Faridoon Shahryar (FS): Zubaani daave to bahut log karte rahte hain. Junoon ke kaam ko karke dikhaana hota hai. Well, when it comes to Amitabh Bachchan, junoon ke kaam ko woh karte hai aur karte rahenge inshallah because there’s only one Amitabh Bachchan and there can be no one like him. Huge honour to have you back on Bollywood Hungama, sir!
Amitabh Bachchan (AB): Thank you so much for having me.
FS: Department is your film that is coming up after a long time. How does it feel? There’s a lot of buzz around the film and your character is getting extreme sort of response because you’re playing an unusual and comical sort of a character and at the same time you are a gangster-turned-politician
AB: I don’t think it’s comical at all. It’s a role which is very valid for this story. Yes, it is a gangster who has gone clean; an ex-gangster who has now joined politics. Deapartment as it has been publicized is a special department that was forced by the police force to get rid of the mafia. The mastermind is Sarjerao Gaikwad which is role that I play who masterminds the entire thing and in a sense controls the operations.
FS: You’ve tweeted sometime back that in ‘Sarkar’, you had 10 days role and in ‘Department’, you are having a 15 days role. But still, there’s a sort of perception that you are having a cameo in the film. So could you just give your views on this?
AB: That’s how Ramu works. He can do 6 days work with you and yet make you feel that you are all over in the film. Of course, the lead characters are Sanjay Dutt and Rana (Daggubati). I am somewhere there in the background who guides them and designs operations for them. He’s almost like a Chanakya who has motivated everyone and is keeping tabs on everything. But it is pretty well spread out in the entire film.
FS: When it comes to the film that you’ve done with Ram Gopal Varma, you’ve experimented a lot with your characterization be it Nishabd, Sarkar, Sarkar Raj and even RGV Ki Aag. You’ve come out of, what some would call it, as your comfort zone. So is it a fair assessment?
AB: These are things that are a part of the story and the character that Ramu designs. Before we go on sets, we discuss how the character should look, how he should behave, what his language should be and once that is justified, we go ahead and do it. Ramu has always given me the freedom to make my own interpretations but never something independent of his contribution. All credit to him because he thinks up these characters, designs them and then throws them across to me. Then we sit and wonder how we are going to do it. When we went on set, I said that ‘let’s wear a dhoti’ and he was fine. All the other props that went along with it are a part of the story. The nature, the glasses etc were pre-determined before we go on the sets. So yes, we do get an opportunity to do something different and it’s always very exciting for an actor to be able to do that.
FS: In ‘Department’, there’s Sanjay Dutt, who says that he’s the biggest fan of you and also Rana Daggubati. A very different sort of star cast for you?
AB: Yes, I am working with Rana for the first time. I have worked with Sanju before in several films. It’s very gracious of them to have said so because I don’t get that kind of an exotic feeling when I am in their presence. I am part of them and would like to be a part of their group or gang. We are all colleagues and co-artists. We’re working basically for the film and its betterment and for its execution to be done according to the script that has been given to us. We may have admiration for several artists but I think once the camera starts, we need to forget that.
FS: You weren’t comfortable initially with the entire concept of these 5-6 cameras in Department, were you?
AB: For 42 years of your life, you are used to a camera in front of you, lights and everything. You get acclimatized to that. And you know who you are playing for. And suddenly, it’s not there and it feels a bit odd! But I think eventually what really matters is that in a sense, it gives you a lot of space to be a lot more freer provided you are not what aware of where the camera is placed! Ramu has about 7-8 cameras and they are in all kinds of different places. None of them can be seen and you can’t even see the operator, lights etc. So you actually don’t know which camera you are working for. So I think it gives me a lot more freedom as opposed to working for a particular set of cameras where there will be markings. Like ‘you can’t go beyond a point or else your focus will go’, ‘you can’t go there or else you’ll go out of the frame’, ‘please look here; otherwise we are getting your back’ etc are some of the things you are told once you are enacting a scene. All that has now disappeared! We’re just free to do what we like no matter where we go or what we do, some camera is going to catch that.
When I started acting in the late 60s, we had the Mitchell which was a very large camera and it had these huge magazines on top of it. One of the challenges the professional actors would throw at the juniors and newcomers was ‘ek 75 ke lens ke Mitchell pe close up dikha ke dikhao’! This is because on a 75 lens on a Mitchell, it used to come very close to your face. And you have this huge camera which you know is going to catch you for posterity. And to give expressions of either romance, anger etc is the most difficult close-up to give. And it was the great actor, late Raj Kumar, from whom I had heard for the first that time ‘75 ke lens ke Mitchell pe close up dikha ke dikhao’! So that used to be like a challenge or the test of a caliber of an artist because there’s a camera, there is lights all around you and people and to enact something which is emotional becomes very tough. And it happens with me even know, with the Arriflex, which is much smaller. And now we have these 5D cameras. In ‘Department’, I have actually moved around with the camera myself. And Ramu told me, ‘Sir, I have to tell you for the first time that you are going to be the cameraman of your own shot’! So you hold the camera and move around while you are talking. But when you have all these physical contraptions close to you, they can be very offsetting for an actor at times. Sometimes, if they are at a distance, you feel a lot freer. That’s how I felt.
I remember doing a scene in ‘Black’ which had the same sort of effect. It was an Arriflex and was very close and there were lights and huge cutters. And it was an emotional breakdown scene. We did the take and Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) said its fine. Then I said that ‘I feel that I didn’t do it correctly. Can you just push all these things away from me’?! And to his credit, he did. And that’s the take that was kept in the film! So sometimes, these equipments that are all around you can be very frightening. One of the challenges that most actors feel is that they’re being watched and they became conscious of it. To be able to come out of that is a quality of a great actor. But (in Department), it was nice to know that nobody was watching you. And in that respect, I felt that it was quite comfortable.
FS: I believe you are not having a full-fledged release after ‘Department’. In that context, what is it that fans can look forward to from Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Department’?
AB: My character is almost Machiavellian in nature. As I said, he designs and monitors what the movements and operations are that are going to be. I liked what Ramu asked me to do. I’ll now wait for audience verdict.
FS: Ram Gopal Varma totally liked your performance in ‘Bduddah Hoga…Terra Baap’. Many say that they would like to see a sequel of the film. So is it in the pipeline by any chance?
AB: We’ve never thought about that and I don’t think it’s going to happen. Puri Jagannadh is the brain behind ‘Bbuddah’ and if he wants to do something he’ll have to design something. But I haven’t heard anything from him.
FS: I saw ‘Bduddah Hoga…Terra Baap’ with my father and he loved the film because he has loved your films in the 70s and 80s. Many people enjoyed the stunts because it looked very convincing and it was an entertaining performance as well. So I personally feel that there’s a franchise over there.
AB: If Puri Jagannadh wants to do it and if there’s a credible story behind it, then we can have a look at it.
FS: You recently shot for ‘Bol Bachchan’ and you seem excited for it. The scene from ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ wherein you are coming out of the Easter egg has been re-created. That must have been something! Could you tell us something about it?
AB: Ajay (Devgn) is like family and I’ve known Rohit (Shetty) for quite a while. His father and I worked together in so many films. Abhishek (Bachchan) was working in ‘Bol Bachchan’ as well. One day, they came and said that they want to do a title song which has been put together by Himesh Reshammiya. They wanted me to sing and act in it and I just said ‘Okay, fine’. It is in a sense a song that encapsulates the entire story or gives an idea of what the story is going to be, what the characters are, how it’s going to shape up etc through my voice. It was a lot of fun. A lot of things that we did were reminiscence of ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ but it’s all done in good humour. We had a great time performing and I just finished shooting yesterday. We were very happy about (the song).
FS: You’ve also sung ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ in ‘Kahaani’ that has become a huge hit. You are now being associated with this famous poem of Rabindranath Tagore. How did you feel?
AB: I thought Sujoy (Ghosh) was making the biggest mistake of his life by asking me to sing that song (laughs). My Bengali is not that good. I am not a professional singer and ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ is something that is designed by a genius like Rabindranath Tagore and is almost close to divinity. ‘Rabindrasangeet’ is in the veins of not just Bengal but into the psyche of the entire nation. And to sing something that have been sung already well by so many greats was very daunting. And Sujoy in many respects is slightly mad and he does all these crazy things. But he’s a very lovable person. Since he requested, I just went along and did the song. I am happy that the film has done well. The movie is really quite exceptional. I am so happy for Sujoy because he’s been struggling to find his mark in the film industry. Some of his past works did not work well, especially the one with me (Aladin). Hence, I am very happy for him and also for Vidya (Balan) and the entire cast of ‘Kahaani’. The way Sujoy made this film was really quite exceptional.
FS: Last year, you tried to have a different sort of connect with the aam junta with KBC. Now Aamir Khan’s show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ and they are also trying to connect with the general populace of the country. In that context, will you be coming up with new concepts or connect more with people or taking KBC 6 to another level altogether?
AB: I don’t know since the conceptualization takes place with the creative team which they haven’t shared with me. The last season was very revealing as far as the people of our country are concerned. There was a large portion of our countrymen whom we didn’t know about as to where they came from and what their circumstances were. It was very saddening to see their plight and to hear their stories was heart-wrenching. I am happy that they got an opportunity at least to come to KBC and perhaps make a life-changing experience. But the valid point in KBC was that, given an opportunity, even the common man whom we tend to ignore at times or people that come from the rural areas or smaller towns and who are assumed that they’ll not be capable do have the capacity to excel. After all all the large winners were people that came from smaller towns or nondescript places from very poor backgrounds. But because they were given an opportunity, they excelled.
FS: I saw all the episodes with my family and the way the contestants relate to you, aisa lagta hai ki aap unki zindagi ka hissa hai barson se. When you interact with such people on a one-to-one basis, how do you react or what is your innermost feeling?
AB: Meeting people from different walks of life is always going to be an experience to cherish because they have their own stories to tell. Because we’ve spent our lifetime cocooned virtually in metro cities and acclimatized to the lifestyles that cities propagate, we sometimes are unaware of what the other India is all about. But that is the real India. I cannot say that this has been my first experience because when I was in politics for a very short time and I was fighting my elections from Allahbad, I did get an opportunity throughout those 2 ½ - 3 years that I was there in Parliament to actually go to the towns and villages and see the plight of the people. And it was most distressing. So I knew they were there. So for them, to come out and take part in a game show and make such a name for themselves was very exciting for me. I felt just good that somebody who had never ever stepped out of their town visited Mumbai for the first time in their lives, sat in a plane for the very first time, lived in a hotel for the very first time and then to come to this grand stage and make this kind of money is just unbelievable. And for me, their joy of achieving something is like I have achieved something!
FS: A lot of remakes are being made. ‘Don’ and ‘Agneepath’ have been made and then there’s ‘Satte Pe Satta’ coming up. Remake of ‘Muqaddar Ka Sikandar’, ‘Laawaris’, ‘Namak Halaal’, ‘Sharaabi’ and ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ are in the pipeline as well. Since all these are your films, does it flatter you? You have said in that past that remakes are something you are not comfortable with…
AB: An original is an original and one would hope that it would be maintained. But if the producer has the rights of that product and he wants to remake it with the present generation, there’s nothing you could do about it and there’s no harm in that. Hence, a lot of remakes are being made. But I do feel that an original should be left as an original. Some of the classics have always been remade like, for example, ‘Devdas’. And then you find that each generation identifies with that particular ‘Devdas’. My generation would identify with Dilipsaab’s ‘Devdas’. Generation much before me would identify with K L Saigal’s ‘Devdas’. Perhaps, the modern generation would identify with Shahrukh’s ‘Devdas’. So I think it’s something that works generationally.
FS: There have been a lot of speculations around your health. Are you going to Los Angeles by any chance?
AB: This is incorrect. I am just going to take a break with the family. Health issues are something that takes time to repair and I am recuperating well. I have already started working. There are some films in the pipeline which will start in a few months. KBC is starting. Preparations have already started and we are, today, on the sets of the promotions of KBC. We just did a song for ‘Bol Bachchan’ which was rather hectic. God willing, all will be well!
FS: KBC has been one of your finest performances. A recent movie, ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu’, starring Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor, has a scene where Imran is changing his clothes while the television is on and KBC is being aired. Kareena’s grandmother enters and says that ‘Shameless boy! TV on hai! Amitabh tum ko dekh lega’! So you see you’ve become synonymous with the households of the country. That has been phenomenal.
AB: I think the program itself has a lot of credibility. It’s something that the whole family watches together. Otherwise the men are watching sporting events or news, the women are watching the serials while the kids are watching cartoons. But I think what KBC has done is that it has brought the whole family together. So I am happy that we hear incidents like these. It’s very flattering!
FS: Your humility is very famous and you tweeted sometime back, ‘When that brilliant football player from Brazil, Romario was asked who the best in world was he said - "Romario". When asked why he thought he was the best, he gave a classic reply... he said - “because I am Romario!!"’. Similarly, when asked that who the best actor in the country is, many in the industry says that it has to be Amitabh Bachchan. Yet you contribute to be self effacing. Where does that come from?
AB: I don’t believe that it is correct. There are several artists who are extremely good and certainly much better than me and they deserve all the recognition and credit. I genuinely think that there are many areas that I need to work on and improve. I am very grateful that people like that but I am afraid that’s not correct!
FS: Who do you think is the best actor ever in the Indian film industry?
AB: Well to me, Dilipsaab. I’ve never really looked beyond that because he’s been my idol and I’ve watched every one of his works. I always feel that whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it will always have a ‘before Dilip Kumar’ and ‘after Dilip Kumar’! That’s almost like a yardstick. He has been phenomenal. My greatest regret, though, was that Ganga Jamuna, which I feel is his best work, and he never got an award for that. Sometimes you also feel that you deserved an award but you didn’t get it. And then you console yourself by the fact that if Dilip Kumar couldn’t get it for Ganga Jamuna, who are you?!
FS: You worked together him in ‘Shakti’ and it’s said that both of you have wonderful moments. It was difficult to decide who was better. How do you remember ‘Shakti’ now?
AB: With a lot of disbelief because you have grown up watching someone and suddenly you find yourself in the same profession, same film and same frame is frightening. For a very long time, it was not believable that I was actually working with Dilip saab. When you start evaluating the performance of an actor in a film, I feel it’s very important to evaluate the person standing in front of you because if they are performing well, their good performance will reflect on you. I could be giving the most fantastic performance ever but if my colleague or my co-artist is not responding to it, my performance will look weak. That is the greatness of Dilipsaab. Irrespective of whether he has to do something in the frame or not, if he’s responding, then your performance comes out looking good. And that in a sense is good for the film because the entire scene works. He’s a very considerate co-actor and always conscious of the fact that the other artists require space and time. And I particularly remember when I was doing the death scene in the film. I was preparing for it and he just came up individually and said that he’ll prepare with me. I said that ‘No Dilipsaab. Let me do it on my own’ but he said that ‘main bhi prepare karoonga tumhare saath mein’. These are things that encourage the young artists at that point of time. For him, to come and just assist you in your rehearsing is a great gesture. While we were rehearsing, there was some noise going on as unit people were talking. And he just snapped at them and said ‘Can’t you see that he’s rehearsing. So please be quiet’. Now this is something that should have come out from me! But coming out from him meant a lot because he realized that there’s an importance that every actor requires that little space and quietness for rehearsal. It shows his consideration for other artists. And that’s why he’s such a legend.
FS: A book has recently come out ‘Bollywood Top 20’ and obviously you are featuring in that. And the book says that during the 1970s, on an average and for 10 years, you had 5 films in a year. That has never been done by any actor ever in the Hindi film industry. Can we call you a ‘karmayogi’ or who’s relentlessly kept on doing one thing or the other?
AB: I’ve never looked at this statistics and they have never meant that important to me. We were all very keen to get work. And I still feel that if I don’t have work, I am insecure. So yes, I would like to keep working and if my body responds well, I would like to carry on. I never realized of these statistics you talk of. At that time, the situation as far as industry is concerned was different. We worked in almost 15-20 films almost at the same time. So it was natural that 4 or 5 of them would come out every year. And that was due to the disproportionate way of finances that went with the film. Producers borrowed money from distributors and financers at very heavy cost. They made 4 or 5 reels, shot all the exciting portions, went back to them, showed the reels, and proved their credibility before they got their next installment! This used to take a lot of time and artists used to be sitting vacantly. So what do you do? You take up another film. This practice went on for quite a while till it became so bad that all of us were working 2-3 shifts everyday on 3 different films. And there was a period when the associations of the film industry put a ceiling on artists that they cannot do more than six films at a time. That brought some kind of system or discipline within the industry. Now because of the opening up of the economy, corporatization, the assurance and not being dependent on where the next lot of your financing will come from, artists are able to go according to a script and regulation. Producers also want to make a film within a given schedule. So within 2-3 months, one has to start and finish the film. Even then, there were exceptions like Hrishikesh Mukherjee who didn’t have long shooting spells and they finished their work very fast because they were well prepared and worked economically. So with 1 ½ months, he would finish his film. But other than that, most of the producers or directors, because of the working conditions, and the fact that most of us were working in so many films, used to take a lot of time. I am happy that now there’s some kind of regulation that has come in and actors want to work on one film at a time. That’s why you see fewer releases of actors today.
FS: Recently, the entire Bofors’ scam was cleared and you were very happy. Do you feel vindicated or make you feel happy from within?
AB: The matter is over. We went to court and won all the cases and hence were cleared long time ago. It’s just that the perception in people’s mind was different. What is disturbing really is that the Swedish’s investigated the police chief saying that our names were planted deliberately there. But now it’s all over and done with. It’s best to let it lie that way!
FS: Tell us about working with Sridevi and doing a cameo in ‘English Vinglish’.
AB: It’s actually a small little scene. Balki insisted me on doing it and it was great fun.
FS: Balki gets the best out of you in the last few years, be it ‘Paa’ or ‘Cheeni Kum’.
AB: He’s very innovative. He comes from the ad world and has the advantage of thinking more than out of his hat. I hope he keeps doing that because some of his ideas are very unique and they give a lot of opportunity for artists to come out and perform differently. We are working together on our next project. It’s too early to say anything but I am sure it’ll be something quite novel.
FS: I believe you’re doing one film with Abhishek Bachchan as well, directed by Amit Sharma.
AB: Yes. We want to work together. We are sitting on it and working around the story.
FS: That was Mr Amitabh Bachchan talking about his next film ‘Department’ and his entire experience of doing this film with new technology with 5D Cameras. He has also spoken about Mr Dilip Kumar, why he thinks he’s the greatest actor and the entire experience of shooting ‘Shakti’ with him. And he has also spoken about shooting song for ‘Bol Bachchan’ and few of his forthcoming films. Huge honour to have you on Bollywood and all the best wishes for ‘Department’ and all your future ventures!
AB: Thanks very much!
FS: That’s all we have on Bollywood Hungama. Keep on watching!