A Tete-A-Tete with Amitabh Bachchan

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It was a few minutes with the Big B, but it was worth it

Photo: IFFM

A school friend of mine has celebrated every birthday of superstar Amitabh Bachchan in the last 25 years. She has a photograph of her idol next to other deities in her place of worship; she is a walking encyclopedia of information on Big B, and a couple of years ago she spent an enormous amount to celebrate his 70th birthday with over 200 people. Unfortunately she is yet to meet the multiple award-winning actor. She called me recently for the first time in 20 years, just to ask, “Did you really interview Big B?”

The adoration for India’s most popular screen idol is universal in nature. The phenomenon that is Amitabh Bachchan has been perfectly captured in Anurag Kashyap’s Murabba as part of the Indian anthology film Bombay Talkies. The protagonist of this film travels to Mumbai to fulfill his ailing father’s desire to feed the star a homemade murabba (fruit preserve) and to bring the remaining half back to save his father’s life. The desire to catch a glimpse of the God of Indian cinema has brought thousands of people to his doors in Mumbai, every Sunday, for the past 30 years. If Mr. Bachchan is in town, he comes out to wave to his crazed fans.

The patriarch of Indian cinema was in Melbourne recently to officially open the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2014. I had the pleasure of speaking briefly to him. For someone who has dealt with the onslaught of cameras, requests for sound bites, public and media scrutiny though four decades of his life, I found that Mr. Bachchan was unfailingly courteous albeit economical with effusiveness.

To begin with, I asked him how the ‘angry young man of 1970’s’ would like to be addressed in 2014.

“I guess ‘angry old man’,” came the reply with no hesitation and a slight smile.

I would personally settle with calling him ‘seriously sensational old man’, however Big B claimed that he did not believe in these epithets.

Such is the power of this superstar that his social media network has a combined following of over 25 million people and counting. A simple comment by him, on his blog, generates a tsunami of likes and responses. He is known to communicate to his extended family (‘EF’ as he likes to call them) on a regular basis and his loyal followers have now started reaching out to each other and participating in each other’s lives as one does in a community.

Before his arrival in Australia he wrote on his blog: ‘There is within a day, travel again. To distant and unknown territory, to receive recognition, to inaugurate fond relationships and to acknowledge the presence of our cinema at foreign destinations…’ 

I requested Big B to elaborate on the bit about ‘inaugurating fond relationships’. Mr. Bachchan paused for a few seconds to think and replied, “I was talking about the relationship between the Australian and Indian communities. A large population of Indians lives here and they will watch films that I am associated with at the Festival. This Film Festival has been designed to bring our two communities closer and to expose Australians to our creativity and our culture. I am hoping this will help to further that relationship,” he added.

The recent election season in India had it all: drama, comedy politics and satire; so did Big B’s latest release Bhoothnath Returns. I asked him if the message conveyed in the movie resonated with his own opinion of politics to which he replied, “I went into politics on an emotional level and because I was unqualified for it I have accepted my failure there. I do not know politics and therefore I have stepped down. I have since not made any political statement and I do not intend to return into politics,” he declared.

“My latest film Bhoothnath Returns is a sequel,” he continued, “and it begins from where the last film ended. It is a story of a kid who is leading a very oppressed life because of certain politicians who are not doing their job properly. There are many related issues that have been put across in a light satirical manner and there is an emphasis on the importance of casting your vote. Every vote matters and if you are not voting, then you are not expressing your voice. These are some of the messages that are very pertinent to this film,” said Mr. Bachchan.

At 72 years of age there is no dearth of work for this influential actor. His upcoming releases include Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla with Vidya Balan and Shoojit Sirkar’s Piku. He is currently working ona new film with R Balki with whom he made Paa and Cheeni Kum. He is also doing a TV series with Endemol, Anurag Kashyap and his team for Sony Entertainment Television. Another season of Kaun Banega Crorepati is expected later this year and then there’s a few more projects slated for 2015. “I just feel very fortunate that there are people who still want to work with me and give me the opportunity to express myself,” said Mr. Bachchan as we wrapped up our conversation.

Even as I write this, Big B is back in India already working, tweeting, blogging and making gracious comments on the hospitality that he enjoyed during his first ever trip to Australia.

‘Heady and humbling’ is how he describes his experience in Melbourne. Hopefully he will be back soon for more of the same.

More from IFFM here:

Couldn’t get enough of Big B

And now, an Amitabh scholarship!

And the award goes to

Dancin’ in the rain

Check out the photos of Big B at IFFM on our Facebook page here

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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