Her last film as an actress was Ki & Ka released on April 1 six years ago. To mark her 74th birthday today, we at Cine Blitz reproduce this rare exclusive and nostalgic interview with JAYA BACHCHAN by JYOTHI VENKATESH taken way back in 1991, exactly 31 years ago).
Jaya Bachchan is one of those rare persons who is quite down to earth in spite of the fact that she is a celebrity even today. In spite of the fact that she was having a bout of tonsillitis, Jaya Bachchan, on the eve of her departure to London with her celebrity husband Amitabh Bachchan for a series of Star Nites, sat down with me for this interview at her Pratiksha bungalow.
To set the ball rolling, I ask Jaya whether a housewife today in our country will be able to handle her career as well as domestic chores. Without batting her eyelids, Jaya said, “It is very difficult to answer this question. If you are involved in a film career, you are involved with your profession for almost 24/7. It is a very demanding profession. It is very rare that you can stumble upon a housewife who can also be a busy film actress. Or vice versa a busy film actress who can be an efficient housewife. One has definitely got to take a backseat and opt either to be a good career person and a bad housewife or a good housewife and less of a professional. One cannot have the cake as well as eat it too”.
Jaya denies that Amitabh Bachchan pressured her into quitting acting in films. “Amit did not force me to quit films. He was very clever. When he set out to marry me when I was at the peak of my career, he told me that he did not marry me to come to an empty home after his day’s work was over. He wanted me to be a good housewife. I did not stop acting after I married Amit. In fact, would you believe it, I worked in films like Mili, Chupke Chupke, Naukar, Dagdar Babu after Shweta was born. In fact I had acted in Silsila when Abhishek and Shweta were much older. After I became a mother, the concentration was naturally more on the children. Since my husband did not devote the amount of time which a father should for our children obviously because of his busy acting schedules, I had no other alternative but to be a substitute for him and be a father and a mother at the same time to the kids. I had to use my creativity to groom my children. I tried to ease myself slowly and steadily out of films not because I was forced to but because I wanted to.
“When I worked in Silsila after Shweta and Abhishek were quite old, I went through a trauma, a terrible one at that because the children were growing and needed me by their side. They felt cramped and I was torn between the children on one side and my films on the other. As far as leisure activities are concerned, I decided to involve myself with social service when they were in school. Now my son Abhishek is in the 9th standard in a boarding school in Switzerland. I think now the time is ripe for me to plan to do something in films. I am mentally ready.”
In that case, why did you say No to Mira Nair of Salaam Bombay fame when she offered to cast you in a meaty role in her film Mississippi Masala? I asked Jaya. “Look here. I do not mind playing even old characters as long as they are central characters of the film, pivotal to the script. I am slightly selfish at this stage of my life. I do not want to play any role which is not one of the main characters of any film. If I agree to work in a film after so many years, the role has naturally got to be good. I will work only on my terms and conditions. Mira spoke to me about the role of the mother in the film, which I gather Sharmila Tagore is playing now. To tell you the truth, I was not convinced with the role. I did not feel it was a very important role to play at that time. If at all I work in a film, I should be offered a role which will revolve around me wholly.”
“A woman in Hollywood of my age will be at the peak of her career. Age does not at all bother me. The struggle there is much longer. But here one achieves success very soon and also one is overexposed and people get fed up of seeing the same face again and again and opt for a change. It is sad and indeed a tragedy. I am waiting for the right role. I have not given up acting. Just wait and watch.”
Are you in favor of your husband joining politics? “When Amit joined politics he had my support wholly because he did not join politics to play politics like some others. He joined politics only to reciprocate the love and affection extended to him by the people all over the country and be of some help to people who are not as lucky as we are. But I was troubled to see him hassled. With the kind of game people played in politics, he felt suffocated. I realized and so did he that politics is not meant for sensitive, creative people. It has unfortunately become a profession by itself today.”
Jaya confesses that she did feel unhappy when he resigned from his post as M.P because “I felt that this act of his would be misinterpreted in a wrong way. But he felt that it was not proper on his part to continue as an M. P when doubts were cast against him. I remember I had shared a lot of his work in Delhi at that time whenever he chose to make a round of his constituency as and when he managed to get time. We had opened some crèches for working women. I supervised his work in Allahabad and built up a very good rapport with the workers. I felt very bad when he resigned, because all the work he had put in went to waste.”
How is Amitabh Bachchan as a family man? “Frankly after the accident, Amit realized that he needed to spend more time with the family, with me and the children. And when his work was reduced, he started devoting more time to us which naturally meant more work for me at home. As a husband, Amit isn’t very fussy or difficult. He does not mind even if the house has not been maintained fancifully but he has this uncanny knack of noticing even the inconspicuous corners of the house which are untidy. Amit isn’t a connoisseur of good food. In fact, he likes simple Indian vegetarian food.
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“In 1974 he became a vegetarian. Of late he has started eating non vegetarian food once again. I am a pucca non vegetarian. He used to guzzle a lot of beer before he worked in Saat Hindustani when he was in Calcutta as a bachelor. But he has given up drinking. On the day after we got married and were proceeding to London for our honeymoon, he had his hard liquor for the first time. But he gave up drinking soon because he is a health freak and feels that drinking is basically harmful for health. Amit has started eating both vegetarian as well as non vegetarian food these days and hence I try to cook at home these days. We have cooks too in the house but I try to supervise them. I am not a great cook. Forget about cooking, Amit does not even know how to boil water.”
“One common trait in both Amit and me is that we love watching videos. We travel a lot too to almost every part of the world. I’d love to go to the Middle East. In fact I’d like to go to places which have historical backgrounds. I loved Russia when I went there sometime back. I am also fond of New York. Basically Amit and I prefer places where we are not recognized at all. While in New York for a show, Rajnikant shaved off his moustache and roamed around the streets and no one recognized him. Amit went in for a haircut and lost his hair when he slept through when the barber was cutting his hair and it took him quite some time to grow back his normal hair. I am basically an extrovert by character. And Amit is an introvert. My life as the daughter of a journalist was different. I cannot imagine an educated intelligent woman sitting at home playing cards at kitty parties and gossiping. Mentally not being active is something which I can never be. I am not a prude but I hate to indulge in gossip. I’d rather sit at home with my own people and talk about films”.
What about plans for your children? “Whatever they want to do in life, if I am in a position to do it, I will certainly do it for them. My daughter Shweta writes very well in English and is keen on taking up English literature. My son Abhishek is still too young and does not know whether to take up acting, business management, fly planes or race cars. My kids do not like my films. They find the kind of films in which I had acted like Mili very depressing. My daughter Shweta could not stop crying after she saw Mili and stopped talking to me for nearly two days.”
Reminiscing about her illustrious career, Jaya says, “We had just started working on woman oriented films. The most important aspect of a film is the subject. When I started working in Hindi films, women were being accorded a lot of importance, and the hero was not as important as he is these days. Even in Zanjeer mine was an equally powerful role like that of Lambuji as I used to call Amit. I do not think I have done a film in which people could say, “Oh, Even if she was not there in the film it would not have made any difference. My film Doosari Sita was ahead of its time when it was released 45 years ago. It would have been topical if it were released today because it dealt with the theme of dowry. In the film, I kill my mother in law and go to jail.”
Though she has resigned from the job as the Chairperson of The Children’s Film Society of India, Jaya has been nominated to the post of the Vice President of the International Centre for Children’s Films and Films for Young People known as CIFEJ in French. “There are two Vice Presidents and I am one of them,” says Jaya. “I resigned from my post as the Chairperson of CFSI because the government in power changed and when I submitted my resignation they happily accepted it and asked Shabana Azmi to take over, thus confirming my suspicion that they wanted me to go. I hope the new Chairperson completes all the projects which have been Okayed by me.”
Jaya says that she has written the script for a film which she is now planning to produce and direct herself. It will be an animation film. Will your film include your husband in it? Jaya replies jokingly, “Firstly, I will ask him to work in a film which I make if it requires an actor like him. Secondly I do not think I will have the stamina to sit with his secretary and sort out his dates when I set out to make a film with him.”
When asked to name her favorite artists on the Indian screen till date, Jaya signs off by stating that her favorite artists are Dilip Kumar and, hold your breath, Madhuri Dixit! Happy birthday Jayaji!