A WARM INTIMACY
Amitabh Bachchan and I share the same age and arrived in Murnbai around the same time too. The first time I saw him was when I was at 'Dharmayug'. Like many young men I too had the good fortune of having gained the affection of Harvanshrai Bachchan. Hence my interest in Amitabh was purely because he was the son of a poet-writer and the creator of Madhushala, whom I held in great esteem. The late Satish Varma had introduced us - "This is Amit. Bachchanji's son". As I try to refresh my memory of that Amit, I also recollect the innumerable steps which this young lad climbed, with leaps and bounds and before the blink of an eyelid, became known as Amitji.
Crossing the distance from Amit to Amitji, this individual has become the epitome of a kind of success that can only be envied. Today, one has to really strain one's eyes and neck to look at the heights he has reached. There are many who have been closely watching his climb to the top. From Babu Moshai to Major Sahib and further ... and further onwards...this never ending victorious journey is an unbelievable classic of our era - and when it does become believable, it leaves one with a sense of deep satisfaction, of having been a witness to it.
I get a similar sense of gratification, when I read Sumant Mishra's interviews of Amitabh. Today, as I recall them, I feel like I am yet again witnessing a classical journey. Being able to meet and communicate with Amitabh, consistently over a span of years, is an achievement by itself. He is not merely a Super Star but a legend and has even been voted as the Star of the Millennium. To establish and sustain a bond with such a personality, on one's own accord, is no simple task. But Sumant accomplished it. The bonds of intimacy he has forged with the Bachchan family have helped bring to light an Amitabh who is reticent yet forthright. Who does not like disclosing too much about himself but ends up revealing a lot. Or rather, is unable to withhold. Amitabh has communicated to Sumant many facets
of himself, his family, his world, his outlook, his feelings...aspects that are not privy to all and sundry. Amitabh Bachchan is not merely a great actor of our times but is indeed a 'phenomenon'. Father Camille Bulke's definition of this word in his dictionary is—miracle. And Sumant has for the past fifteen years tried to understand and help the world understand, this miracle.
Interviewing is an art that seems very easy but is not. Asking questions is not a difficult task but knowing exactly what to ask most certainly is. A good interviewer is one who reflects the personality and accomplishments of the interviewee. For this, the interviewee's honesty is of prime importance, no doubt. But so is the interviewer's intention. The competency of the interviewee and the skill of the interviewer, are both put to test, in a good interview. A proficient interviewer should always keep in mind, just how much would be appropriate to ask, since this would define his intentions. Whereas, 'how much should be revealed' is a line [to be toed by an interviewee], which keeps him alert and in check from the danger of saying too much. I am pleased to note that Amitabh and Sumant have, more often than not, both passed the test of interviewing with flying colours; and undoubtedly with a subtle understanding when not to cross certain limits. This maturity has given this book, a certain elegance and beauty which can only be compared to the semi-visible allure of a face behind a fine muslin veil.
As I write this today. I remembered an old incident, connected with Amitabh's father. Satish and I were visiting him. when I told Bachchanji, that we wanted an in-depth interview of him. He insisted that I and not Satish, should pose the questions. I was stunned. Bachchanji explained "Satish could get emotionally caught up because of his devotion towards me. You on the other hand, could ask bluntly".
In my initial days in journalism this was Bachchaji's lesson to me and one which served me in good stead. Bachchanji had explained the distinction between emotional involvement and objectiveness— that relationships should not hinder the fulfilment of one's intentions. I am extremely pleased to see that Sumant has been cautious in maintaining an objective attitude in spite of sharing a close and intimate bond with the interviewee, while knowing where exactly to draw the line
in that intimacy. This prudence has lent a significance and prominence to the interviews in this book.
The result is that he has managed to motivate Amitabh into shedding light on many issues which were hitherto unasked and unanswered. But honest answers to queries solve many puzzles connected to the interviewee's personality. For these interviews, Sumant and Amitabh both must be congratulated. Surnant for his objectivity, and Amitabh for his honesty. I'm sure that this book will help us understand Amitabh the actor. And, Amitabh the person as well.
- Vishwanath Sachdev
"Come and watch my work", he said to me in a deep and serious voice. His eyes penetrated mine but there was in them a glimmer of intimacy. Those eyes and that voice belonged to Amitabh Bachchan. He was shooting for Indrajeef in a bungalow opposite ISKCON.
I had not gone to watch the shoot. Amitabh's P.R.O. had invited me there. It was in connection with an article published in the Navbharat Times, about a youth in Ulhasnagar, who had been burnt alive. A comparison had been drawn between Amitabh's films and the real life situation, in the article aptly titled, 'Amitabh's films encourage violence'. 'Agnipath' was running in the theatres and had a similar scene in it. Those days the 'Bofors' issue was also making headlines in the newspapers. This may have been the reasoning behind Amitabh wanting to meet the author of the article. This happened to be yours truly.
It was my very first meeting with Amitabh Bachchan. That day, I did get to see his 'work'. But that one meeting also led me to witness countless scenes and incidents that took place in his life. I am still unable to fathom the reason behind my involvement with him. But it is true that for little more than a decade, our mutual affection flourished into a friendship, that had its beginnings in a simple request—'Come and see my work'.
While residing in Banaras, over two decades ago, I was his die-hard fan, to an extent where I had seen 'Anand' ten times and 'Abhimaan' six times. When he had been contesting elections from Allahabad, I was employed at 'Aaj,' a leading newspaper. I had once attended his rally in a small town called Hadia, in the vicinity of Allahabad and had but a glimpse of this Star. Prior to my meeting with him in Bombay, in 1988, I had accompanied my wife to Rajiv Chaudhri's wedding,
at ISKCON. That very day. Amitabh was to grace the release of a T-Series cassette. at the Holiday Inn, as chief guest. It was 9pm and I took my wife along to the function. We reached on time alright but when there was no sign of him till 9.45pm, I enquired with the organisers, the time of his arrival. He was to come at lOpm, is what I was informed. I immediately told my wife to keep a close watch on the time. At exactly 9.59pm, Amitabh was at the doorstep. Such was his punctuality.
After my meeting with him in the bungalow opposite ISKCON, within a matter of days, he invited me over to his house, 'Pratiksha', for a tete-a-tete. I made sure I reached on time. He led me into his room at the back of the house and we got talking. Initially he did not allow the conversation to be taped but as I gained his confidence he switched on the tape recorder himself. After the interview, he asked me to show the article to him in the evening. I left the house and on my way to the Andheri station, I switched on the tape recorder, and was horrified to find, that instead of containing that famous voice, a radio programme had accidentally got taped. I had no option but to rely on memory and quickly jotted down all that I remembered, on my way from Andheri to VT. I landed at 'Pratiksha' in the evening as promised, with a typed copy of the interview in my hand. I explained the mishap to Amitji and requested his permission to record his answers to a few of my questions. He simply smiled. This was my first interview that got published and he gave me a much-welcomed pat on the back.
The next I visited him was on the sets of Indrajeef, at Madh island, with my wife Nishi and my son Gappu. He met us very warmly and hit it off rather well with my son. We left Madh, with him, in the motorboat and took a lift from him, in his van. up to Malad. While getting off, my son innocently told him, "Amitabh Bachchan. please come again tomorrow". I scolded my son later for not using the term 'Uncle'.
Once, I paid him a visit at home, along with my entire family. He extended his hospitality to my family and after making sure my wife and son were seated comfortably in the lawn. he took me in his room so as to talk to me at length. At that time too, my son asked him, "Amitabh Bachchan, let's play football". And he did. Finally
when we left to go home, a warm feeling of satisfaction pervaded me. As I got out, I bumped into Vivek Mushran, who told me that I had just left the place they consider their temple. This is the extent of respect Amitabh commands from people.
At the party after the premier of 'Jumma Chumma in London', he sat with my son in his lap for a long time. He only handed him over to me when the child had fallen asleep. One night I returned home quite late from work and found my wife waiting out in the balcony for me. The moment I stepped into the house, she blurt-ed out in one breath, "Amitabh Bachchan had called and he called me Bhabhiji". Similarly, I had once called from Banaras. Jaya Bhabhi had wanted me to do something for her. but Amitji happened to answer the phone. We spoke for a while and before disconnecting he said something that made me appreciate his upbringing and realise how cultured the man was. He said, "Please convey my regards to all the elders at home".
One day when I had visited him at his home, he took me to the drawing room, where he introduced me to a family, who had come to meet him all the way from London. Nothing very surprising in that. considering his fan following is spread across the globe. But this family had come to meet him for a specific purpose. Their young daughter was lying in coma in a hospital in London. She only responded to Amitabh's voice and came out of the coma every time she heard it on tape. The moment the tape recorder was put off she slipped right back into a coma. He was recording a-message for that girl. I related this to my editor who told me that this was a box item. I dashed off an article which read—'Not just a magician but a doctor too'.
Early one morning, I got a call. The voice at the other end said, "Sumant, Amitabh. How are you placed today, in the evening?" "Relatively free". I answered. "Babuji is completing his 85th birthday. I was wondering, if you could come over so we can prod him into saying a few words", said Amitabh. I was pretty taken aback. Nevertheless, Vishwanathji and I decided to go together. Unfortunately due to work in office, he could not make it and I went alone. Along with me, Amitji also
began posing questions to his father. This was indeed a unique experience for me.
A day prior to Holi, Jaya Bhabhi extended an invitation to my wife and me to celebrate the festival with them at 'Pratiksha'. For the first time in my life, I experienced, celebrated and enjoyed this festival so much. We have celebrated Holi with the Bachchan's quite a few times subsequently. For my sons, Saurabh and Sukant these were enjoyable moments.
Once during Diwali. I was alone at home. When Amitabh got to know this, he invited me over to his house. Amitji celebrates Diwali with the same gusto and enthusiasm as Holi. It seemed as though ' Pratiksha's lawn had been converted into a huge mall selling fire crackers.
His 50th birthday too. was celebrated no differently. 'Pratiksha', was enveloped by a huge crowd on the outside. Indoors, friends, family and celebrities from the film industry had all gathered to greet their hero. My son said to him, "I want a century, Amitabh Uncle". Amitji fondly caressed his hair and said to me, "He speaks like a cricketer". The ambience that day appeared no different from a festival. And I was fortunate to have been witness, nay, be a part, of that momentous occasion. As I write this, remembering that day, my heart fills with a deep sense of joy.
I remember the day when, Sushila Koirala, the wife of the Prime Minister of Nepal, a family friend, and her daughter in law, Sushama, were visiting Manisha Koirala in Mumbai. Coincidentally, I was present at Manisha's house. At this meeting, Manisha's mother, Sushama, expressed her desire to meet Amitji. Her eager request was difficult to resist but I was a bit unsure of myself - how was I to present this request to Amitji? Nevertheless, despite the dilemma in mind, I lifted the telephone receiver and began to dial Pratiksha's number. At that time I didn't believe that Amitji will so willingly agree to welcome unexpected guests; he even gave a time for the visit! The day came when we were to make the visit to Pratiksha, and as luck would have it, we reached an hour later than the appointed time. But there they were, the Bachchans, perfect hosts that they are, ready to receive us at the door!
Babuji had slipped and fallen in the bathroom and was at once rushed to the
Breach candy Hospital. Amitabh was in the USA, staging a show when he got the news. He postponed it and hurried back the next day. He was at Babuji's bedside from 5am to 9arn. I would visit the hospital in the evenings and then get dropped off at Juhu, in Amitji's van. I would watch him sitting opposite me throughout the car ride. He used to be totally silent and his face almost seemed like a Mahatma. He was deeply troubled from within but his face remained expressionless. Babuji came home from Breach Candy, was admitted within a few days at Hinduja, was discharged and admitted again...One day I visited Hinduja with Vishwanathji. He tried to make Babuji who was bedridden, talk. They spoke a lot. One day, at the hospital, Amitabh said to me, "Come Sumant, let's pray". That was the first time I had seen him really disturbed and worried. I hesitantly told him that, back home. he was known as the crisis-buster. I advised him to arrange for the chanting of prayers for Hanumanji as it was done on an auspicious day every month. He agreed and asked me to let him know the right day. On the auspicious day I was working in office and Jaya Bhabhi called to ask why I was getting this done. I told her that for the first time I have seen Amitji so worried. She asked me to join the prayer meeting and also to get along the English translation of that particular prayer book, so that Abhishek and Shweta could participate.
I went to 'Pratiksha' at night. From 12am till 4am. Amitji, Bhabhiji and I participated in the 'havan' [Hindu religious ceremony] and prayer meeting. I slept over at their place at night. When I awoke Amitji, had left for the hospital early in the morning. This is the extent of his love and attachment to his father. Two days later, Babuji came home hale and hearty. I do not know whether the credit for his recovery should go to the prayers we had jointly offered or to the loving care and sacrifice of his son.
In 1995, a day before Holi, once again I had the good fortune to be invited to 'Pratiksha'. On reaching I learnt that Babuji had been taken to the Breach Candy Hospital. I spent the whole day at the hospital along with the entire Bachchan family. It was my first Holi in which I had not even put a 'tikka' [mark of colour] on my forehead. I cannot explain the emotional bonding that prompted me to be by their side in that crisis. Babuji returned home in a couple of days and the crisis had
In 1996, Amitji organised the Miss World Beauty Pageant in Bangalore. My wife and I too received an invitation. At the event, I got the chance of seeing Amitji, completely dedicated and involved in the organisation of the show. In spite of all the controversy it created, this grand function was extremely successful. Two days later I went to 'Pratiksha' to wish Babuji on his birthday. Amitji discussed the arrangements of the function with me in great detail. I could sense in him a certain apprehension, which he was trying to overcome by chatting with me.
In 1997, I was ill for four months and was transferred from the nursing home in Borivali to Bombay Hospital. Both Amitji and Jayaji constantly enquired about my health. Last year, due to a kidney problem I was admitted at the Jaslok Hospital and later at the RG Stone for two and a half months. Amitji had scolded me for not letting him know about my ailment. Because when he had called, I had already been discharged from the hospital. I let him know that this time, a better known hospital had in fact, further aggravated my illness and that I was finally going home. But suddenly I took a turn for the worse. Much later when we met at a function he asked me, "Did you get my letter?"
In my journey, down memory lane, there are many such incidents which I would like to treasure as my inheritance...these memories are of that Amitabh, who is not a Super Star, nor a legend. These memories are of an Amitabh who believes in maintaining friendship and sustaining its warmth, lifelong. He knows perfectly well why and how he must establish these bonds. Thanking Amitji, for this innocent intimacy between us, would be an insult to all that we have shared. And that is something I could never do. I wish and hope that this warmth between us grows over the years and never ends-never!
SUMANT MISHRA Intervew I'M NO LONGER THE AMITABH OF
While standing on the threshold of turning 50, Amitabh Bachchan has decided to mould himself in a new cast. He says that age has very subtly reminded him that he can no longer continue with the kind of roles he has been enacting for the past 15 years. Nevertheless, going by the success of 'Aaj Ka Arjun', it seems his audience still wants to see him singing and dancing a la 'Khaike Paan Banaraswaia'.
After a string of flops like, 'GangaJamunaSaraswasti', 'Toofan'. 'Jadugar', 'Main Aazad Hoon' and 'Agnipath', the success of 'Aaj Ka Arjun' has boosted his self confidence. The following is an excerpt of my tete-a-tete with him.
Q. Has the success of 'Aaj Ka Arjun' brought an end to your bad phase?
A. Quite frankly. I am yet to understand the yardstick that measures failure and success. In my mind. 'Ganga Jamuna Saraswati', 'Shahenshah', 'Toofan' and 'Agnipath' were also successful. There is, albeit, a narrow difference in the prime cost and box office collection of a movie. This is why people normally tend to weigh success and failure in those terms. Even relative failures do business in crores. The credit for 'Aaj Ka Arjun's' success, goes to Bokadia sahib, whose directorial debut this is.
Q. You just mentioned prime cost?
A. It's like this. 'Shahenshah' and 'Kayamat' both had a turnover in crores. But while 'Shahenshah' cost 80 lakhs in one area, 'Kayamat' cost 40 lakhs. Which was
why. there was a remarkable difference in the profits. This has made me reflect deeply on this matter and I'm contemplating reducing the prime cost of my movies. If required, I don't even mind reducing my price. Because, I have come to realise, that somehow, my films end up costing a lot more. And later on, that causes problems in its distribution.
Q. You had recently mentioned that you would now like to switch to more mature roles, befitting your age?
A. It's high time don't you think, considering I'm almost fifty? I'm no longer the Amitabh of 'Bombay To Goa'. So I would naturally like to do something different and, as you say, befitting my age. I'm acting as Neelam's father in Indrajeef and in 'Hum' I'm the elder brother.
Q. What is delaying the release of 'Ajooba'?
A. Actually it's being held up due to certain fantasy scenes which still have to be shot. And I guess the producer Mr. Shashi Kapoor would be able to satisfy your query on that.
Q. It has been heard that you wanted 'Hum' to be released first?
A. Absolutely not. Nothing depends on our whims and fancies. This film has been completed and the dubbing for the film is going on.
Q. The song 'Chumma Chumma' in 'Hum' has been copied in another film. What do you have to say about that?
A. Copying the same tune is pretty common, let alone the lyrics. In the south some producer has copied the set in 'Hum' and even made a film. Frankly, who's doing what is really none of my concern.
Q. It has also been heard that certain Muslim organisations have created a furore over the same song?
A. I'm quite unaware of this. It's really just a song and there was never any intention to hurt anybody's sentiments.
Q. Recently you have been staging a lot of shows abroad.
A. It so happens that most of these are for charitable causes or institutions. We just raised 9 lakh pounds in England which was donated to hospitals treating cancer, certain Indian charities and those Indians who have had the misfortune of being stranded in Kuwait.
Q. You are also visiting South Africa soon?
A. Yes, we are planning a show there. I don't want to do anything wrong. Only after the requisite permissions from both countries are granted, will I go. We don't intend breaking any laws. And nor do we want to hurt anyone's sentiments.
Q. Do you intend signing any new films after the success of 'Aaj Ka Arjun'?
A. No I'm just trying to complete all my prior commitments. Only after I complete the shooting of these films will I sign new ones.
Q. Will you be starring in Rakesh Roshan's and Bokadia's new films?
A. I have made promises to certain people which I will have to honour. Rakesh Roshan is one of them.
Q. Do you not wish to produce or direct? A. No, I do not feel capable enough for that. Q. Capable, you are. A. No, not in my mind.
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