We hardly know anything about him. Do you feel there is a shortage of literature on Mr Bachchan?
Why only him? There ‘s an acute shortage of literature about every film personality . It’s such a pity that there’re no authoritative books on actors like Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar. Personally I’d love to know about their craft more than how they sleep and what they wear.
Do you think Mr Bachchan has got the recognition he deserves?
You know , there’s one question about him that always plays on my mind. Why is Amitabh Bachchan such a big star in our country? Why does he have such a fan following? Why do people empathize with him? I feel social scientists psychologists and monstrous need to address themselves to these question. You know we need to take our cinema more seriously rather than constantly treat it as a source of frivolous writing. Serious analyses on cinema does entail the risk of criticism. But then the risk is worth taking.
How do you assess Amitabh Bachchan as an actor?
To begin with, he’s a good and sensitive actor . Very observant also. I think he has all the qualities necessary for a good actor . But the sur of his performances always depend on whom he works with. You see his performances as being so different according to the directors . The Amitabh Bachchan in a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film was completely different from an Amitabh Bachchan in a Manmohan Desai film. There’s a perceptible tonal change in the films that he did with various directors. And then there were those films where he just played according to his screen image instead of getting into character. I guess some directors wanted to capitalize on his larger-than-life image instead of tapping the actor. There was a period in his career when that was happening too often. That period saddened me. I always thought he could do much more.
What was that ‘more’ which you wanted in his career?
Better stories, more layered characters, and a completely different style of acting. But I don’t know if audiences in this country would accept him in roles that went against his image. In Hollywood all the major stars can experiment with their talent far more than in this country. Here even if an actor changes his voice people jump and say , “It flopped because you changed your voice.”
You mean Agneepath, don’t you?
Yes. What kind of logic is that? What’s an actor supposed to do? On one end you accuse him of doing the same thing over and over again. And when he tries to bring in different shades you accuse him of failing because he was being different. That isn’t a problem with Amitabh Bachchan alone. It’s a problem that all actors face in our country. Audiences and critics say they want an actor to be different. But when he does it, they’ll turn around to say it isn’t working. It’s very strange. But if you do parallel cinema you’re called fantastic even if you give a bad performance. Even the parallel cinema has its own biased logistics. Pankaj Kapoor hasn’t been given his dues although he’s a fantastic actor. Om Puri is such a good actor. And yet he hardly gets the recognition he deserves. He’s played all kinds of roles, and so well. But no one talks about him.
That’s because he doesn’t have a heroic personality.
Do all our stars have to be heroic in stature? You know when you acquire a name in the offbeat cinema you can get away with mediocre performances. But a star like Amitabh Bachchan who gives good performances even in bad films is torn into shreds because he’s a star .
Which are your favourite AB performances?
I liked him in Parwana. I loved him in Saudagar because he was normal and so real, full of human frailties. I loved him in Agneepath, that’s one of my favourites. I liked him in Aks. And of course all those Hrishikesh Mukherjee films like Jurmana and Bemisal. By the way one of Amitji’s own favourites is Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Alaap. I don’t like that film at all. The story and moral values were right. But I think Hrishikaku was going through a very idealistic phase when he made it.
Do you think any other actor would take over from where Mr Bachchan would one day leave off?
Hard to say. Times have changed. The concepts of heroism have changed. Today the computer is the hero. Human heroes have become extinct. Where are the heroes in politics? There was a time when we had Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru…. Our country is in need of heroes in every walk of life
Do you feel Mr Bachchan has achieved his optimum level as an actor?
You mean like Paul Muni? No, not really. I think he can do a lot more and a lot better. And he isn’t to blame for that. It isn’t he who has set limits to his talent. It’s the people creating characters and moulding his performance whose vision is limited.
Where do you see his career going?
The senior actors are no longer going to be ignored. I think right from the start Amitabh Bachchan brought a lot of dignity to the Hindi film hero.
But Mr Bachchan thinks there are no roles for actors his age?
That’s true. Look at Sean Connery or Harrison Ford in Hollywood. Roles are tailor made for him. Amitji does get important roles but none specially written for him. Then again there’re young directors lwho do write roles for him. That’s because they’re young and they have the vision. They’re making films not just for a local audience but to compete with international cinema. Like Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, Rakesh and Karan will make a difference to Hindi cinema. Even in Vipul Shah ‘s Aankhen the main dramatic focus was on Amitji, Paresh Rawail and Sushmita Sen. And yet the film wouldn’t have worked without Akshay Kumar and Arjun Rampal. So even the younger actors today realize the importance of a character beyond the footage. If Vipul Shah could convince so many big names to play the main roles then I think we can safely say a time has come when we’re staring at a change in the way actors and directors look at commercial cinema.
It has taken a long time, hasn’t it?
It has. I remember I did Sholay although I had no footage because I felt it would turn out to be a landmark film . My role was small and yet so significant. Without A. K. Hangal Saab, Sachin and me there would have been no emotions in Sholay. Today’s actors have begun to recognize the significance of character over footage. It’s time to stop making immature assessments about X actor making chutti of Y actor. Small or big, an actor must have the confidence to carry off any role which Amitji has. He’s like an obedient schoolboy on the sets. He does his work as dilgently as any sincere officegoer doing his 10-5 job. He’ll go on time , do what he’s asked to and then come back home having earned his living with utmost honesty. He doesn’t let the outside world affect his performances.
What’s the one thing that future actors generations should learn from Mr Bachchan?
How to be diligent, conscientious, honest and dignified towards one’s work. He has never been apologetic about being an actor.