show and can’t comment on who got invited for it and who didn’t. You’d have to ask Saira Bano ji about it.
You’ve been so successful with reality TV. What was the need to venture into fiction?
It’s another form of creativity that I hadn’t done and I thought it would be really nice to do something like this. Television has become really big. Its turnover is almost three times that of cinema now. You have 800 channels in our country. That’s huge ... it’s like all the channels in the world put together. And you have another 300-400 waiting to come up once they get their licences.
There are 300-400 million people watching TV at any given point. I just wanted to see what it was like to do a fiction show. I contacted Anurag Kashyap whose work I’d always admired. He readily agreed because he was in the same frame of mind at that point as I was. He wanted to experiment, and had been toying with the idea of doing television.
And here we are, on the verge of releasing the show. Anurag gave me full liberty. On the very first day, he said there is a dialogue sheet but there’s no compulsion to say them in exactly the way it’s written. It was so wonderful.
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Is there a likelihood of Abhishek-Aishwarya following in your footsteps and taking up television?
That’s something that they would have to decide. It’s a little too early for them though. Abhishek has done some TV ... but he’s busy with films right now. I’m not sure about Aishwarya. By the way, Jaya is doing a TV show which will come up soon.
Once your TV show Yudh airs, whose approval of your work will give you most satisfaction?
The audience, obviously. No one else matters more. You, the people, are the yardstick for me. It’s an attempt not to do something different for the heck of it. But it’s a genuine attempt at trying to change the structure of how we perceive TV serials.
Shoojit Sarkar (filmmaker) recently said that our TV shows are mostly meant for housewives and evening viewing and are made in such a way that if you miss one of the episodes, you can connect it the week after through the recap. But Yudh is a very finite, very crisp show. There are no leaps, no rebirths, no dragging of endless episodes.
There are just 20 episodes, and it’ll finish in 5 weeks.
You and Abhishek are big football fans. Are you planning to go for any of the World Cup matches in Brazil?
Yes, we are trying to. Let’s see how it goes. Abhishek, Aishwarya and Jaya are all vacationing in London at the moment.
Amitabh Bachchan listens to a journalist during the promotion of his TV fiction series Yudh in New Delhi on Wednesday, June 11. (AP Photo)