Amitabh Bachchan – the man behind the mask

Amitabh Bachchan is not just a Hollywood actor. He has broken all endorsement records for film stars across the world as he has endorsed for 60-odd products in the market that covers everything from hajmi golis (tiny digestive sour-sweet balls) to diamond jewellery. He is the best ever reality show anchor Indian television has ever produced. He is brand ambassador for UN’s Girl Child Project. He is an institution in the sense that he can be course material in Film Studies. He has risen from grassroots to reach the top, remained there for nearly three decades, quit for five years and came back only to fail miserably when the audience rejected his comeback films and distributors committed suicide. But he rose again like a Phoenix from his ashes and is till today, in great demand with producers queuing up at his office, directors chasing him with film scripts and distributors ready to make him walk the red carpet to premieres and curtain raisers.

Considering that you have been and still are, a subject of hero-worship, how do you look at this concept?

Hero worship is a phase in which a person begins to get admired as an actor. Note, it is not for the person he is off screen. The worship is for the characters he plays in his films and for the way he plays them. The individual does not matter to the audience or the fans. It is a temporary phase that disappears when this hero’s films begin to flop. The star or actor becomes a hero for his fans. But let me tell you that this is a tremendous burden to live up to. If you cannot, you come crashing down. Public adulation is fickle. It can take you up and it can bring you down. When masses patronize a particular idiom such as an actor’s deeds on film, one tends to give the masses the same thing again and again. This is true of any mass-targeted entertainment in a democratic society.

Is the audience important to you?

The audience is an important source of collective power because it can collectively create you and destroy you. It is the media that bestows an actor with an image. This image is formed in the minds of the masses and the audience is responsible for this. For any actor, acting is more reacting than acting. It is a re-enactment of voices, characters you have seen in life. Acting is pretending to be someone else. I do not think it helps if an actor tries to ‘become’ the character he is playing. Nor is it possible every time.

What made you accept an unusual film like Pink because we have never seem you act in specific issue-based films before, specially those related to women.

I did not know the script, I did not know anything about the role I was to play, I also had no clue whether I would act in it at all or not. The only thing that attracted me to the film is the one-line story on the way women and girls are treated in our country. I believe in equality for all and have practiced it all my life within my family. This treatment of women is what attracted me to do the film. I was convinced about the defence lawyer I ultimately played and it was a conviction that worked.

What is your take on privacy for screen personalities who have a massive fan following and attract mobs and crowds wherever they go?

Public figures and privacy cannot go together though views and attitudes differ. In films, an actor or actress starts off by wanting to be recognized. Once recognition comes, he/she wants to shun the so-called hazards that come along with it. Every public figure has to learn to live with this hazard and one has to develop an individualistic attitude. Everyone loves his privacy. An actor should be individually responsible for how much privacy he wants and how much he is willing to surrender. Media wishes to provide people with stories of private lives of public figures. In a democratic society, this will sustain because we have freedom of expression and freedom of movement. Privacy can be guarded only if things like behaviour, attitude and occupation of the person are considered and then steps are taken to draw the line somewhere.

What differences do you find in your characters in Piku, Teen and Pink your latest releases?
Piku was mostly shot indoors in Kolkata whereas Te3n was shot in real locations mostly on the northern part of Kolkata which I had little knowledge about before, even when I lived here. I saw the old houses that have heritage value and each nook and corner spells out a history of its own. I was happy that for logistic reasons, the original backdrop had to be shifted from Goa to Kolkata and this gave me the opportunity of seeing a Kolkata I had hardly ever seen before. John Biswas in Teen is a very middle-class Bengali man about my age and I had to keep it as toned down as I could make it Ribhu Dasgupta the director, gave me a simple brief. I had to remain as simple, as natural and as unaffected as I could possibly be. He also made it a point that I did not dot my dialogue with too much of Bengali because people had already heard my Bengali in Piku. The biggest challenge was to ride a scooter through the roads and streets of the city and I hardly have memories of having ridden the scooter except for a few times in college.

What about Piku?

Piku is a slice-of-life family drama. I am Bhaskar Banerjee, a middle class father who has lived almost all his life in Delhi and is an eccentric, irritating old man, a hypochondriac obsessed with his constipation. Deepika played my very loving but exasperated daughter and Irrfan runs the car service that takes us to Kolkata. It is a Bengali home. A lot of Bengalis could identify with what is being said there. Teen was shot mainly on locations in Kolkata because I had to ride a bicycle sending the family into a tizzy.

Tell us something about your role in Pink.

Deepak Sehgal is a defence lawyer who was forced to give up his legal practice because he suffered from bipolar disorder though the film keeps in the shadows. It shows up in the lawyer at certain moments in the film when he has to answer something in court and forgets to speak, or watches a cockroach crawling across on a window sill and so on. This man observes the movements of these girls who live in the next complex and suddenly decides to fight their case because he thinks that the allegations they are charged with have to do with their being women, per se and have nothing to do with what happened in reality. He speaks very little and whatever little he speaks, his arguments are like barbed wire, filled with caustic and biting sarcasm delivered with a poker face. I look at the film Pink as a ‘movement’ and it has reached beyond the screen to touch the audience, the media and the masses in a very powerful way indeed. It was great working with three very young girls who are just taking their first steps in Hindi films.

  • Written byShoma A. Chattterji

    Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time


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