With Cannes Film Festival celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema, Bollywood and Hollywood walked the red carpet together. Now Amitabh Bachchan has also mirrored this trend and made his Hollywood debut with ‘The Great Gatsby’.
When asked, Big B divulges how he was chosen by director Baz Luhrmann for the role and shares, “He (Baz Luhrmann) was actually touring India on a motorcycle and one day I got a call that he wanted to meet me” and adds, “I wondered why would a great filmmaker of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ want to meet me? We talked about everything under the sun except cinema and he went away. And a year and a half later he offered a role in ‘The Great Gatsby’ to me. I readily agreed more as a gesture of friendship.”
He may not be the lead of the film but his character is a major part of the puzzle as he talks about it saying, “My role is that of Meyer Wolfshiem who is kind of a mentor to Gatsby and he has looked up to him like a father. There were many controversies regarding Wolfshiem, the fact that he had fixed the ball game of the 1919’s.” Further he adds, “It’s just one small scene and I am quite amazed on why so much of attention is being paid to it as it lasts only for a couple of minutes in the film!”
Maintaining his humble stand, AB says, “It was quite an honour to be working in a Hollywood production for the first time. And to be along side with some of the greatest artistes of Hollywood right from Leonardo Di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan who is British and Joel Edgerton who is Australian along with a fantastic crew made this experience so memorable for me.”
As we know the film is an adaptation of the 1925 F Scott Fitzgerald novel and the filmmakers have put in a lot of effort on adapting it right as he reveals, “The book is iconic. I was aware of the story but after I gave the thumbs up for the film, Baz sent me a lot of literature and reference books. It’s quite amazing that the book has lasted for almost 80 years and has a great prominence in the literary world.” Elaborating on the setting of the story, he states, “It’s a great story. It’s very tragic but is also magnanimous and the role of Gatsby is so well designed in the 1920’s New York, the age of extravagance before the great crash. Soon after World War I, there is a spirit of accomplishment with people wanting to reach great heights and acquire great wealth. That era was so brilliantly captured in the film and the book.”
He also talks about the story and the melodrama in the film. “The story is quite close to the stories in India. There is this poor man who is in love with this girl and they have professed their love for each other. And then comes the war and he goes off to battle and by the time he returns she is married to this rich man thinking he won’t return. So, his belief in life is to create enough wealth to be able to win her back. It’s a heart-melting story indeed,” he says.
He didn’t miss a chance to praise his co-star, Leonardo Di Caprio and said, “Leonardo is an extremely talented artist and has reached great heights. The fact that he is concerned with not just his own role but the character sketch of his co-stars and that too someone as insignificant as me, only shows his greatness.”
He broke the stereotype by playing a Jewish and not an Indian. On the question on why he got the role, the actor clarifies, “Baz Luhrmann felt that the description of Wolfshiem in the film suited my appearance in some way. But I feel in cinema, we must look above this. When we go to see a film we never want to know what caste, colour, creed or religion the person sitting next to us belongs. We watch the same film, laugh at the same jokes, cry at the same emotions and sing the same songs.” And added, “Cinema today is a great integrator, so, it doesn’t matter whether an Indian character is playing a Jewish character or vice-versa. Perhaps, it’s for the first time an Indian has not played an Indian role in an American film and that is something new to people.”
Playing a Jewish means he had to adapt to the character in everyway possible and that also means he had to let go of his Indian accent. To this he says, “People after the New York and the Cannes premier even came up to me said that it was a fantastic accent and that I had gotten it absolutely right. Just the perfect Chicago accent and I don’t know what Chicago accent is all about but I just followed my dialogue director that Baz put me on.”
While being asked to share the difference between Bollywood and Hollywood, he says, “Filmmaking is similar all over but the procedures are a world apart. I think the west is just obsessed with research and detailing which is such a wonderful thing because I don’t think we spent so much time on doing that!” While pointing out what more needs to be done in Bollywood, he says, “What we really lack is how to market and promote our films. I think the Americans are just masters of this. We have a paucity of funds while Hollywood has lots of money and they can spend it in promoting their films. But I think we are getting there. And technically we have improved a lot.”
If globalisation has penetrated so much within our society today, shouldn’t Hollywood and Bollywood collaborate more and more? Big B has a take on this too as he says, “A lot of collaborations are taking place. We have major Hollywood co-operations here in India who are not just interested in releasing American films but also are co-producing Indian films,” he says.
So ‘The Great Gatsby’ was indeed a ticket to Hollywood for Big B but yes, there is no stopping him. The movie has had a great run worldwide and Bachchan’s character was well appreciated. Rather critics stated that he was quite good and a couple more scenes with him would have been a boon. This marks not just his Hollywood debut but proves his international standing as well.