Once he took on the system as an anti-hero, this week he is returning to set things right as a ghost – Amitabh Bachchan continues to defy archetypes. The superstar maintains he doesn’t know politics.
This season when many of his peers are battling it out at the hustings, Amitabh Bachchan is taking on a politician at the turnstiles as a friendly ghost in “Bhootnath Returns”. It seems spirit is the last resort for the common man to outwit the politician. “Not necessarily,” says Bachchan playing safe as ever. “The circumstances in the film come to a stage where it becomes necessary for the sake of the story.”
The timing of the release and the mood of the nation suggest that there is a definite link. “I hope apart from the fact that it is a satire on society and the state of the nation, there are many valid points that are stated. I do hope when the audiences leave the theatre, they carry with them something to think about. It is an honesty put across in a very satirical manner. Whether it is insistence on going to vote or how to choose your candidate or a comment on what is going on in the political spectrum all the factors are beautifully weaved in the narrative. It is not in your face and puts across its punches in a humorous, satirical way and that’s what attracted me to the film.”
He might have shunned a career in politics but he has been doing political films at regular intervals. Once upon a time it was “Main Azaad Hoon” and recently he is seen in “Aarakshan” and “Satyagraha”. Bachchan puts them as interesting roles conceived by directors who know their politics well. Hasn’t this election boiled down to a battle between communal and corrupt forces? “My knowledge of politics is very poor,” Bachchan again shows a straight bat and after a pause adds, “We all as citizens want the nation to grow well, to do well to become a developed nation. I hate the fact that we are still called a third world country. We want peace and harmony and equality of gender.”
Gujarat’s development model is being eulogised. Many say it is a creation of media as nobody has actually seen it. Bachchan is one of those few who might have seen it while working with Gujarat government. “I can’t comment on what is happening. I can only comment on tourism. I had gone to Gujarat to seek tax exemption for ‘Paa’ and that’s when the ministry and the chief minister wanted to meet me and at that time Mr. Modi said why don’t you artists come and shoot in Gujarat. He told me that the largest number of archaeological sites in the country are in Gujarat. I had gone to see all these tourist spots and fortunately some of the work that we have done has really benefited tourism.”
Did somewhere down the line he feel that he was being used to garner political legitimacy? “That is one of the things that I made clear at the outset that my involvement should not be given any political treatment. I didn’t want to meet any politician while doing the project. During the entire campaign there has never been any politician during the shoot.”
The mainstream cinema is experimenting with the plot, is putting the heroine is focus but at the end of the day, the young filmmaker wants the audience to feel good. And this sequel of “Bhootnath”, which is designed to give B.R. Films a much needed stimulus, also falls in the same space. Bachchan agrees. “Every decade in a country’s time and in a human being’s life brings change and you move along with it. In the 50s and 60, the landowner was looked upon as villain or there were dacoits and the hero would stand up against them. Systems change, time changes. We have reached a stage when we don’t want to be aware about sad stories. The youth seems happy in our films. In a way it is a reflection of what we are seeing in society.” Is he okay with it? “I always go with what the story and the role’s demand. And it is the audience who dictates. Whether it is the election or the choice of films, it is audience that decides whom they want to see at the helm and what they want to watch.”
However, when it comes to heroine getting plum roles, Bachchan, who is often held responsible for reducing his co-stars as props, refuses to buy it as something new. “Nargis, Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman have done commendable roles. Of course, in the 70s there was a surge of masculinity and I asked Salim Javed who wrote many such films and their point was that they were reflecting the angst against the system at the time around Emergency. What’s new is that I get to see much more women on the sets in different roles. When I was young, the only woman on the set used to be the heroine.”
Bachchan is immensely popular among kids but acting with a kid is a different ball game. “Indeed. The kids of this generation are incredible. And Parth who has been picked from Marathi cinema has exceptional talent. They are so natural and we spend an entire life time to come and be natural in front of the camera. They are so uninhibited. They can throw you many times because they don’t follow any routine pattern.” Does he fear that he is falling into a pattern, rehearsed may be? “I always feel that. Whether it is a kid or a new actor, I always feel what spontaneity is all about. In that sense every day is a challenge. Nothing is easy.”
Between the lines
On the return of Bhootnath
The film actually begins where the previous one ended. Bhootnath has got moksha and now he goes back to what he describes as bhootworld, which is a fantasised place where all the ghosts stay. It is a normal kind of existence in a fantasized setting. Every time he goes out the ghosts starts laughing at him and he feels very embarrassed about it. He goes to the manager and he says for a ghost you are too friendly and you embarrass your fellow ghosts. He is sent back with the condition that he should terrorise at least 10-12 kids. When he comes down he comes across yet another child Parth who can see him. He lives in Dharavi. The two become friends he stars solving his problems. One of the problems is that the political representative of their area is not up to the mark. They are not satisfied with him. That’s how the whole idea of Bhootnath standing up against him comes into the picture.
On Dilip Kumar being the first choice of B.R. Chopra even in the 70s.
We never had an opportunity to work together. In the 70s, I worked in “Zameer” which was a B.R. Production where Chopra sahib tried to pass on the baton to his son Ravi. What kind of stories does a filmmaker want to tell, which actor does he want to work with should be left to him and one shouldn’t lament about it.
On praising younger heroines
I always did it but earlier it didn’t make it to the press. I had sent a letter to Hema Malini after watching her performance in “Lal Patthar”.
On cinematographer V.K. Murthy, who passed away recently
He would take an entire day to light up his heroine. Today everything has become so cut-to-cut. I worked with him in “Nastik” and he used to tell us stories of his association with Guru Dutt. Both were meticulous and passionate about every frame. When we decorated him with Lifetime Achievement Award at IIFA, he was surprised because technicians are not usually remembered at award functions.
What’s on the cards?
Later this year I will appear in my first fiction series on television which is being directed by Anurag Kashyap. Then there is an R. Balki film and a film with Shoojit Sircar which is about father-daughter relationship.