‘What may seem easy may not be the same for me’
Bachchan on the ‘90%’?of his life, the autograph scene in ‘Slumdog’ and his forthcoming films
Amitabh Bachchan was at the World Economic Forum, Davos, accepting an award when we first got in touch with him for an interview. It was an award that “pays tribute to the role of arts and culture in creation of global understanding and peace”.
Multitasker: Bachchan is shooting for four films now. Gautam Singh / AP
An ubiquitous figure, he looks down at us from hoardings and through our TV screens every day—perhaps the reason why we tend to take the “most famous man in India” (as the protagonist of Slumdog Millionaire described him) for granted, forgetting why he occupies that special “Big B” place in our cinema, our pop culture and our collective consciousness. In two email interviews, Bachchan told us about the new award, his critics and criticizing Danny Boyle. Edited excerpts:
You’ve recently been honoured with the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum. How does this award motivate you? How better can Indian films and actors create global understanding and peace?
Cinema is a great integrator. It has always been a catalyst in subscribing to the concept of same emotions to humans from diverse cultures. We laugh at the same jokes, we sing and dance at the same songs, we cry at the same emotion, as we sit together in the darkened hall of a cinema theatre.
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We do not question the caste, creed or colour of the person sitting next to us. There can be no better example of togetherness and understanding in this fast deteriorating world of hate and divisiveness than this. I take pride in the fact that I belong to a fraternity that propagates and indulges in such integration.
An award is a personal or collective recognition towards an individual’s contribution in his or her field of activity. Any kind of recognition will always be a motivator for betterment of the individual’s vocation. The Crystal Award to me is a recognition of Indian cinema and India, rather than my individual contribution.
I accept it with great humility and thankfulness. I shall not crave for an award, for I believe my greatest award is the love, affection and support of the millions that see my work and acknowledge it.
You have spent 40 years in our film industry. How do you look back at your journey? What are the most important landmarks?
Metaphorically, I would not want to look back but look ahead. To tomorrow and hopefully the many more tomorrows to come. But 40 years is two-thirds of my life of 67. Take 18 years away from it for the mandatory period of growing up and education, and you have 49 left. Of the 49, 40 to films. That’s over 90%.
I must perforce look at it with great love and nostalgia. If I have been in a profession for that long with out any regret and remorse, it must obviously mean much to me. It has been all-encompassing and all-consuming, every day of which has been a significant landmark.
Any setbacks that you have learnt from?
None. Every setback has been an education to learn from. Every success, though modest, has been a motivator to improve.
If you were to be a critic, how would you assess your own body of work?
Mediocre! I have had the privilege though to have been in the company of some of the great directors and actors of my profession, who have truly been masters. I doubt I ever lived up to their expectations. It was their generosity to have tolerated my incompetence. I strive to improve every day.
Recently you were criticized for accusing the makers of Slumdog Millionaire of portraying India in a poor light. Some critics have even been malicious. How do you deal with it?
The criticism on my accusation towards the film Slumdog Millionaire was mischievous and misdirected. The remarks from others on my blog were dubiously taken as mine and I was castigated for it and continue to be. This is uncalled for. I never made any remark on the film or its content, as has been portrayed by the media. However, I spoke to Mr Danny Boyle, the director of the film, and Mr Anil Kapoor and clarified that, so any further comment either from the media or anyone else in this regard is neither desired nor relevant.
Critics of cinema are appointed to give comments on cinema and its creative content. It is their constitutional right of freedom of expression. I look upon criticism as a means to learn from the mistakes pointed out by them. And graciously thank those that appreciate.
There are other kinds of criticism that celebrities invite. This is part of the terrain that we occupy. We learn to live with it. If there is discrepancy, we try to correct it; if there is truth, we accept it and move on.
Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? What are your thoughts on the film? And if yes, how did you react to the scene where young Jamal comes desperately to take “Amitabh ka autograph”?
Yes, I have seen it. I saw it in Paris before it was released in India. I was in Paris for my retrospective at the Salon du Cinema Festival. The film is well crafted and executed. The scene in question is part of the screenplay and its execution is the creative discretion of the director. In a free world everyone has the liberty to freely express themselves. Danny Boyle has done just that.
You have done all kinds of roles and acted in all kinds of cinema. As an artist, what is that one sensibility or world view that defines Amitabh Bachchan?
My sensibilities and world view on the kind of roles I play and the kind of cinema I do is based on the views and sensibilities of the makers I work with. They have always made films keeping in mind the basic ethos of our land, our culture, and the norms within which our administration, through the censor board, specifies. Some basics being good to prevail over evil, poetic justice, adherence to the guidelines of our Constitution.
What next? Are you taking it easier now, after your illness last year?
I am working in four films right now and am in talks with others for some more. Taking it easy is a relative term. What may seem easy to you may not be the same for me, and vice-versa.
What’s the role that you have always wanted to play?
I play what is offered to me and play it to the best of my capability and understanding and acumen.
India will soon be going through another general election. What is the single most pressing issue that politicians need to pay attention to in our country? Can India ever have its own Barack Obama?
I am not a politician and most certainly do not possess the desired knowledge to be able to direct my attention towards them and their profession, with regard to what they need to be doing for the country. They are representatives of the people through a democratic process and should perform accordingly.
Tell us something about the roles we’ll see you in in the near future. Are you shooting for a film now?
I have just finished Aladdin by Sujoy Ghosh and am shooting for Johnny Mastana, Teen Patti and three more to go on the floors by the end of this month—Pa and two others. A genie in Aladdin, a math professor in Teen Patti and a husband in Johnny Mastana.