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The man and his message

Amitabh Bachchan is a living legend today. The appeal he has over people is magnetic. This superstar, who was the State Guest at the National Games, in this tête-à-tête with RADHIKA RAJAMANI throws light on his life, work and philosophy.

STANDING TALL: The `king' of Bollywood.

CHARISMA, STRIKING personality, versatile genius - words like these seem platitudinous and inadequate when one comes across this person in flesh and blood. It is hard not to be awe-struck at the one who has strode Bollywood like a colossus in a career spanning a little more than three decades. Blessed with a regal figure, tremendous talent and a commanding baritone, he is one who started from absolute scratch with no godfather in the film industry to rise to virtually `rule' it, one who has played a gamut of roles from the romantic hero to the angry young man, to character roles and who is still going strong at 60 to play diverse roles out of the `stereotypical' mould. Yes, one may call him the `King' of Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan, with a career graph difficult to emulate, has fans who cut across geographical and religious boundaries and ages and is truly a legend in his lifetime. A towering figure, he has remained an enigma for many who feel that this superstar is `god' - awesome, inaccessible and unapproachable. The shedding of the `mask' revealed that beneath that tall exterior lies a heart which is warm and friendly. This was so evident in the one-to-one conversation in the presidential suite of Hotel Taj Banjara. Amitabh charms one and all not just with his acting and voice but by his humility and behaviour as well. A thorough gentleman, he agrees to speak although he did not have much time to rest before he went to the Opening ceremony of the 32nd National Games. Dressed in a track suit (as he has just returned from the stadium for lunch), he settles down in the sofa to field questions.

Has his career become hectic with films? Is he happy with the diverse roles that he is doing? "My career has not become hectic It's just that I am at a stage when I am obviously not going to get lead roles. I am going to get character roles - father, senior citizen, elderly and so on. I consider myself fortunate I am getting some work. " What motivates him to keep going? "Circumstances and compulsions," he replies.

This prompts one to ask whether he has shifted the age from 40 to 60 in the statement `life begins at 40'? "Not at all. I don't believe in all these things. I think if one is healthy and desirous of working I don't see anything wrong. Yes, if my health fails tomorrow and I cannot move or cannot act I'll have to stop."

Moving on to a rather `philosophical question' on how much does he think that the future is influenced by the past or are both abstractions he replies: "I think they are both abstractions. We keep reading in books and sayings of very prominent people to think about the future. But I think one must go along day by day. I've never had the capacity to plan anything in my life. I just go along working day to day and see what tomorrow holds for me. Every day is a new day and you just get up in the morning face it, deal with it and go to bed hoping tomorrow will be less stressful." This leads to the question whether he is religious or spiritual. "I think all of us have a certain respect for an unknown force which guides us. I believe in that. I am not a fanatic religion person but I have my mandir in my house, do my puja, read the Ramayan. But it's all very private."

TIMELESS APPEAL: The actor captivates one and all.

Amitabh held sway over the small screen with KBC - this was a new avatar. About KBC, he says "it is a game show which follows a certain format which is universal As far as the text and content is concerned we follow an unalterable routine . Other than that the interactions with competitors is more personal. Meeting people was a "great experience (he stresses twice)." Are we likely to see a re-run? "I am asking the same question too. Because Star TV has contracted me for 390 episodes and I've done 305. There's a balance of 85 episodes. My contract expires in March 2003. They have asked me for an extension. I have given that ex-gratia for another six months. And I await what they want to do." Amitabh has been endorsing a lot of products like ICICI Bank, Maruti. What made him really take them up? "I am actually adding to AB Corp in its vision and in my contract with them. We structured AB Corp in a rather unique manner where a human brand was evaluated rather than a plant or machinery or formula. It was in that evaluation people invested money in us. So the brand must do something for them. And so what does he do? - He acts, sings, dances, endorses, does television. Endorsement is a part of that vision. I'd never done those things before. I was reticent and shy but since we entered into the formulation of corporatisating this was one of the requirements. So I endorse."

AB Corp is now gearing up for production in a small way. An immediate venture is a production with Aamir Khan directed by Mansoor Khan. "We have two other productions with Rakesh Mehra and Vipul Shah. These films have not been titled and are not on the floor. But they will be," Amitabh informs. Television too may be part of the agenda as it is in the vision. But he emphasises "I think we need to start small and very cautiously."

The larger picture of Bollywood comes in for some questioning. Do crossover films like Lagaan and Asoka augur a good trend in Bollywood? "Most certainly. The larger the viewers, the larger the exposure, greater the clientele, more funds and more money for the industry. We'd love that." Amitabh is also quick to say that "the new generation of film makers (producers and directors) are extremely talented and knowledgeable in the art and craft of cinema. I am extremely fortunate to work with youngsters like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar, Rakesh Mehra and Vipul Shah. All of them may not have tasted success but at least people have stood up and noticed. That's important."

Does the delay of Kaante bother you? "I really don't know what's happening with the film myself. I finished shooting sometime back in sync sound." He shares his wonderful experience, which meant great camaraderie, bonding and lot of discipline primarily because they worked with a Hollywood crew. The film was completed within 30-31 days in a hectic schedule from start to finish.

Are you happy with your son's career. "Oh yes, he's made a beginning. Obviously success hasn't come his way. Success is never easy. One only wishes that he continues to work hard." Do you think lineage is an inhibiting factor? "I don't think that should bother anybody. I've never been able to live up to my father's lineage or his stature. And I know that I never will. One accepts that and goes on in life. People will remember my father and his works for thousands of years. But they are going to forget me in a couple of years. All the same I am happy that I am his son, I have his blessings and I'm happy that I am doing what I am doing. I am very satisfied with that."

What's been your guiding philosophy in life? "Man kaho to achcha na ho to zyada achcha. If things happen according to your life, good, if they don't, that's even better. Because that's happening according to the wish of god because god would not want to do something that is wrong for you- something that my father taught me."

Recapitulating his journey in Bollywood Amitabh humbly admits: "they have been very tolerant with me. I've never been trained as an actor. I started from scratch. I am still learning. I just feel that the people of this country, the producers and directors in the industry per se have been very tolerant with us - allowing us to make our mistakes and learn. I am thankful to them for that. It's been very eventful, very enjoyable. I hope I can continue working."

Have you thought of penning your memoirs? "No I can't write. My mother always said one poet in the family is enough (laughs)." Is it goodbye to politics? "Yes, I said goodbye when I resigned from Parliament. I have not done anything political and I have no intentions to do so."

At the moment Amitabh is busy with his films - Boom (Kaizad Gustad), Baghban (Ravi Chopra) and Armaan due to be completed shortly. The list of other projects and associated persons is quite long - Govind Nihalani, Raj Kumar Santoshi, Prakash Mehra, Raj Sippy, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Boney Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar and Nagesh Kukunoor plus the AB Corp productions.

His grandchildren occupy a prime place in his life. Although he does not get to see them often, all other work at the Bachchan household comes to a standstill when they are around. "They are an absolute joy," he says like a fond grandfather.

One parting question is fired at him - is he content in life? "Life has been gracious and kind to me, more than what I expected and deserve and I am thankful to the almighty and to my fans who always pushed me. As an artiste I think contentment would spell danger because we want to be challenged every day. There's always room for improvement," he winds up and in true gentlemanly fashion comes up to the door for a send-off.

One walks out starry-eyed trying to plant the feet in terra firma! Such is the effect of Big B.

Photo courtesy: Hotel Taj Banjara

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