EXCLUSIVE: Amitabh Bachchan interview - "Cheeni Kum climax was changed!" says the Big B.
Amitabh Bachchan has won the national award for the third time in his life. At a time when most of his contemporaries are either doing bit roles or producing films for themselves, Bachchan, at 64, continues to have directors create projects with him in mind. The legendary actor in a conversation with our editor Mohan Deep talks about how the climax of 'Cheeni Kum' was changed to keep the focus on his character and gets nostalgic about the first ever award he won.
Q: Amitji, this is the third time you have received the National Award as a best actor. Are you as happy as you were when you got it for your debut in ‘Saat Hindustani’ or ‘the theory of diminishing returns’ has worked making it meaningless for you though you may be too politically correct to express indifference to the awards.
A: I am equally happy. The first is always excitable, but today with the third I feel honored and humbled and grateful.
Q: Which is the first ever award you have ever received – however ‘small’ – for acting? When was that? And how did you feel at that time?
A: In school. And then a really serious one called the Kendall Cup ( named after Shashi Kapoor’s father in law, the great theatre personality that toured India with Shakespereana ) in Sherwood College my boarding school. Great moment. Full of emotion and pride, because my parents were in the audience when the Award was announced soon after the play that we were doing on stage, got over.
Q: In Hollywood, if an actor wins Oscar award – or if a movie gets an Oscar – they benefit commercially but here, getting the National award is only an honor. Even IIFA award or for that matter ‘Film Fare’ and other awards, don’t translate into more business. Why, in your opinion, Indian audience reacts differently to awards?
A: In India another thing does not happen. The review of the critics does not affect box office. Guess for similar reasons awards do not necessarily change the fortunes of a film.
Q: I have often read about your allergy with the word ‘Bollywood’ – in fact, my generation always referred to the film industry as ‘industry’ – but what have you to say about the fact that most of Hindi films (including ‘Black’) are rip-offs of movies made in Hollywood?
A: I will not entirely agree with that. Getting inspired with a film and then constructing it to Indian tastes is also a creative process. Our Parliamentary system, democracy, legal procedures, police criminal procedures, our communication systems ( this one included ), are all British or Western. Would you refer to them as ‘rip offs’, or as harshly as you do in the question. The West does it too. ‘Magnificent seven’ was from the Japanese ‘Seven Samurai’. Many of our epics and films are fed into the creative process of Hollywood producers by Indians in their teams. Hollywood itself has borrowed so many times from French and British and German and Spanish Cinema. Are all your reviews and interviews and the style of your writing original? Do you not get inspired by the writings of prominent newspapers and journals? Why are you representing and working for a Western concept, website? At least we make our films in Hindi, the National language !
Q: Mukul Anand once told me that it is impossible for a restless soul like you to remain idle and Rakesh Kumar (who made ‘Natwarlal’ with you) too has echoed it telling me that ‘This man’s brain cannot stop…kuchh na kuchh hota hi rehta hai or words to this effect. This energy level is present in high achievers like M F Husain. I consider it a very high energy level. What is the source of this energy? Is it a desire to leave something for posterity, for future generations?
A: I read a fact that the human being uses only a third of this entire brain in his lifetime. I am trying to endeavor to change that percentage.
Q: You gave a fantastic performance in an off-beat role in 'Cheeni Kum' but there is a question mark about the climax scene. It seems more logical for the scene to climax with Zohra Sehgal telling Paresh Raval ke tum jalte ho and other lines that were put in your mouth specially because the mother had specially flown to India and your character already had a major confrontation with Paresh’s character and had resolutely walked out. Can you, now, when box office considerations don’t matter set the record right for the history?
A: It was in fact written originally exactly as you say. But it got changed. It was felt if the hero has a placid role to play in the climax, why have a hero in the first place.
Q: You've been part of some of the most timeless movies like ‘Sholay’,'Amar Akbar Anthony' and 'Dewaar'. Today although Yash Chopra has access to Amitabh Bachchan and a host of other stars, he churns out a 'Jhoom Barabar Jhoom'. Every other week a new remake movie project is being announced and Hollywood themes are being plagiarized all the time. Do you think that this is the nadir of the Indian film industry's creativity, ironically at the peak of its financial fortunes?
A: I do not think it is the peak of our industry. This is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. And many original ideas are being manufactured. Also strict legal procedures are falling into place as far as plagiarism is concerned. The ‘Hitch’ and ‘Partner’ and Sony Pictures example is one to note, recently.
Q: Over the last ten years you have endorsed a large number of brands. Cadbury roped you in for their damage control exercise when there were complaints of worms in their chocolates. You leveraged the trust people have in Amitabh Bachchan the person to help Cadbury resurrect its image. You've also been the brand ambassador for ICICI and may have influenced millions of people to trust their life savings to ICICI. You can like a cola, a chocolate or a soap but endorsing financial products implies your conviction in them and it would be safe to assume that you're not familiar with all of ICICI's offerings. How fair do you think it is to the common man when a film actor influences decisions in an area which he is not an expert in? Do you really have an ICICI bank account?
A: Yes I do. And I also use their credit card facility. And to gauge all their offerings there are professional executives and officers of the institute that would fill me or you in were you to need help or assistance in getting familiar with their working. I am however no longer their brand ambassador, Shah Rukh is and maybe he could help you out if you needed help.
Q: Are there any plans to take AB Corp public?
A: Not at the moment…
Q: As a couple which is constantly in a 'fish bowl' being watched and judged by millions of people, do you think it may be that much harder for Abhishek and Aishwarya to stay together as compared to an average couple.