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Happy Birthday, Amitji



Amitabh Bachchan
This incident  actually happened  . A gentleman had been harassing Amitji for  a  ‘together’   photograph , a request he had been politely turning down  for a  while….until  Amitji bumped  into this persistent gentleman at a social gathering. Before  he knew it the guy positioned himself next to Amitji and got  clicked together.

Selfie rules.

“The next thing I knew he wanted to use the picture on the cover of exercise books!” exclaimed Amitji softly.

After all these years Amitji  still can’t drive the amazement  at human treachery out of his tones.Though he’s by far the biggest icon of showbiz, his  failure to come to terms with the mind-games that people play is inexplicable .  It’s very difficult to win his confidence. Once you do, it’s  even more difficult to lose his trust. He doesn’t trust easily. But when he finally  does  he trusts blindly and completely.

That’s why my bonding with the Bachchan is so precious. Whenever I  visit Mumbai he makes it a point to make time for me.He doesn’t have to. But he still does.No matter what his schedule we have to meet.

Once he makes you his friend it takes a lot to break his faith in you.And we all know how much some of his former friends have tried .

In his own special way he  lets the other person know  how special he is. While some of my other ‘close’ star- friends in Mumbai like to keep their  friendship  with me   away from prying eyes  Amitji  is extremely demonstrative about his feelings for his true friends. Not to the friends, but to the world at large.

Years ago when Kaun  Banega Crorepati  was blossoming and  growing on   television I got the surprise of my life when one  evening the host  announced  to a contestant from Patna  that  a very dear friend of his  lived in that city.It was a big moment and a turning point in my relationship with him   In a  way  it was his  way of acknowledging his trust in me. Until that point in my rapport with Amitji I  didn’t really feel close to him the way I did with his wife Jaya or his son Abhishek.

In fact I met him long after I got to know Jaya, one of my all-time favourite actresses and , to my  good fortune, a  close friend . For a long time I  shied away  from making an effort to connect with   him .

“You must meet him,you are just being fashionably difficult about him, ” Jaya kept insisting for long.

During my very first interview with him, I covered  my nervousness with cockiness and said, “Jaya steals the show each time  the two of you  come together in any movie.”

There was a disturbing silence . I squirmed. When like a fool I prodded him for an answer he replied, “What can I say to that?”Since then, I’ve  come to know it’s a  part of Mr Bachchan’s basic nature to  suffer cockiness  in silence.

Suffer in  silence, he did when he came home for dinner. Some time ago. That is a story which I cringe when I remember. You see,the security situation was such that he couldn’t be allowed to come to my home. But Amitji insisted.A promise for him is a promise.

Whenever he visited Patna he would visit me. As simple as that.

So one evening he came home accompanied by a fleet of cars. Prakash Jha panicked. But Amitji refused to listen. By the time he arrived the main road in front of my house was  a sea of eager expectant faces all waiting for a glimpse of the Man. All traffic had come to a  halt in front  of  my house. I panicked. There were hundreds of people and cops trying to control them.He arrived and breaking the security cordon rushed right into crowds.

The surge of crowds simply parted for the Man , like Red Sea. No one even tried to touch him.

Every thing that could go wrong went wrong that evening. We were way too nervous to play good hosts. The dinner was terrible. And yet he tweeted about how much he enjoyed the dessert.

The man’s generosity of spirit is unbelievable.

I sincerely believe no biography can do justice to the enigma called Amitabh Bachchan.  We all know the suffering  and humiliation that this mega-star has gone through as a  public figure , first  as  a    politician and then  as an entrepreneur. Betrayed by those very people whom he  trusted, no  one knows how much he    has gone through for simply being  ‘AmitabhBachchan’.

And yet he has never lost faith in  humankind.

I remember  during my first meeting with him, Amitji  hardly spoke. He was attentive and warm. But there was no real verbal interaction from him.  The next morning on the sets of a film he was a different person.  “I hope I was talking sense yesterday. Because I was heavily  medicated for a  health problem,” he told me.

I didn’t tell him that there was hardly any talk to talk about.

It takes him  a   while to find a comfort zone even with the people he trusts.  Once there, he’s all there.  Whether it’s  AnilAmbani or a simple non-celebrity journalist from Patna, the Big B  is equally proud of his association with all his true  friends. He doesn’t measure their value in his life by their social standing or their bank accounts.

It’s a slow and cautious  process  but if he gives you his friendship, it is unconditional and also irrevocable, unless you happen to  do something to hurt him radically. People very close to him   have done him immense damage. These betrayals haven’t made him bitter or cautious in his dealings with human beings.  They’ve just  left him  a bit baffled and bruised.

But his attitude to  human contact remains supremely positive. Amitji loves to reach out to people, make new friends.He loves to connect with his son Abhishek’s generation. And now he is buddies with his grandchildren .

“Whenever I shoot with the younger generation I  want to socialize with them, go out to a discotheque, freak out…But they seem uncomfortable with me,” he was crestfallen.

Not too  many people know about the fun side of Amitji. He’s a great one for SMS, what’s app etc, our mega-star is.   The messages can be pithy or funny or both.  But they make their point tellingly. I’m not at liberty to share some of his naughtier messages here. But I will say one thing. At  72, the Big B remains the youngest person  in the Bachchan household. Almost as old as the bright Aaradhyaa. When he’s at home with family or with  close friends he’s completely relaxed  . And often wickedly humorous.

All the three BachchansAmitjiJaya  and Abhishek   are great hosts.  One of the things that I look forward to in Mumbai is my evening at  Jalsa, the Bachchan residence.   Each time I’m invited for a  meal Jaya and Abhishek   make sure I’ve a  perfect evening. And if for some reason the head of the family is unable to be home he makes sure to call  to say he hopes I enjoy myself in his absence.

You’ve heard  reams about Amitji’s  professionalism.  But you still  haven’t  heard enough.I’ve known this astounding workaholic  to sweat it out under  worst possible circumstances without a word of complaint. In Los Angeles for Sanjay Gupta’sKaante,    Amitji had a severe back problem and a tooth that felt like  labour pains in  the mouth.

He not only bore all the pain he shot action sequences and made sure  the shooting didn’t suffer  on his  account.

While shooting for Gaurang Doshi’s  Deewaar Amitji was ensconced for hours together   in a set depicting  a  cave which was barely  5 feet in height.  At the end of the  day he couldn’t stand straight.  But  there wasn’t  a  word of  complain.

On the fateful day that he was hospitalized and operated upon after a severe stomach pain in November 2005 he was on the phone in the morning with me painstakingly clarifying some idiotic media aberration. In the afternoon I see the news flash stating he was hospitalized.

Later Abhishek told me, “He was talking to you in acute pain from the hospital bed.”

It’s because he voluntarily bends down to fulfil  his professional commitments that he  can  stand so tall, so above all,  where his colleagues and contemporaries in the film industry have to look up to him with binoculars.

Most important of  all, Amitji is a man of  tremendous  integrity. If you’re a friend he’ll go  out of his way to accommodate  you. The number of films he has done just to bail out old friends from financial troubles, is legion.

I know of no other showbiz icon who would   do so much   for his friends.   The few times that I’ve requested him to meet producers he has not only heard them out but also accommodated their films in his clogged diary.

Some years ago  a non-Hindi actor needed Amitji to put in  a  flash guest appearance. Since I knew exactly how crowded his schedule was   I was hesitant to ask.  But since this was a really close friend who genuinely needed AB’s presence in his film, I sent him an SMS.

The response was immediate. And positive. Of course he would do it!

If I ever make a film(which is doubtful) I know one star who will unquestioningly support my endeavour , and that’s   Amitji. I can’t say the same about any one else in the industry.  I only have to  see that unflinching look of warm acceptance in his eyes to know that this man means business….Or rather, he means a lot more than just business.

During a private conversation when we spoke about the state of the nation—when Amitji  expresses concern about the growing vulgarity and mediocrity in every walk of life he speaks in Hindi, and that’s when you know he’s really disturbed — he suddenly said. “I’ve very few friends.  I  depend on a few prople…like you.”

To you Amitji, that may  have been a casual observation. To me  it’s a great responsibility. I hope I am up to it, now  and for as long as  you remain India’s biggest  humblest and most cultured star ever.

Happy Birthday, Amitji. You are the only true rock star in Hindustan.

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