By Jyothi Venkatesh
His rise to fame defies all myths because it was after a series of almost 13 flops that the dejected as well as rejected lean and lanky actor started tasting fame. The resilience of the brand Bachchan cuts across not just his audience but even the makers who had projected him as the face of the audiences like Prakash Mehra, Manmohan Desai, and Yash Chopra. I should know because Amitabh has spent 53 years of his life in Bollywood, a term he detests from the bottom of his heart, I have spent 50 years of my life in journalism starting from the time I had interviewed Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Deewar at the Rajkamal Studios way back in 1973.
Today as he turns 80 years old, the legendary actor par excellence, game show host, singer cum phenomenon Amitabh Bachchan is still in great form as he is still working in two films of his namely Unchhai, as well as Ganapath. Amitabh Bachchan was born on October 11, 1942, in Allahabad, British India (present-day Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India) to the legendary poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan & Teji Bachchan. I have had the privilege of having scotch with Amitabh when he was not a teetotaller. I think the last time that he had touched alcohol was at the party that producer G.P, Sippy had hosted for the release of Sholay at the Hotel Taj Mahal in Bombay in 1975. I still treasure his handwritten letter sent to me from his hospital bed at Breach Candy when I had gone to him to offer him a bouquet for a speedy recovery.
A former Member of Parliament, Amitji who had made his debut as an actor with K.A. Abbas’s film Saat Hindustani way back in 1969, has entered the octogenarian club today on October 11 – a personal milestone for the actor as well as a moment of celebration for Hindi cinema. What makes Amitabh Bachchan stand apart from the rest of his ilk is the fact that he has never ever shied to step outside the comfort zone or reinvent himself with the changing times as well as the need of his craft from time to time just to keep himself abreast of the times.
Amitabh Bachchan, whose official name is Amitabh Shrivastava Inquilab, is still in a league as well as a continuum of his own, a rare feat for anyone in the Hindi film industry today, after having weathered many a hit and flop all through his chequered career, including a stint as an actor on TV in the mini-series Yudh and long innings as the host of the extremely successful game show Kaun Banega Karodpati.
To date, it is to the credit of the actor that he has given more importance to quality than quantity and has had no more than 200 films to his credit as an actor, including Deewar, Amar Akbar Anthony, Baghban, Don, Sholay, and the last but not the least the latest Brahmastra 1 as well as Goodbye. Not many are aware of the fact that at the age 70 he had also made his Hollywood debut as a minor character in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013).
Also read: “If I failed in politics, the reason is I did not have the potential”, Amitabh Bachchan tells Jyothi Venkatesh
What I have always liked about Amitabh is the fact that he is not at all arrogant and knows where he stands. When he found himself out of work after he had almost become bankrupt and was looking to resurrect his career after bankruptcy, he did not at all hesitate to call up Yash Chopra to ask him to cast him in his film and Yash Chopra cast him in the lead in his ambitious film Mohabbatein
Big B as Amitabh is being referred to by the film industry, has his own refreshing candor for honesty. In an interview, he had confessed to me, “Though I never came across the caste system when I learned at a boarding school and did my graduation at the Delhi University, it cropped up for the first time only when I decided to contest the elections as a candidate of the Congress party in 1994. If I failed in politics, the reason is I did not have the potential”.
Amitabh Bachchan confesses that he wants to learn a lot from the new generation of actors, whom he feels are much more confident to face the camera effortlessly than the actors who belong to his generation. “If you want to progress, it is very pertinent that you accept the change. However, I still do not subscribe to the notion that you should indulge in passionate lip-to-lip kissing, mouth expletives, and explicit scenes in films since society has changed. Though there are actors who do not find anything wrong in doing those scenes, I have to date not done that, except perhaps with the exception of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Black and do not intend changing, though I’d say to each his own.”
Also read: Ranbir Kapoor: ‘I wanted to be Amitabh Bachchan. When I grew up, I wanted to be Shah Rukh Khan!’
Although he has an elephantine memory and does not easily forgive anyone, what I like about him is his innate ability to forget and move on in life. Though I have had some difference of opinion with him, especially after I had carried an interview of the veteran filmmaker V. Shantaram in which he had criticized him for his role in Prakash Mehra’s film Laawaris in which he had danced to the tune of Mere Angne Mein, he never hesitated to call me on my landline when there were reports about how he had decided to sever his ties with Rajeev Gandhi to ask me to meet him and interview him to clarify things in Mid-day, that too at a time when he had banned the press from covering him. He is also very childlike. When he refused or let me do the recording of our interview, I bluffed and told him to permit me since the kids in my colony were keen on hearing his voice and he readily obliged me.
Though I used to address Amitabh as Amit in his heydays when I used to interview him on the sets of films like Deewar and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, as time went by after he gained his seniority status as an actor, I started addressing him as Amitji as I consider him to be a father figure now. Though I hardly get to meet Amitabh as he hardly attends any event personally and prefers to talk to the media digitally, I am glad that I am still friends with not only Jaya Bachchan but also Abhishek Bachchan as well as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Today I take this opportunity to wish him a happy 80th birthday on behalf of all of us at Cine Blitz.