By Jyothi Venkatesh
October 11 was mega star Amitabh Bachchan’s 81st birthday. To commemorate the grand occasion, I reproduce his witty and smart replies to many questions of mine in earlier free and frank interviews with the superstar taken about during the last few decades and wish him a happy 81st birthday today.
Though we know today that director Manmohan Desai had a great chemistry as a director with Amitabh Bachchan as an actor, Manmohan’s son Ketan Desai shocks me by telling me that when Amitabh was working with Manji in Parvarish, he was at a loss to know Manji’s style of filmmaking and had even contemplated on whether he should leave the film after compensating the producer. It was Jaya Bachchan who told Amitabh that in any case he was acting with directors who had different styles of their own like Yash Chopra, Prakash Mehra, Hrishikesh Mukerjee, he should work in at least one film to know what Manmohanji’s style of working was. Amitabh told her that he may not believe in the scene but surrendered to Manji by believing in his style.
Shortly before the release of the film, Yash Chopra had told me in an exclusive interview for Dream Star magazine way back 47 years ago in 1976, “Amitabh Bachchan is a very good artist. But unfortunately, he has got himself typecast today as an ‘angry young man’. Of course, I do not deny that I am also partly to be blamed, because I had cast him as an angry young outlaw in Deewar, which gave a fillip to his career after Zanjeer which resurrected him in the industry”.
Amitabh says that he had never understood the caste system because he was brought up in a family which had never preached or believed in the caste system. “My father Dr Harvanshraiji was the first Indian in Allahabad who went in for an inter – caste marriage. My father was a kayastha Brahmin while my mother was a Sikh. When it was time to admit me in the school, when the Principal asked him for my surname, he refused to give Srivastava as my surname and mentioned his pen name Bachchan, as my surname, because he did not want my surname to reflect my caste”.
Amit Ji continues. “Though I never came across the caste system when I learnt 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 right potential”.
Amitabh Bachchan had confessed to me that he wants to learn a lot from the new generation of actors, who he feels are much more confident to face the camera effortlessly than the actors who belong to his generation. “I found Prateik Babbar natural since he does not behave like he is acting in front of the camera. 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 do explicit scenes in films, especially since society has changed. Though there are actors who do not find anything wrong in doing those scenes, I have till date not done that and do not intend changing, though I’d say to each his own.”
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The on-screen pairing of Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha has been one of Indian cinema’s most iconic. They’ve given fans unforgettable films like Silsila, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Mr Natwarlal and more. However, do you know the first film that they had signed together for was Duniya Ka Mela, which was released in 1974? Rather unceremoniously, Amitabh Bachchan was dropped from the movie after his spate of initial 13 flops and replaced with Sanjay Khan by the producer G.M. Roshan, who was convinced that Amitabh was jinxed. Amitabh and Rekha, though, had already shot the song Tauba T, their first one together, that is available on YouTube but the two did not even get to interact much at that time.
In what way have you changed as a person after you started anchoring KBC? “It is all in your imagination. I had never lost touch with the audience. If you have seen it for the first time, it is not my problem at all but you cannot assume that I have not done this in the past and the assumption that you find me more communicative all of a sudden is wrong because I have always been in touch with people. where I am required to talk to people to run a game show, then obviously I have to do that but it is not an indication of a change in attitude or temperament. Yes, it does give me a wonderful opportunity to interact with new people every day. Whatever my limited knowledge of Hindi is, I try to use that”.
How do you feel being deified by your fans in Kolkata? “It is very embarrassing for me to be told that a temple has been constructed for me somewhere near Kolkata. It is so awkward and frankly I do not know how I should even react. However, it isn’t something which is new in our country. Earlier, I believe temples have been made for Khushboo, Rajnikant and MGR down south. I do not want to take away anything from my ardent fans and their devotion but it is so embarrassing for me.
How do you feel having lent dignity to the small screen and how do you feel having lent dignity to the small screen and inspiring others? “I am just doing my work for which I am getting paid. It will not be fair to others to say that I have lent dignity to the small screen. The small screen has always been there, neck to neck with the big one, whether it is Anupam Kher in Sawal Dus Crore Ka or for that matter Govinda in Chappar Phaad Ke and Shekar Suman in Jab Khelo Sab Khelo, everyone who has or is anchoring similar game shows has been doing a good job and i have watched their shows occasionally to take a tip or two”.