He needs no introduction. After all, he’s ‘The Amitabh Bachchan’. Here’s Big B in conversation with Vajir Singh.
The promos of Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap say ‘He’s Back’. Who’s back?
(Smiles) I am back. Dedh do saal se I haven’t had a film. And because the nature of the character I play in Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap is such that it is a kind of role that I haven’t done in a very long time. Not since the early years. That’s why the catch phrase.
Was it to attract the Bachchan fans?
I think we needed to tell them that this is a film that people used to associate with me in my earlier films and that is why somebody coined this phrase. So we said, ‘OK we’ll go ahead with it’.
It’s a story of someone who is of my age and is an ex-gangster and has been called back to Mumbai on a mission, and how he accomplishes the task. He’s flamboyant, there’s a slight arrogance about him but there is an emotional side to him as well. So everyone felt that because he is young at heart he will be doing things reminiscent of my earlier films.
So by ‘He’s Back’, you mean the Bachchan of the ‘70s and ‘80s is back?
I think, it’s more the character, that’s back.
Where was he for a decade and a half?
I was playing roles going with my age. I was getting roles that were either senior citizens, patriarch of the family, retired judge, head of the house and I enjoyed doing them. Puri (Puri Jagganath) came up with this idea and he said. “Sir, people would love to watch you in this role.” But I told him that I haven’t done it in a long time and he assured me that he had designed the role for me. Which I thought was quite unique.
It takes courage for a director to come up to you and say, “I have a film called Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap.”
(Laughs) ‘Hoga terra baap’, the tagline, came later on. The meaning of the title will be more apt once you see the film. It was actually Ram Gopal Varma who brought in the idea. He said you must work with this gentleman, Puri. Ramu said he (Puri) had been an admirer of my work and he said he would like to work with me and this is the kind of film I have.
Didn’t you think a title like this could hurt people’s sentiments?
No! As I said, the tagline came later on and because Puri being from Andhra Pradesh, not too conversant with the Hindi language, he was unaware of this tagline. But in the North, it’s a common phrase, we use it almost like a response to somebody you want to shut up. It’s a smart little response. It’s colloquially used too. And maybe he was not aware of that and he just wanted to keep it as Bbuddah. But when we told him about the tagline, he liked it even more so we went ahead with it.
I don’t think there is any harm in working on any title, which is called Bbuddah because until you see the film you will not realise. Initially there were some reactions for the title as you rightly said. Arrey bbuddah kyun rakh rahein hai aap. My reply was, aap puri film dekh lijiye phir sochiye. The moment the tagline came in, Abhishek felt that we should keep the tagline as the entire title of the film.
You have been very active on social media like Twitter and your blog. Did people object to the title there? Did you explain this theory to them?
No one ever objected to it. The media asked me why I had chosen the title. But I think the moment the promos came out and people started listening to the music, nobody started questioning.
Last time, when I interviewed Abhishek, he told me I had asked Pa to do more action. Was that the driving force behind doing this film?
No, once he came to know about the story of the film, he said we should produce it. And he was on it since day one.
So, Amitabh Bachchan, the producer, has taken a backseat and it’s Abhishek who’s deciding which film should be produced by A B Corp?
This is a family and everyone is involved. Whether, it is Jaya or Abhishek or Aishwarya. We take time and this is something that everyone wanted. I think my knowledge has not been so good as far as production is concerned.
You have never followed the numbers game, the one relating to money?
Yeah, I never did. Abhishek is the one who understood it. Which is why we took the decision to do Paa or another Marathi film or a Tamil film and he said, I am ok to do Paa but the budget will be Rs 15 crore and nothing more than that. For this, he said within Rs 10 crore and we finished the film within Rs 10 crore.
Why did Abhishek or Viacom 18 feel the need to announce that the film was made on a stipulated budget of Rs 10 crore and that they had already recovered the money through the sale of satellite rights?
I think it’s important for people to know that we made the film within this budget and we sold the satellite for Rs 13.5 crore.
All these years, people have said that Abhishek Bachchan has made it big because of Amitabh Bachchan. When you look back, he as a producer gave you a brilliant film in Paa and now Bbuddah… How do you feel?
Oh, I feel very proud, very happy that he has taken control of many aspects of the business apart from doing his own films as an actor. He knows what goes on in the market. I am not aware of how to market and promote a film. We used to just act, the rest used to be done by the producer.
You think today’s youth are very aware of what goes on in the market?
Seeing the youth, I feel I know nothing actually. I am quite surprised at the kind of knowledge Abhishek has whether it is managing a project or public relations. Today, every actor has knowledge about the business side, marketing side, how to position themselves, what to say, where to go. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to continue working when I see this generation working in this manner because I myself will get educated in this manner.
Can we say that Abhishek learnt the ropes of acting watching you on screen and that you are now learning marketing from Abhishek?
(Laughs) That’s a nice way of putting it. Yes, he informs me of many things. In that respect yes, I get to learn a lot.
We have seen the action promos of Bbuddah… Was it painful doing those scenes?
At this age, everything is painful. Everything is very tough. I used to tell Puri and the action directors, “Please, I am 70 years old. It won’t be possible.”
(Cuts in) I will turn 69 in a few months. Then I will step into 70. So they said, “Don’t worry, sir, we will work very well and cause you no harm.” If you have made a commitment, you should judge all the aspects of the film. Once you are on the sets, you have to do what you are asked to do. But, yes, if I have to work in a film like Bbuddah… where there is a lot of action, then I will have to get fit. I increased my gym regimen and lost weight just so I could be more so-called ‘athletic’ on the sets.
It is the love of cinema that keeps you going?
Yes, it keeps me busy, I enjoy what I am doing. I look forward to the next day’s shoot. I still have sleepless nights when I have a difficult scene to do. I’d like to rehearse my lines, or how am I going to do it. At the end of it, when I face the camera, I go back and think about it. Very meekly, I go up to the director and say, “Sir, I didn’t do it well. Can I have an attempt at it again?” Many times, they agree and I go and do it again.
It’s unbelievable that you still rehearse after all this while.
Oh yes, of course! How can you go in front of the camera without preparation?
It’s been a while since you have worked with a South Indian director. The last time you worked with a South Indian filmmaker was for Suryavansham (1999). What did that feel like?
I have always admired the way the South Indian film industry and the people associated with it function. They have a very professional, managerial attitude to work. They are all disciplined. I am not saying we don’t, but sometimes we lack that discipline and then it eventually shows in our films.
Other thing is that technically also, the Southern film industry, especially when I worked with them 10-15 years ago, is very superior. They keep experimenting. In that respect there is a whole new generation of actors and directors that have come up. They are doing fantastically well and are making lovely films. So when you get a chance to work with Mani Ratnam as well as Puri Jaganath, they are very big directors in their region. I readily agreed. Working with Puri was an experience.
South Indian cinema never lost faith in making entertaining movies whereas the Hindi film industry moved on to explore a different genre, new-age cinema.
The box office is the meter to judge. If the film is working, they feel that this is what people want to see. Several directors from the South have made different kinds of films, not necessarily the typical commercial box office kind. But once the box office works, no one wants to change it. Kabhi yeh romance chalega and then the typical commercial film comes. It is the feeling of the audience that they want to see these kinds of films.
Come July 1 and, at the age of 68, you will contend with the younger generation’s Imran Khan.
No, I am not going to fight with him. Why should I fight with him?
What I meant was the Box Office War… Your film Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap will clash with Imran Khan’s Delhi Belly on July 1.
I don’t think so. This is more in the minds of the media. There are so many instances when films have released on the same day and they have all done well. I wish that Delhi Belly and Bbuddah… both do well. I wish that Aamir (Khan) would wish the same for me.
Have you and Aamir Khan ever tried to adjust the release dates of your films so that they don’t clash?
We have never felt the need to.
Is it because the films are of two different genres?
I just don’t think it’s important to do something like that. We just make films, there are so many other films, and examples of films that have released on the same day. Gadar and Lagaan for instance were both big hits and came out on the same day.
Speaking of hits, there was a time when you have delivered six to seven hits one after another. We don’t see that happening now. Why?
With time, the audience wants to see the younger generation. The older generation will have to step back. If you had an opportunity to watch someone younger like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan or Ranbir Kapoor, you would definitely opt for them. The youth is the largest section which goes to cinemas these days. But there have been instances where films have worked. Baghban, for instance. Paa itself was an example. Then we had some of Karan Johar’s films, whether it was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, they had me in the central character. But, yes, they had Shah Rukh as well as Hrithik and were very well packaged. So this is a very natural thing. It will happen with every actor, not just me.
Finally, there has been talk of all four Bachchans doing a film together. Do we see that happening any time soon?
I hope there is somebody that comes up with a script and if they do, we will be very happy to work together. All four of us. But we have not come across anything as yet.