He is known for his punctuality. So much so that he puts most younger stars — who consider unpunctuality to be a given with their star status — to utter shame. In fact, meetings with him often start before time because veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan hates to make anyone wait.
However, this time, Bachchan is uncharacteristically late — by over an hour, almost. But as he walks in, you know he is embarrassed. His apology for being late is not profuse. In fact, he seems to be talking more to himself than to us, almost admonishing himself for the delay. “I am extremely sorry to have kept you waiting. This never happens,” he says finally, guilt looming on his face as we sit across the table in his Juhu office, Janak. “I was shooting for some promotional thing for Shamitabh, my next film with R Balki, and that got a bit delayed,” he explains.
Hasn’t this whole concept of promoting films gone too far?
It’s now an integral part of filmmaking. Earlier, filmmaking was between the story writer and director, who managed everything. Now it’s become departmentalised. There are separate companies that look after just the aesthetics. Agencies and film companies are put in to design how to promote a certain film. Sets, colour combinations, dress designers, everything... Clothes are not just suited to a character — they go beyond it. Your clothes could start a trend and get talked about. It is a business module.
As an actor, how much importance do you give to it?
I would actually like to just sit at home and say, ‘My job is done; now it’s for audience to see [the film].’ But I don’t want to spoil anyone’s life, so I agree to do what they ask me to. There are a lot of senior actors who feel awkward about it and get self-conscious simply because they are not used to this process, so they refuse [to do it]. But the norm today, here, is to give that first push. Those days of golden weeks don’t exist anymore. So you have only the first three-four days to make an impact.
At the same time, you are guarded about what you say or do.
I haven’t changed as the human being I was born as. But something changed by way of this notion of ‘celebrity-hood’. It is believed that because you have creatively satisfied some people by way of the profession you are in, you would have suddenly become very proficient in every walk of life. That’s not true. Be it politics, morals or society, we are supposed to know all answers. But we don’t. That’s a lot of rubbish. But because it makes good copy, whatever we say may find its way to headlines. Now, there are some who agree to do it. But I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I find myself vulnerable at many points. So if you are in a position where everything about you is minutely discussed and finds its way into “content” for a medium of communication, then I, as a person, would like to be conscious and guarded, and not make a mistake or make a fool of myself.
Various other factors such as, ‘what kind of impression are you making? What does your family think? What are your children going to be impressed by? Will it spoil your relationships etc.?’ come into play. Now, more so with brands and endorsements. Your persona reflects on the brands and you can’t afford to go wrong with them.
You were recently seen in Gujarat promoting your film at a kite-flying session. You are also the brand ambassador for tourism of the state. Considering, you were always known to be a Congress loyalist, it is being said that you are changing your camp now...
That’s a very normal thing to happen. If you are in a position of ‘celebrity-hood’ — though I don’t consider myself as any such — there will be all kinds of conjectures. But because of that so-called status, you also meet a lot of people — good, bad, politicians, leaders, not-so-good people, and what conjectures you draw from that is up to you. They know me, not because I am a politician, but because I am an actor and they appreciate my work, so they feel like meeting me.
I have to acknowledge if somebody wants to meet me. I can’t say no to them simply because it may give a wrong impression that I may want to follow their party, and I am not political. These conjectures will be drawn. You have to take a decision of whether you want to go to an extreme or just remain normal.
There are many who are in politics and are doing well. I am not in politics and not going there again. I am not going to say that I am neutral, but I am just going to say that hopefully I am normal, and if somebody wants to meet me, I will meet them. I don’t look at people as, ‘Oh, it may be worthwhile to meet this person because he belongs to a certain party and they are in power today.’
You are known to be just as cautious and disciplined as an actor. Always on time, rehearsing before every shot...
When you sign up for a profession, there are certain norms that the profession sets and some that you do. If I have signed up for something and the time sheet requires me to be there at a particular time, I’ll make sure I am there. If I have to do a certain scene in a certain way, I should do that. I am not that spontaneous, perhaps, not that well equipped, maybe, or not talented enough to do a certain thing at the snap ofa finger. So, I may want to go over it several times. But that’s personal. I feel comfortable. Having said that, it’s not always like that; it’s very temperamental.
You have seen a lot of success and failure.
Success and failure are pretty normal in life. You have to face them. This profession is like that. There will be time limits to your work. Everything can’t be the same. Just like for a sportsman, you know that he is going to have a very short period of active participation in the sport. It’s the same in ours. So long as your face and body is accepted. As long as you are able to move the way you are expected to, you’ll have a job. For me, so long as I have a face, a voice, I am accepted by people, I’ll continue. But I know it’s not going to last forever. Your age is not going to remain constant. There are going to be younger people who will generate the kind of euphoria that you once did. But that’s ‘celebrity-hood’ for you. You have to accept it. There are many who can’t. They keep fighting it. I accept that my time has passed. I am not going to have the same frenzy that I did. But at the same time I like to work, I want to work and I can’t do without that. So I accept it. Those who can’t, decide to stop work. But that’s them.
Were you ever insecure?
Every day, I still am. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, if I will have a job or not. So you keep prodding along and just hope that people like you, and you get another job the next day.
When most actors are turning to production, why haven’t you revamped your company?
We don’t know production. That was one of the errors that we made. When we went bankrupt, we decided that this was one job that we didn’t know. We still involve ourselves, but only on select projects where we hold hands with somebody so that the financial burden is not entirely on us.
Was that one of your reasons to turn to TV?
Yes, for me, Kaun Banega Crorepati came at a time when I was both financially, professionally at rock bottom. It gave me a moment to identify again, and to come out of all my commercial and financial problems.
You are quite active on social media. But that can also be unbearably critical and rabid.
Yes, but that is because they [people on social media] are faceless. But there is nothing wrong in that. If you have opened up to the world, you can’t expect people to go according to what you are or what you think is right. Everyone is differently made and has a different mind. If there is a medium that you have opened up to the world, how can you restrict someone from writing, and say ‘Write this and not that?’ How can you tell a painter to use just two colours? It’s a democratic society that gives you freedom of expression. It must be encouraged.
You also write; have you ever thought of writing professionally?
I don’t write at all. I just write a blog. That’s something I do in the middle of the night. There is a small community that has formed, so I think it is important to communicate with them. I have been writing non-stop for 2,467 days. I have been on Twitter for 1,750 days. Facebook, I started later, about 829 days back. So that is something I like. And it’s more like a conversation that I am having now with you. But my writing is horrid. I can’t think of ever putting it formally.
But you must, at some point, feel that you can’t do this again and again. We all do.
Yes, and I hope that stage doesn’t come. I did feel like that a few years ago and I took a sabbatical for some two-three years. I realised that was the biggest mistake I had made. I shouldn’t have stopped working. I think you disconnect with your profession. You are not aware of what’s going on and how much water has flowed if you don’t keep at it. Even though my age now is close to 73, and to be in the company of people of an average age of 25-30 years is kind of ridiculous, I just love being in their company.