Contemplations, opinions and reflections with Amitabh Bachchan
At a grand hotel in Central London, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan bestowed upon us his incredible presence. As the eager crowd of journalists were just about gathering their nerves and containing their excitement in anticipation and whilst the host was still in mid sentence to introduce Mr Bachchan on stage – he appeared before us in all his honourable glory, as we gazed on in awe. Upon hearing his distinguished voice for the first time, we became mesmerised and immediately understood why director R. Balki would have been struck with such a genius idea to create his latest movie Shamitabh, to celebrate this magnificent voice. The most credible actor in Bollywood stopped off at the capitol along with the director and cast of Shamitabh, as part of their tour to promote this intriguing film. The gathering of press took this golden opportunity to pose questions to Mr Bachchan, capturing a rare and exclusive insight into his thoughts, likes and dislikes…
How do you think the film industry has changed for new comers today compared to when you made your debut?
I think that with each passing decade, life changes, society changes, the way people think changes, and cinema is no different. From the late 60’s when I first made my debut, until the present day – I have had the good fortune of working with each new generation. Technically, the film industry has progressed, on par with technology and equipment that the West has. I have great admiration for the younger generation, as they are extremely talented and with aggressive determination, set out to achieve their goals, which we did not possess. But they are aware of exactly what they need to do and of what is going on in the world - I marvel at their confidence and their approach to film making. The average age on set is 25-30, and I am 72 – so I do feel quite awkward being around them sometimes! Having said that, I love their company as I learn so much from them. Cinema reflects society, so whilst India has changed, then you will find those differences. Some of the experimentation done with stories is a lot better.
Having said that, the lyricists for some of our songs have taken a beating and I know that the younger generations will beat me for that! We had a lot more time back then, as there were not so many avenues for entertainment, so we would appreciate a song taking its time to be expressed and adding to its lyrical value. It took time for the leading man and lady to express their love for each other. It took almost half the film before you actually found out that they were in love, whereas todays generation says hurry up and say what you have to say, just get on with it! So it finishes in the first reel and then the rest of the story focuses on their relationship. It is the speed of communication that has increased, which is also due to factors like mobile phones, internet and computers. Everything happens so fast now, and it reflects in the way we conduct ourselves. This generation talks really fast and are very cryptic in their expressions like ‘cool’ and ‘rocking’! These are expressions that we used to use, but also deploy about three or four sentences before we could express what ‘cool’ meant.
Every decade has seen young actors and comedians imitating your distinctive voice, when you were growing up or when you were a young actor, which voices did you like to replicate?
When I was growing up, I was always a great fan and admirer of Dilip sir and Waheeda jee, whom are both iconic in Indian cinema, and I’ve always felt that in terms of the history of Indian cinema, it will be written before Dilip Kumar and after Dilip Kumar.
How do you look after your voice, do you gargle with glycerine or do you eat pickles? What do you do?
Nothing really, I don’t take any precautions. I need to speak a lot. When my voice goes down and becomes quite husky, I asked some people in the medical field why this happens, they said I need to use it more often! So maybe I need to come to more press functions.
In your earlier years, you applied for a job at All India Radio and were rejected. What kind of job did you apply for and what kind of impact does your voice have at home?
After university, when I was looking for a job, I tried in Hindi and English for a job at All India Radio, but my voice was not suitable for what they were looking for. Kids of today don’t like molly coddling or all that ‘coochee cooing’, they would rather be spoken to as normally as possible, which is what I try and do with my grandchildren.
Unlike conventional Bollywood movies, Shamitabh has no leading man and lady as such, but rather, two leading men! Since the focus of the story is a celebration of your voice, how does that make you feel?
It is a little embarrassing for me to talk about this! I loved the concept, as it is one that has not been seen before. How wonderful to have that become the entire focus of the film! Although we have Dhanush and Akshara Haasan who could be categorised as the leading man and lady, but yes the focus is not on them. It feels wonderful to do something different, which does not rely on the tried and tested formula. The uniqueness of the film has been introduced by Balki – to have a voice given to somebody else and what happens as a result of that. It is a lot more sensitive and complicated compared to what is seen by everyone today, but it is woven into the script so beautifully, that there were many aspects that even made me wonder when I heard the first narration, how did he ever think of this? That really is the beauty of the film.
We all have our favourite Bachchan movies, but which is most special to you and why?
All of them are special to me and it would be very unfair to all my directors, producers and co-artists if was to name a few. It’s really tough, I’ve really enjoyed working in all my films. I think one of the most perfect scripts according to me that I have worked in was Deewar, written by Salim Javed. I feel it had the most perfect screenplay ever written in India, I greatly enjoyed that. And as I said, every one of my films has been a favourite.
Shamitabh releases in cinemas on 6th February 2015