This past weekend on their radio show Love Bollywood, hosts Raj and Pablo were celebrating the 40-year career of the living legend of Hindi cinema, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. The two were fortunate enough to be invited to Mr. Bachchan’s home in Mumbai for an exclusive interview about his amazing journey in the industry. Mr. Bachchan not only revealed how he got started, but also special tidbits about working on some of his most famous films. He also talked about more personal things like his break from the industry, his company A.B.C.L. and of course his famous family. We have got your exclusive highlights from that interview!
While most think he got his start in 1969, it was actually in 1968 and a talent contest that started him on this path to the star he is today. “They were inviting invitations from prospective actors to come and enter this competition. Do a screen test, do performances and then three winners would then be selected and given an opportunity with the United Producers, which was a body of five or six very prominent producers… who would then take them in their film. I applied for that. I got rejected in the preliminaries.”
The actor revealed how he got started in the industry including who helped him along the way; “My first screen test was actually organized by Nargis-ji and Sunil Dutt saab in Mumbai in ‘68.”
He went on to talk about working on his earlier films, including his first Saat Hindustani, “Then in ’69, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was making Saat Hindustani and he was looking for newcomers. There was a young girl that was being cast; she was part of a group, which moved around, with my brother, who was posted in Mumbai during that time, working for a shipping company. When he came to know that Abbas was looking for newcomers he recommended my name, sent my photograph. Abbas saab seemed to like what he saw and he called me across here. I came here on the 15th of February 1969 and that is how I got my first job.” He won the National Film Award for Best Newcomer for his performance in the film.
About the monster hit Sholay he said that they “never imagined it would be so big” as well as revealing that the climax of the film was almost changed: “Deewar had just released in January and because I died in that, everyone said that he is dying too often. Maybe we need to keep him alive!”
Speaking of Deewar, Mr. Bachchan says that it is “one of the finest scripts written” and he knew he had to do it as soon as he heard it. “I was actually in the middle of making another film with Mr. Yash Chopra. It was a new film with Parveen Bhabhi and we already had finished shooting for about seven to ten days when I heard the script. They were wanting Yash-ji to direct it, so I called Yash-ji and I said I think you need to listen to this script because it is pretty good. He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah but I am making this other film with you, so how can I listen to this?’ I said, ‘Sir, just have a look at it, you may want to make this.’ He did and that is exactly what happened. He scrapped the other one and made Deewar.”
He also talked about taking on the romantic avatar in Kabhi Kabhie, “For me any role is challenging and I look at it that way. But yes, Kabhi Kabhie was extremely romantic, beautifully written, very lyrical. The music was exceptional at that time. We never knew whether it would do well because of the immense intensity of all my past films and the identification that was with the so-called ‘angry young man’, but it worked. How nice that it did.”
When asked about working on the sets of Amar Akbar Anthony he said: “It was one big party… It was madness, absolute madness. Most of the time we were all together and we used to have a lot of fun. Many a times, because Manmohan Desai’s films had so many ridiculous situations, which were just so impractical and unbelievable, Chintu (Rishi Kapoor) and me used to be ridiculing this thing. We used to laugh at each other and say what the heck are we doing here? But, you know everyone of those so called stupid things that we did, they all became so popular.”
The outpouring of support overwhelmed the actor after his accident on the sets of Coolie. He says it was: “Very humbling, very emotional moment for me.” Adding, “It is a huge debt that I will carry with me. I’ll never be able to repay what the people of this Nation did for me.”
Mr. Bachchan also talks about his company A.B.C.L. and how he nearly went bankrupt and had over 100 legal cases against him: “We went through a very lean phase were we almost became bankrupt and lost all the money, but we stuck it out… I didn’t want to close the company. A. because it bore my father’s name and b. the fact that all the creditors were from my own industry, and I was going to remain here as an actor – I would not be able to face them if I knew that I owed them money. So, I worked hard and I paid back every single penny.”
Directed by Mukul Anand, Agneepath is another of Mr. Bachchan’s great roles. About that film he revealed, “The whole characterization we developed jointly and worked it out. I had a wonderful time working on it because it was very creative – very different. Unfortunately when it was released a lot of people in middle India objected to the voice and didn’t like the voice at all. In fact they actually stopped screenings and said there is something wrong with your sound system, this is not his voice and so on and so forth. Yash-ji then succumbed to the feeling of the people and I redubbed the film in my normal voice. But I have to say, ironically it is the original voice that most people identify with.”
He then took a break from films for three or four years and says that now he thinks it was a wrong decision to make. “I think it is important for actors to continue working. For me personally, I lost touch with the industry, I lost touch with the country and what was happening in the country and a lot of water had flown. You always think you can pick up from where you left off last – well that is a very big mistake. Many thoughts, ideas, temperaments, the way people were making films; they all changed and I think I missed on all that. I should not have taken this break.”
When he came back, his films did not do well and along with that was the collapse of A.B.C.L. but then his career took a new path, “I was without a job, without money, with a huge amount of creditors. I went to Yash Chopra and said I need work. He gave me Mohabbatein , and slowly those character roles started coming my way.”
The interview also touches on Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, “Shah Rukh, Hrithik, Jaya, Kareena, Kajol all of us together. Another big party.” Plus working on Bunty aur Babli with Shaad Ali and also his outstanding performance in Black. “When he (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) brought this proposal to me, I immediately said yes and I told him I would not take any money for this. It was an extraordinary experience.” He also discusses the challenge that the recently released Paa presented him as an actor: “As an actor I love the challenge and I hope that somebody will keep challenging me every year.”
Mr. Bachchan also talks about meeting his fans on Sundays, blogging, and of course about his famous family: “We’re all actors and we are also family. We leave the home in the same car, we go to the studio and we share the same make up van and so on. But when the camera starts, we are all individuals that represents that character and we play our role.”
There is much, much, much more to hear, so be sure to check it out. You can listen to the interview on the BBC Radio Asian Network website here and here. Also, be sure to check out our interview with Raj and Pablo!