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Amitabh Bachchan Speaks to Subhash K Jha

Published: Tuesday, August 29, 2006, 11:29 [IST]

By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How was the experience of working in a very unusual film called Nishabd?
We finished our entire work in just twenty days. I've worked in schedules that are shorter. But yes, not when I'm the pivotal character.

Amazing, how could such a complex film could be made in such a short span ?
The director has to be very clear in his mind about what he wants and how to do it.. Ramu had the entire cast and crew tuned in to the project. All of us were taken to Munnar to work under very quiet working conditions. We were the only people around, no visitors.

That peace of mind must have been wonderful for you.
Yes , it was. There was not a single person around from outside the crew. That certainly enhanced the work atmosphere. It's not as if one can't work under pressure. But I wish we could work more often in the circumstances created in Munnar. It makes life a lot easier. We were doing at an average, 5-6 scenes a day. All credit to Ram Gopal Varma for thinking of this place and for his clarity of vision which saved us a lot of time. He knew exactly what he wanted...in his mind and on paper.

The character of an autumnal man falling in love with a 18-year old is quite unique.
I think it's quite marvelously conceived. I know there have speculations about the film's content. Those aware of the book and the film are expecting another Lolita. They think Ram Gopal Varma is exploiting the same values that are there in the original material. But you must appreciate the honesty of the filmmaker. Even when Ramu was doing Sarkar with me he was completely upfront about his intentions. He mentioned in the opening titles that he was inspired by The Godfather. Yet there was very little of Godfather in Sarkar. Likewise the source of Nishabd has been Lolita. But what he has done with it , you'll have to wait and see.

Considering the sensitive nature of the theme did you approach your role with some trepidation?
I've faith in Ram Gopal Varma. He's a very passionate filmmaker. He has an incredible memory for information on cinema. He can rattle off dates and names for films at random. He's alert to every detail to every detail on filmmaking. The whole film is ready and edited in his mind when he comes on the sets. While doing one shot he'd think it would be appropriate for another shot. He'd quickly ask us to do a dress change and take the shot.

Still there had some kind of apprehension about the territory you were going into?
Well yes. Knowing the kind of social taboos and norms we live with, thinking of Lolita did seem alarming. I was a little disbelieving when Ramu suggested it to me. When I read the script and saw his treatment of the script I knew there was nothing to fear. Ramu is a serious filmmaker. And we must credit him with a fair amount of aesthetic sense.

How was your costar Jiya?
She's very good! You can't believe this is her first time. She was very relaxed and natural.

Was she nervous of you?
I don't notice these things. I just play my character. They were all very relaxed. It was wonderful to have Revathi play my wife. We were last seen together on Romesh Sharma's film Dil Jo Bhi Kahey. With a restricted number of characters in a secluded area we worked well together. That part of Kerala(Munnar) is very beautiful. I think Ramu wanted that kind of look. The kind of colour code used in Nishabd is unique. Another young girl Shraddha was working with Ramu for the first time. Just having all those youngsters around is such a learning experience.

I'm sure they learn a lot from you.
They don't learn from me. I learn from them.

And now you're starting Sholay with Ramu?
Yes. I need to sit with Ramu. He has told me what he has in mind. We need to discuss the nitty-gritty.

Playing Gabbar Singh is so tricky considering where Amjad Khan took the role in the original.
I'd do it exactly the way Ramu tells me to. As a creative professional I must not have qualms about doing a role that's been done before. If we've decided to make Sholay we should go about it in a professional manner.

Your next release?
Well an old commitment Zamaanat for a dear friend producer S. Ramanathan is being released.

Abhishek has gone from strength to strength...
Not many young actors get contrasting opportunities like Sarkar and KANK in such a short span of time.It's wonderful that Abhishek got it.. But somewhere it also it shows the confidence of the respective makers in the actor.Two different directors from two different schools and ideologies seeing something different in the same actor..and then going ahead to manifest this difference on screen....it speaks volumes about their perception too...and if the actor delivers...and I pray that he does..then it speaks volumes on the capability of the actor as well.

You sound very emotional.
For Abhishek who was loaded with expectations and crushed under the burden of successive failures, to suddenly find himself as the chosen one, is God's benevolence and the incumbent vagaries of this profession.. My assessment of him as a performer will always be somewhat harsh, but if you want to hear something quotable, here goes .....the projectionist at the laboratory where the prints of Sarkar were being checked , after viewing the film , said 'Aisee picture to maine pehle kabhi dekha nahin...Amitabh Bachchan aur Abhishek Bachchan ka acting dekhne ke baad, yeh maloom nahin ki kaun kiska baap hai !!'

Amitji, you were recently caught in a flurry of tax controversies. Did they weigh on your mind?
There is no controversy, no weight on my mind, no unnecessary badgering and no annoyance from any quarter. Remember always. Two things are a constant in life - death and income tax!! The department has a job to do and they do it efficiently. The Income tax is an exemplary organisation and I have the greatest respect for it, as does the rest of the nation. Rest assured, if you do wrong you will not be spared, irrespective of who you are. And if you do right, no one shall be able to touch you irrespective of who you are.

Your fans took to the streets protesting against your tax badgering?
I am not, and shall never be a part of any of the so called demonstrations and reactions that one witnessed during this issue. Fans have peculiar ways of expressing their affection. They can build temples in your name and take to the streets as well. We have no control over them. Not being allowed to go and see a particular film repeatedly, provokes a fan, quite unnecessarily, to commit suicide. There are all kinds of people. We have no control over them. I believe I am an honest law- abiding citizen of this country. Last year I was declared by the department as the highest individual tax payer in the country. I pay my taxes on time, I respond to all their queries in time and if, as per law, I have the liberty to question a demand made by them, I question them on time. I visit the department on occasion, because the notice by them desires personal presence. And even if I have an option of representation, I like to go and get first -hand information. Nobody is going to stop me from doing that. And the department is not so stupid to get influenced by my presence. The law of the land has no space for exception.

Amitji, what was this ridiculous controversy over the sunglasses ?
Ask the people who perpetrated it. I did not.

The de Montford university at Leicester has conferred a doctorate on you. How does Dr Bachchan sound to you?
'Dr Bachchan' was my father ! A Ph.D in English Literature from Cambridge, on WB Yeats and Occultism , in 1954, perhaps the first Indian to get this distinction from that University. That achievement shall remain embedded in me always. None of my achievements, honors and degrees can and will ever match that. The Jhansi University conferred a doctorate on me the year before last, De Montford does one this month and at the end of the year the Delhi University wishes an honorary doctorate for me too. I am of course overwhelmed and deeply humbled by this recognition and I express my extreme gratitude to each of these prestigious institutions, but truly feel unworthy of them. My contribution, if at all there is any, shall always pale in front of my father's.

You come from a family with an acute literary/ scholarly bent of mind. How much of an academic are you at heart? Do you get time to read a lot? Who are your favourite authors?
I am an acute failure in this department, as I am in various others. I am a graduate in science and have lived and been brought up in an atmosphere of poetry and literature and academics due to my father. Whatever I have, which isn't much really, is all that I have imbibed or accumulated because of my proximity to my parents. There has not been any concerted effort to follow or pursue academics. There is a deep desire to do so. But how and when, I just do not know.

You're just being your over-modest self.
I'm serious. The genes reflect in the progeny. My niece, Nilima Bachchan, Ajitabh's eldest, has just done a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering from UK. If there is a genuine Dr Bachchan after my father it is her. My other niece, Namrata is a painter and writer. My daughter Shweta, is a voracious reader and a great mind. From our side of the family she is perhaps the only informal academic. But I get no time to read. I collect the latest books and browse through them and store them for a rainy day, hoping that they shall give me company when I am confined to a chair or a bed. But I am a bad reader. I am presently content with my fathers books and his wisdom.

Do you think formal education is a necessary qualification for an actor? You've been to college. Mr Dilip Kumar hasn't.
I think a formal education is necessary for an individual pursuing any vocation. Formal education just does not bring in academic knowledge. It brings with it curriculum, discipline, forebearence, competitiveness, understanding, vision and so many other qualities that are so essential for everyday existence in a normal society. My days in college may not have a direct reflection on my present profession. But I cannot wish away the other aspects of its benefits to me as an individual. An actor's performance will always betray his inner build -up as a human. Dilip Saab may not have gone to college. But can you really doubt the reflection of the quality of his inner self in his performances. That he developed these qualities independently and not through an educational institution, gives so much more credence to his unassailable genius.

How much did you stress on Abhishek and Shweta's education?
We stressed a lot. But in the end our bottom line was, educate yourself yes, but educate yourself to be a good human first.

Mumbai was recently rain-deluged again. Was it a trying time for you and your family?
The rain played its part again. Perhaps not as severely as last year but bad enough. There were moments of anxiety and stress. But some initial preparedness helped in tiding over some of the negatives. At the end of the day it all boils down to natures vagaries. You cannot battle it. I have seen even in the most affluent and developed countries, systems crashing and cities coming to a complete halt with a tenth of Nature'a fury that Mumbai goes through during the monsoons.

From Rang De Basanti to Krissh to Corporate...2006 is an exceptional year for Hindi cinema.
Yes... An exceptional year for the film industry..and we are not done yet. Hoping and praying that the rest of 2006 is equally if not more exceptional..

I believe you were mentioned in British parliament?
Yes, the ceremony and occasion apart, what was most breathtaking was the mention in the annals of British Parliament and therefore in British History, acknowledging my contribution through a motion passed on the floor of the House of Commons, and to top it all, a confirmation of it by the Leader of the House, Jack Straw in the august premises, during the days' proceedings, as I sat in the gallery witnessing all this. What followed thereafter were personal meetings, with almost half the cabinet, including Foreign Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett, now very much in the news on Lebanon, and her great desire to seek autographs from me for the Indian staff working in her office, or else she would have 'a heavy price to pay'.

Wasn't there a fun-raising dinner for Mumbai's blast victims?
The next day a dinner was held in my honour in the House of Commons for over 200 and it was most gratifying for me to, have turned the event at my insistence, to raise funds for the victims of the Mumbai Blasts. And may I add that the two largest donors were from Pakistan. Spontaneously, we raised approx Pounds Sterling 26,000 and my dear friend and younger brother Amar Singhji, who had accompanied me, matched the entire amount to make it 50,000.

How will you make sure the money reaches the victims?
We are going to distribute this personally to the victims as soon as we can obtain relevant legal permissions from the Government to bring this amount in. Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, my friend and host will be writing to the concerned authorities, for clearances.

So a pleasurable experience?
Yes, I must tell you meeting the community in Leicester was another high. The affection and the love of the people never ceases to amaze me, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. At the end of it all, I respect the University for this recognition, but 'Dr Bachchan' is a term that shall remain always with the memory of my father. He was the true bearer of this title. I would never ever acknowledge the 'use' of this abbreviation before my name.

Topics: ram gopal varma, lolita, filmmaker, godfather, ostar jiya, romesh sharmas film, dil jo bhi kahey, kerala, sholay, ramu, gabbar singh, amjad khan, zamaanat, ramanathan, maine pehle kabhi dekha nahin, dekhne ke baad, namrata, mr dilip kumar, hindi cinema, bollywood, abhishek bachchan, dilip kumar, amitabh bachchan, nishabd, sarkar
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