Free Press Journal

Man over matter!


His take on the changes in cinema and the need of the hour…Amitabh Bachchan shares it all, with a sprinkling of his sparkling wit, with Shubharna Mukerji Shu.

His have been the eyes of time where Hindi cinema is concerned. He has seen it through the angry ’70s, the racy ’80s, the horrid ’90s and well into the neo-millennium. For someone who has been our constant, we had to ask him how cinema has stirred and shaken him, his work and his perspective. Here’s what the coolest dude of Hindi cinema has to say about the movies and the magic.

This being our 42ndanniversary, it’s flashback time. Having grown with Bollywood, how do you perceive the changes in the industry? Are there any old-school ways that you miss in this corporatised jungle?

Corporatisation was inevitable. Whether it is successful or not, time will tell. But it is an essentiality. It brings in professional culture, administration and accountability; a most urgent and mandatory need. There is the obvious technological change – equipments, innovative machinery that makes work less cumbersome, computerisationetc- but most important of all, there is no ‘film’. That roll of celluloid has become redundant; all work is now on digital. The immediate effect of that is change in our vocabulary. Words like celluloid and film that entered the domain of cinema are now absent and gone. Moving with the times is a clichéd observation, but factually quite relevant. Society, morals, political, geographical changes are observed by creators of cinema story tellers and they start reflecting in their work. Speed of communication has evolved. The number of editing cuts in earlier films would be much less than what we notice now. The power of the ‘stay’ has reduced. Audiences do not have time for that. Instant or rapid progress is appreciated and therefore the method of story-telling changes. This brings in change in performance, in direction, in writing.

Missing the past would be something that I would and will discuss by the fireplace on a rocking chair with my grandchildren. No point doing it here. Where will it get me? Though, I must admit, I do go into nostalgia when I work these days and mention earlier working conditions – sites, venues, with the younger generation – who look and hear me patiently, but I know what they are actually thinking is ‘When is this old man going to shut up’!

It might sound redundant, but what would you say is the most important thing about change… its inevitability or its necessity?

My views would be a little conservative. I would say that change is inevitable and its necessity, a limited inevitability!

The importance and the ability to adapt to changing times… your take on it?

We shall all have to at some point or the other. To what degree, shall and will be an individual decision.

What about the film industry, the craft of cinema – your work, doesn’t fail to surprise you even today?

How can I talk about work that surprises me even today? My work is sedimentary. But yes, the younger generation fills me with great admiration. They are all so talented, prepared and confident of what they do. It gives me great joy and happiness when I encounter their work, and I am amazed at their capacity and capability. Truly, brilliant! I watch them with great interest; to learn, to pick up their craft and to knowwhat is missing from my efforts.

What could be missing from your efforts? No actor has had as much success as you have singularly earned through your career, there seems nothing amiss to the naked eye. With each moment of success there would have been memories that perhaps still are vivid in your mind. What are those that make you sit up, still unable to believe that you have been there, done that…

I would never be able to accept the adage ‘Been there, done that’. That would be so unacceptably arrogant of me. Arrogance has feared to be within my precincts, and will always. Each day is a test, an examination for a creator, I believe. And if I may be getting the privilege of being considered as one, then for me the rules that I perceive are the same. I really fret and worry about the confrontation with the camera and the director. I do not know what past and present successes mean in the context of the question – those can be analysed and talked of, by professionals of the trade. For me, I feel I have been just lucky enough to be considered for some projects, both past and present.

Those who have studied Indian cinema, are often heard saying that your craft could compile the text books in acting, but there’s craft and the knowledge of it, and then there are things you enjoy doing – does the line that divide it run thick?

Acting is my profession, so obviously I shall not be able to do without it – that is where my bread and butter comes from – but one would be lurking close to the ridiculous, if they were to be even contemplating a compilation of text books about my craft and knowledge. It would be a blank paged book.

Having said that, there is the commitment of doing one’s job, and for that I diligently follow what the director perceives, which, on most occasions takes care of 99.9% of the job. The .1% is an error of calculation!

One cannot help but wonder how much do the Bachchans, the most celebrated family of actors, debate over this ‘error of calculation’, do you all often have debates about films and their treatment, neo-age cinema and the likes within the family?Who impresses you the most with their knowledge of it?

Yes, we are a family of actors – and you may kindly do away with the ‘celebratory’ part – and yes, we do discuss cinema much like any other family, connected to the family profession would. We do not over indulge in it, and it does not form a regular part of our domestic curriculum.