When he left his job in a private company in Calcutta to go to Mumbai to become a film actor AmitabhBachchan took his driver’s licence along in case he needed to forget his celluloid dreams and come down to earth to make a living driving a taxi. Today 47 years after he made his acting debut in K.A.
Abbas’ Saat Hindustani Mr Bachchan is regarded as the single-most influential star-actor of the Indian cinema. If his Angry Young Man persona revolutionized the image of the Hindi film hero in the 1970s and 80s , his miraculous makeover in the new millennium as the host of India’s most avidly watched television game show Kaun Banega Crorepati and as the seasoned trouper in Yash Chopra’s Mohabbatein
and Rakesh Mehra’s Aks and Shoojit Sircar’s Piku , has left all cynics and disbelievers agape. Looking back on his career we see the 58 year old Allahabad-born Amitabh Bachcha n’s sustained and unparalleled superstardom as a triumph of gentlemanly intelligence over the habitual games of one up manship that are played in the film industry.
Being the son of the distinguished poet Harivanshrai Bachchan how did you adjust to the crude and often deleterious atmosphere of showbiz?
Once I decided to be part of the acting profession and accepted that one has occasionally to behave in an outlandish fashion for the camera, I tried to overcome my inhibitions. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about it all when I entered the profession. I went back to my father in Delhi and told him about my reservations. He said, ‘Well you must follow Balraj Sahni’s pattern of working. He was in the film industry and yet outside it’. Balrajji and my father were very good friends. I realized there was no point in getting disturbed by the dichotomies that existed not only in the acting profession but in all walks of life. Today I’m proud to say most of my friends are from the film industry and I enjoy their company. The film industry is a wonderful place. It has given me no reason to feel negatively about it. Everything depends on the way you conduct yourself and what you want your relationship with your profession to be. You can go berserk or stay calm and sober—it’s your choice entirely.
Q. You seem to have purposely walked on the agneepath as far as your career is concerned?
A. You are always on your own. Sometimes you get good opportunities, not just in films but in other walks of life as well . You could be the son of a successful businessman taking up the business empire. That’s a hereditary advantage which I never had . I don’t feel I’ve achieved anything genuinely great. Some of my films have been successful, that’s all. Fate has been kind to me. But I don’t feel I’ve made it big. Compared with some of predecessors I fall hugely short. I genuinely feel I’m nowhere near the legends of Indian cinema, and I’m not saying this for effect. I’ve unabashedly idolized Dilip Saab(Kumar). I find him , Motilal and Balraj
Sahnivery inspiring. In Western cinema I admire Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.
Q. And who among the filmmakers do you admire the most?
A. I’ve always been deeply impressed by the directorial acumen of Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. Among the contemporary filmmakers I’ve done many films with Hrishida(Hrishikesh Mukhe
rjee) and he’s a favourite. Also, Prakash Mehra for his wonderful storytelling, Manmohan Desai for his unbelievable exuberance and Yash Chopra’s poetic narrative. Among the more recent directors I admired Mukul Anand. He was a pioneer among quality-conscious filmmakers. Both Mukul and Tinu Anand brought the sophisticated look of adfilmmaking into Hindi cinema.
Q. How important are awards to you?
A. I don’t get carried away by them. To me the greatest award is the love affection and recognition of the people who see my films. I value the love of the audience tremendously. There are institutions which honour artistes. When they honour me I gladly accept. But I’m not terribly enamoured of the whole process. I think the Common Man or Woman would be hard pressed to remember which actor wins which award during which year. My medium of communication with the people is the camera.
Q. What do you see for yourself in the future as an actor?
A. The important thing is not to get labelled. You can’t just tag someone and say, ‘This is it. Now you should do only this.’ I wouldn’t have gone beyond the Dhoti that I wore in Anand if I thought that way. As for the criticism regarding some of my roles before Mohabbatein, that’s the media’s prerogative. You just have to lie back and take whatever criticism comes your way. I don’t intend to pull my shutters down for several years. As for being judged and evaluated all the time we’re in a medium that attracts attention. That’s what the whole game is about.The public is keen to know more about us all the time.
Q. Are you happy with life?
A. Yes, I am. But there are loads of things that still need to be done. I’d now like to organize my life a little. I would like to have more time for myself and my family. I want more time to do the normal things like reading looking after my home and taking care of my parents. I missed out on spending time with my son Abhishek when he was growing up. I’m still missing out on that. Circumstances have again placed me in a crowded schedule. If I have a job to do I must for it to the best of my abilities. I try to bring in as much clarity and sincerity as possible in everything I do. Sometimes I succeed. Most of the time I don’t. I feel there are so many things to be done, even on television..
Q. Would you like to write your autobiography like your father?
A. No, I don’t think there’s anything worth recording in my life. My life is interesting for me. But I don’t think it’s interesting for others. Even if it is, I’d like to keep it to myself