Encounter with the Big B – I

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized
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I watched Paa recently. I was impressed by the 64-year-old Amitabh acting the 13-year-old. There were times while watching the film when I wondered whether this was really the Big B. I also liked the film because there was no melodrama, no over the top histrionics and the humour was subtle and at times quite funny.

I know the film was a straight lift of a film starring Robin Williams, but so what? Sholay, the Bollywood blockbuster of all time was lifted almost scene-by-scene and dialogue-by-dialogue, from The Magnificent Seven, the classic western starring Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. And as I watched James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven I could see from where Amitabh Bachchan got his inspiration, to be Jai’s Sholay! The thing is that most of the films done by Amitabh in the early days helped pay not just his bills, but that of everyone else associated with it. And no film of his ever left a producer broke.

But let’s give him the credit for still being at the top for almost 40 years. It would be difficult to imagine him in roles done by Naseeruddin Shah or an Om Puri, because for most of his life he’s been stuck in a stereotype that he found difficult to get out of. Would Amitabh be able to do the role that Naseeruddin played in say a film like ‘Wednesday’? With a little bit of effort, yes! Naseeruddin looks an ‘effortless’ actor.

When people ask Amitabh his opinion about him and SRK I think they’re crazy. Amitabh is in a different league altogether. He very rightly said somewhere that people should ask SRK that question when he is 64! The guy has been around for 40 years and is still a brand to be reckoned. How many actors are there today at that age who film buffs even care to remember? Look at Vinod Khanna or Rajesh Khanna. The latter is today acting in insignificant serials on Doordarshan, which no one sees.

The thing with Bachchan is that we’ve got so used to his baritone and his overpowering personality on screen that even if you see him in a completely different role, it’s difficult to take the man away from the role. That is why I liked Paa. It was different.

I remember the time when I interviewed Amitabh for the Maharashtra Herald in September 1997. He was in Pune for the shooting of ‘Major Saab’ after a five-year hiatus. I had got a tip-off from a friend who worked at the Hotel Blue Diamond that he would be staying there during the entire shooting of the film. The friend also helpfully gave me the phone and fax numbers of ABCL.

I dashed of an interview request by fax, because we didn’t have the benefit of the ubiquitous email. I got a reply to send me the newspaper’s profile, which I did within minutes. That was followed by a return fax from ABCL requesting me for a list of tentative questions. I mulled over that request, because revealing the questions would mean losing the element of surprise and the ability to pop a question that could take him by surprise. I also guessed why they were asking because there was enough fodder about his personal life, which any journalist could not resist asking.

I knew where this was going and after consulting with my colleague Sudheer Gaekwad, who was also the film and music critic for the paper, decided to exclude all personal questions. It worked because ABCL promptly replied that they would be happy to grant an interview when Amitabh reached Pune. (More)


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