When one of the world’s most popular celebrities is in the hot seat, curiosity becomes a surging sea of questions. It is difficult to list what Amitabh Bachchan was not asked at the Express Adda. He responded with his characteristic dignity and patience, never once trying to be the man he is not. He spoke about how the Western world had changed the way it saw both India and Indian cinema, and why the kind of cinema neglected so far in the country was coming into prominence. The communicative outreach of television has been both a glue and a social force reflected in the growing influence of the middle class, says Bachchan. He also recited a couplet, addressed questions about his struggles and convictions, talked about himself as a family man, an actor and an observer of modern India.
Ek bahut acha yantr banaya gaya hai jise ghadi kehte hain. Usko main dekh leta hoon aur samay mein pahuch jaata hoon. (There is a very good machine called a watch. I look at that and come on time). I think you just need to honour a commitment if you have taken up a job. There have been many times when I have reached before the main event. There have been many times when I have arrived at the studio for a seven o’clock shift and there was nobody there. So I utilise the time to water the plants and clean up the floor and things like that.
On the global reach of Indian cinema
People overseas know more about Indian cinema than they know about some of our cultural habits or heritage or even some of our politicians. I can describe an incident that somewhat sums this up. I visited Moscow in the mid-’80s and was shocked and surprised to see the love for India — not just for India but for Indian films. The girls who came to receive me at the airport were all dressed in Indian dresses, wore teeka and spoke fluent Hindi. When asked how they knew Hindi, they said that they go and see Hindi cinema and learn the words. They have now started classes in Russia where they teach Hindi much like in Krakow university in Poland where they have a Hindi section where Hindi is taught. They are learning Hindi only because they want to understand Hindi cinema better. I once asked a gentleman there, what was it that he liked about Hindi and Indian cinema. He said, ‘When I go and watch a Hindi film and I come out of the theatre, I have a smile on my face and a dried tear on my cheek’.
On India’s tier-II and III cities
I feel that since the opening up of the economy, there is a very large, almost 350 million, middle class that has suddenly become affluent and this is a very large number that can influence anything. It can influence politics, it can influence business and it is influencing cinema as well. Personally, when I conduct Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), I discover that a lot of the contestants come from middle India or the interiors, and it’s remarkable how intelligent they are and what stories they bring. I think we have no knowledge of that. I am sure all the politicians who go there for canvassing are aware of it, but I think the rest of India is perhaps not aware of their capabilities. Last year, we had this gentleman, Sushil Kumar, who came from a small village, winning Rs 5 crore.
On women in India
There are some devastating stories that most of the contestants (on KBC) come up with. A lot of it has to do with what the country is going through politically, as well as our ancient social norms which have remained with us, particularly with the women of India. I have always believed that women are 50 per cent the force of any country and more particularly so in India. They should be given their rights and prominence in every walk of life. I see that change happening.
A young girl, who came up to the hot seat, broke down the moment she won the Fastest Finger First. She was inconsolable. She was born into a family where there were two brothers and she was the only girl. When she was a year old, she was sent out of her home and asked to live with her grandparents because her parents had virtually discarded her. She was maltreated. There was mental and physical abuse to the extent of not giving her the same amount of food to eat that her brothers were getting. She had to live with this thinking ‘ki tumhe aathvi class tak padhaya jayega kyunki uske baad main tumhare upar paise kyun waste karoon kyunki tum toh jaane wali ho’ (you would be taught till Class VIII; why waste more money on you since you will be leaving). This girl, supported by her mother, took a loan of Rs 1 lakh, educated herself and has today come to the hot seat on her own strength. There are impressive cases like this and I am so happy to see these changes in our society.
On battling adversity
Somebody once asked me, ‘If you were to live your life again, what would you change?’ I said that I wouldn’t change anything because even the adversities taught me something. I would never have got an opportunity to learn these things had I not been through those adversities. I would just let it remain as it is. Life for everybody is not going to be pleasant and it is not easy for everyone all the time. At times, when I was very troubled, I used to go to my father and tell him, ‘Babuji, sangharsh bada karna padta hai jeewan mein (Father, we have to struggle a lot in life)’. He would say, ‘Jab tak jeewan hai, tab tak sangharsh hai (Till the time there is life, there are struggles)’.
I think these are things we picked up from our elders. We know that tomorrow you may be at a certain place and, the day after, things can go wrong. I think it is more important to realise how to fight it and move on rather than dwell on what has happened in the past.
On the last time he felt old
I was shooting for a film on one of the streets in Mumbai some years ago. Somebody came and said, ‘My mother is a great fan of yours, can she come and meet you?’ She was brought on a charpai to the shooting set. I bent down and met her. She must have been close to 90 years old and she said, ‘Beta, main bachpan se tumhari tasveerein dekhti aarahi hoon (Son, I have been watching your films since childhood)’.
(Transcribed by Pallavi Chattopadhyay)