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'I root for left-handers'

Amitabh Bachchan in an exclusive interview with Akshay Sawai talks about sports - a world far removed from mangliks and wedding snubs.
Hindustan Times | By Akshay Sawai, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 15, 2007 08:35 AM IST

You heard him reel off the hilarious "Vijay Merchant told Vijay Hazare…" monologue in Namak Halaal.

You heard him narrate in English the translated version of 'Swagatam', the 1982 Asiad theme song penned by Pandit Ravi Shankar, at the opening ceremony of the Games.

You saw him play doubles with Naseeruddin Shah and Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi during a felicitation of the tennis duo for their glorious season in 1999. More recently, you saw him courtside at the French Open in Paris this June.

Amitabh Bachchan — caution, obvious statement ahead — is an actor and not an athlete. But he has often been involved in sports this way or that and is an enthusiastic recreational sportsman. "When time permits, I go across to my friend Danny Denzongpa's place for a game of table tennis," he says.

HT connected with the superstar on email for an interview about a universe far removed from mangliks and wedding snubs.

How did you happen to visit the French Open? What would you remember about the experience?
I was invited by my daughter-in-law, Aishwarya. She is brand ambassador for Longines, who were the official time-keepers of the French Open.
It's wonderful to be at a location that one has seen and admired on television. The excitement and the venue and the people and the game all seems wonderful. Of course, certain aspects of TV are missing when you are there live.

Would you call yourself a sports fan? What's the extent of your involvement with sports?
I do not know what qualifications are required to be a sports fan, but yes I do enjoy watching sporting events and pity sometimes at not having mastered a sport in my early years.

Which of your visits to sports events did you enjoy the most?
The Olympics in Los Angeles in the early 80's (1984).

What sports do you like to watch? Which ones do you like to play? I've heard you quite enjoy playing table tennis with friends and watching football…
I like watching all games and yes when time permits I do go across to my friend Danny Denzongpa's place for a game of TT. And I enjoy watching football.

Growing up, did you play sports? Which ones?
When you are young you play all sports. I was no different. Out of school and before college, I trained at an institute for tennis for several months. But university and study schedules prevented me from going further

Did you ever admire any sportsmen? Which ones?
I have admired many. In cricket and basketball and hockey and football and many other disciplines, but I have greatly admired Muhammad Ali.

Who in your family is most interested in/good at sports? Are there times when all of you watch a game, argue over the teams, players etc?
Abhishek played basketball in school. But all of us at home watch sporting events religiously.

Being a left-hander, do you root for left-handed sportsmen?

On Kaun Banega Crorepati, you once spoke about attending football matches when you were in Kolkata. Could you recount those experiences?
Those were early years. Late 50's. Sitting on wooden benches and stands on the Maidan in Kolkata and watching Mohan Bagan and other teams play. Now of course they have huge stadia built.

Do you think about the state of Indian sport? Why in your view do we struggle in most sports?
I do. And lament greatly at our country not being able to produce world-class sportsmen. We struggle because we do not have the capacity to pick and encourage talent, to train them professionally and to spend sufficient funds for them. The scenario is changing I think. And I do believe and have faith in the fact that pretty soon we shall be competing with the very best in the world.

In your many roles in Hindi cinema you drove cars like a Formula One racer, punched goons like a boxer and ran like an Olympic sprinter. But you did not play a sports hero. What is the reason for this? Do you believe sports can make for interesting cinematic themes?
Sports makes wonderful cinema themes and I am sad that I never got a script that enveloped that theme.

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