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Amitabh Bachchan: 75 and ‘not out’ of filmdom

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Amitabh Bachchan

New Delhi, Oct 10 : Age is just a number for Amitabh Bachchan, who turns 75 on Wednesday. His work diary is already spilling into 2019, but he remains firmly “not out”, continuing a glorious journey that has lasted over four decades.

In an industry where roles are seldom written for veteran actors, Bachchan is experimenting with looks, characters and themes with an enthusiasm and passion of a newcomer.

“When he comes on the set, he is always in character. I never feel like I’m directing Mr Amitabh Bachchan. I feel I am directing the character,” Umesh Shukla, who is working with the “living legend” in “102 Not Out”, told IANS.

“When he steps out of his vanity van, he comes out in the type of mood that is required for a scene and makes the atmosphere like that. It’s fun to work with him,” added Shukla, who has cast veteran actor Rishi Kapoor as a 75-year-old and Bachchan as his 102-year-old father in the movie.

Another challenging role that Bachchan has taken up is in “Thugs of Hindostan”, which will see him in an armoured look with a heavy beard. His co-star Aamir Khan, who will be sharing screen space with Bachchan for the first time, has been a long-time admirer.

“His aura, action, every nuance of his acting was such a fulfilling experience in cinema,” Aamir said of watching Big B’s films in theatres in his younger days.

But as he rings in his milestone birthday, Bachchan wants no celebrations.

He is off to the Maldives for a vacation with wife Jaya, son Abhishek, daughter Shweta, daughter-in-law Aishwarya and granddaughter Aaradhya. And he will be back to work soon.

“A small and peaceful family time is more than enough for me,” Big B had once said.

Film historian S.M.M. Ausaja, whose forthcoming book “The Bachchans” retraces the journey of what he calls the “premier family of Bollywood”, said Bachchan’s “extraordinary” success is a “spectacular example of talent and luck”.

“If you’re very talented and low on luck, you’re Naseeruddin Shah. Or if you’re low on talent and high on luck, you’re Jeetendra. In Mr Bachchan’s case, it has been the right mix. He was unconventional in looks and amidst a string of actors for whom it was the romance genre all the way, he was like a whiff of fresh air. His mannerisms and style were his own,” Ausaja told IANS.

Having started with a role as one of the seven protagonists in “Saat Hindustani”, Bachchan next featured in the Rajesh Khanna-starrer “Anand” and did a few more films. But it wasn’t until the 1973 movie “Zanjeer” that he came into his own.

“There was no stopping him then,” Ausaja said, pointing to some of his “sensitive films” like “Ek Nazar”, “Mili” and “Abhimaan”, as well as hits like “Deewaar”, “Sholay”, “Mard”, Naseeb”, “Namak Haraam”, “Kabhie Kabhie”, “Don”, “Hum” and “Shahenshah”.

In 1978, he was at the top of his game with movies like “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, “Trishul”, “Don”, “Kasme Vaade”, “Ganga Ki Saugandh” and “Besharam” doing well.

A near-fatal injury on the sets of “Coolie” in 1982 led him to take a break from films and he ventured into politics from his native Allahabad. He contested the Lok Sabha election on the Congress ticket in 1984, but didn’t continue his political journey for long.

He found himself named in the infamous Bofors scandal, but was cleared of the allegations 25 years later and remains apolitical even though he associates himself with issue-related social campaigns for the government once in a while.

Until 1988, when “Shahenshah” was released, Bachchan — son of legendary poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan — was in top form.

“Post-‘Shahenshah’, his fall began when directors started presenting him as larger-than-life characters in films like ‘Toofan’ and ‘Jaadugar’. He endured a lot of flops and other problems until the start of the millennium when he came up with the television show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ in 2000. In fact, Mr Bachchan was named ‘Star of the Millennium’ at the worst phase of his career.

“But then, after ‘KBC’, his meteoric rise began and he started playing his age on screen and reinvented himself with every project — be it ‘Sarkar’, ‘Baghban’, ‘Bunty Aur Babli’, ‘Paa’, ‘Black’… His popularity is a binding factor for the country,” Ausaja said.

For someone who was considered too thin and too tall to fit in the Hindi film industry, Bachchan’s run in showbiz — to many — is what dreams are made of.

He failed when he launched Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd in the 1990s, but his acting acumen has taken him places.

Bachchan has earned epithets like “Angry Young Man” and “Shahenshah”, and has won the love of fans who throng the gates of his house in Mumbai every Sunday to meet him.

Shukla said Bachchan must be still working 14 to 15 hours a day. “It’s commendable at his age. He is always on his toes and I have never seen him tired…”

“Sometimes we have to tell him to take it easy. He says, ‘No, I’ll do it’. That’s his spirit,” Shukla said.(IANS)

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Originality is a Dichotomous Terminology, Says Megastar Amitabh Bachchan

Now that you have completed 50 years of acting, is there a memorable character beyond the ubiquitous Vijay, one that is embedded in your memory recesses

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Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan (Wikimedia Commons)

By Sandeep Bamzai

In today’s times we all have to sing for our supper, says Amitabh Bachchan, as he completes 50 years of acting, in an exclusive interview with IANS.

The voice in your ear has a certain crispness to it, over time, it has become gruffer, sand papery and rasping. It is one of India’s most precious baritones, a ne plus ultra, mono typical and unique. As he mouths a dialogue for his new thriller ‘Badla’, the growly voice resonates in my echo chamber: ‘me vo 6 dekhu jo tum dikha rahi ho ya vo 9 jo mujhe dekhna hai”! It has a different quality about it, you don’t need surround sound to support it, it stays with your residual memory. Amitabh Bachchan and his craft has captivated several generations now, ageless as he is, the thespian has completed 50 years in an industry which he straddles like a colossus.

At the outset, Mr Bachchan in his interview with IANS wanted to send a message over something that has caused him great pain and distress in recent memory: “Before all else, come laden with our hearts and mind in condolence and prayers for the brave hearts we lost in Pulwama, and the brave hearts that fight and protect us each hour for our safety and security!”

During the course of the interview, there are many matter of fact, phlegmatic and perfunctory replies from one of the most popular film stars of our time, the strong underpinning of modesty coming through at all times. Very clear that the aura and adulation is undeserved, he reckons, but fanboys and fan girls think otherwise. Epithets, hyperbole and verbosity have come his way, but he wonders why, such is the self-effacement and humility. Yet people remain in his thrall. The Inquilab in him (name given to him at birth by his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan, but later changed to Amitabh at the behest of Sr Mr Bachchan’s poet-friend, remains undimmed searching for fulfillment as an actor.

Excerpts:

*How would you describe your 50-year journey from the time Abbas Saheb picked a young man from Calcutta to be one of Saat Hindustani? To Sujoy Ghosh and Badla…

Another day another job then … But I have worked in the past with Sujoy, I liked the story and the director, the element of suspense and thrill in the story line got to me. Sujoy has made Kahaani and is restless, seeking perfection from his artistes, very clear in his thought process and how he wants to roll with it. He is understands the grammar of cinema intelligently.

*A fulfilling journey where you have worked with great directors and actors, would you say Hrishida and Pran are your favourites, they were both lucky for you in different ways…you made 10 films with Hrishida?

Every director, actor, writer, producer, colleague that I have worked with shall ever remain my favourites …

*Lots of top American actors pursued the method acting model as crafted by Lee Strasberg whom we then saw as Hyman Roth in Godfather 2 pitted against his pupil Al Pacino, it was riveting cinema. When you hit your strides, did you take acting classes or consciously or unconsciously imitate someone or does anyone influence your work?

No, I never took any acting lessons, nor did I consciously or unconsciously imitate someone, unless asked by my makers to do so .. and there were a few such occasions! I have no idea on the method of acting, and have never taken or hit any strides.

Pink Movie
Amitabh Bachchan. Pink

*Whose work do you admire in Hollywood? Christopher Plummer is ageless and seems to be getting better…ditto for Clint Eastwood more as a director though? Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, James Dean …

*One hears of Ranveer Singh living and breathing his roles these days…or getting into character, I am sure many of your roles would have required major preparation, for instance ‘Pa’ or ‘Black’, if you could explain your craft for such difficult roles?

I have no craft and no idea of what the others do in what they do so brilliantly .. I have followed as diligently as possible the written words of the writer, and the direction given to me by the directors! For ‘BLACK’, we learnt the sign language of the differently-abled! ‘Badla’ is a different genre, a thriller which for years now has hooked us, for someone of my generation, ‘Mahal’ remains embedded in memory recesses since it was a cult film from 1949 starring Ashok Kumar and Madhubala with seminal music. They have been part and parcel of Hindi cinema’s strong fabric. Obviously Alfred Hitchcock was the master of this genre. Thrillers are an integral part of the history of universal cinema. (In his formative years Mr Bachchan himself acted in two very powerful suspense thrillers — ‘Parwana and Gehri Chaal’.)

*You have always said that you have been fortunate in your acting career — me akela hi chala ja rha tha, log judte chale gaye aur karvan banta chala gaya — is that the credo that has determined your life?

I do not know the meaning of credo in my profession .. I do know that I have been fortunate …

*During a large part of your peak years, you actually had a very difficult relationship with media, including a major part when media boycotted you…and you now have a fabulous relationship with media. Explain this paradox, and did you work towards bridging the divide, what led to it in the first place?

I am certain you are more than aware that one can never be too close to the media or too far away from them! The media is the fourth estate, the conscience of the nation. I shall have the capacity, or the audacity to live with my conscience, but not that of the media’s. It would be foolish of me to think so.

*Fifty years of greasepaint and yet the fire remains undiminished. Where do you get your energy from? Or is it respect for work which defines your underlying ethic?

I am at loss as to why you or many others ask me this question?

*In the immediate years after ‘Saat Hindustani’, there were many flops but some seminal work even in a small role in Sunil Dutt’s ‘Reshma aur Shera’, memories of that experience and any other before ‘Anand’?

Just the desire to be able to get another job. Most of the times there was failure …

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Amitabh Bachchan. Twitter

*Back in Sherwood, did you do any Shakespeare in school, somewhere in your baritone and acting, there is a touch of the thespian which emerges in many of your recent films, is it right to make this connection?

No, never did Shakespeare in school …

*Now that you have completed 50 years of acting, is there a memorable character beyond the ubiquitous Vijay, one that is embedded in your memory recesses and why, I have many favourites…

No I have none …

*Is Hindi cinema in good hands with a New Gen of young directors and actors and middle-of-the-road cinema and actors like Ranveer Singh, Ayushmaan Khurana, Alia Bhatt, Rajkumar or even the Sher from ‘Gully Boy’ telling simple tales that resonate with people? Biopics or true life stories with a slight amount of poetic licence seem to be doing well, Akshay has perfected this art form, you too are doing ‘Jhund’ with Nagraj Manjule. Tell us if this is due to the absence of original scripts or they are the flavour of the season.

Times and circumstances change. They change for every profession too. Films are no different. The present generation is an audacious package of incredible talent! I am in immense admiration of them, and am fortunate that I get to play a small part in their company. It is an education for me. They provide a different and alternative world-view and this is educative. Never ever underestimate the credibility, dexterity, adroitness and skill of the writers and makers of today’s entertainment world. They have been the reason and cause of the flourish and proliferated blossoming in our creativity for the past 100 + years! To have a meaning and standing after 100 years is not a joke. It deserves respect and dignity. Originality is a dichotomous terminology. It needs to be used and expressed most carefully!

*Do you get irritated with the fact that now actors have to sing for their supper as in market and promote their films aggressively and devote a lot of time and energy which wasn’t the case when you were the undisputed ‘Shahenshah’. How and why have things changed in tactics?

Look around and about you, dear sir .. not just actors, but does not everyone in today’s times have to sing for their supper?

*From eight releases in a year in your time, the stars now do one movie in a year or even two years, is this a function of New Age commerce?

It is a recognition of better management, both financial and personal. The good thing is that music and melody are back in Hindi cinema, Music is enjoyed by one and all, music plucks the chords and strings of our souls.

*From the age of parallel cinema to small cinema like ‘Raazi’ and ‘Badhai Ho’ taking on pulp, how has Hindi cinema evolved? Has the palate of Hindi filmgoers changed or has the definition of pulp itself changed?

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I do not know what is ‘pulp’ or ‘parallel’. Cinema is cinema — size and girth, small or big are measurement tags on apparel. The palate of every generation in every corner of the world, changes, not just for film but for every walk of life!

*Any memories of ‘Geraftar’ for that is probably the only movie where Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and you shared screen space?

It was an honour, privilege and a most humbling experience, to be in the same film as Rajni and Kamal. (IANS)