At BollySpice, one of our mottos is that we write about what we love (Bollywood!) and for sure, the motto of Radio personalities Raj and Pablo is that they talk about what they love (Bollywood!). These two fab guys are the hosts of BBC Radio Asian Network’s program Love Bollywood. They admit to being unabashed Bollywood fans and say that their show is a platform for all filmi fanatics to come talk about this magical genre of films, be it praise or raves. The two have interviewed many, many stars of the industry: Zeenat Aman, Dharmendra, Karan Johar, Priyanka Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan, … think of a name and they probably have been on the show. With the release of Paa, BBC Radio Asian Network is celebrating Amitabh Bachchan’s 40-year career in the industry and Raj and Pablo were able to speak with Mr. Bachchan. The in-depth interview will air on December 12th and 13th. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk to the guys about their interview with the legend, their show, the stars, who they are dying to interview and, well, as you read, you will see we had a total Bollywood love fest! Enjoy!
First of all, tell us about your show Love Bollywood.
Pablo: We have been doing Bollywood on the BBC for quite a while and Love Bollywood has sort of adapted and grown with us. Now it has become a show were we feel like it is a platform for other people who do love Bollywood to come and talk about whatever they like and also have access to their favorite stars. The movie fanatics who go and watch every release or get out the DVDs and watch all the old films and want to kind of really express their opinions or off-load about films, they can do that every Saturday and Sunday with us.
Raj: The show has really developed. I mean myself and Pablo, we are both great Bollywood lovers since we were knee high. You know when Bollywood was unfashionable and everyone was trying to be cool and trendy etc., etc., but we are unashamedly Bollywood lovers and that is how it has grown. That is not to say that we are not critical of the films and the genre but it is something that we have embraced and it has become all encompassing for us.
Pablo: Also it has really changed, because the longer we have been doing the show, the more involved we got with it, we really have understood how Bollywood has infiltrated into every part of our lives. So, when we are on the show and we are just talking about what we may have been doing on a Monday or a Tuesday, somehow it seems to always come back to Bollywood. (Laughs)
What is your favorite part of doing Love Bollywood?
Raj: Everything, everything from the features, to Love Bollywood, to being able to discuss some of the films, to other Bollywood lovers as well, people who are either getting into the movies or want to know what this term ‘Bollywood’ actually means. To speaking to some of the stars that have now become our friends.
Pablo: I think also a big important part of the show is, as the show has gone on, the stars are like our friends now, and so we can have a conversation where they know we are not going to offend them and we know they won’t get offended. At the same time, we know we don’t have to tailor our interview and go, oh, we are not going to ask you this and we are not going to ask you that. They are quite happy for us to talk to them quite honestly.
Raj: About everything and anything, and the interviews have become more of a conversation where a lot of the Bollywood industry is so candid with us and they say things and tell us things for the audience that they wouldn’t do in any other program. There is a trust that has developed. See, when Shah Rukh Khan was upset about the Bombay Bombings, he wanted to tell the audience what he felt, and he feels our show is a good platform because they know what they say goes out. Does that make sense?
Yes it does, and it is amazing not only because you have that opportunity but you are getting it out there to the fans who do love Bollywood.
Raj: Totally, Totally! So, it has become the definitive show.
Starting next weekend you have a pretty amazing interview that is going to be airing with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. What was the whole experience like?
Pablo: Well, first we were invited to come over to one of his residences, where A.B.C.L.’s(Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited) office is based as well; that was a privilege in itself. Then the really strange part of it is we were waiting for him in the office and then his secretary I think it was, or someone who worked for him, said ok, he has finished his meeting come in, lets go up the stairs. We are walking up the stairs and what we saw was Mr. Bachchan at the top of the balcony saying, hi guys, come up, come up! It is something we never imagined to see!
Raj: In a sense it was like pinching ourselves. This is THE institution of the Indian film industry and he is talking to us. I am telling you the man is amazing! His presence is mesmerizing. You know, me and Pablo are not usually lost for words, but when he actually looks at you, he looks directly in you, it is so bizarre.
Pablo: You know I will say it’s a humbling effect. He is a thorough professional, but you can’t help but feel his emotion or the real passion that he actually does care about you, and he is treating you on a one to one level, and at the same time he can wrap that all up in professionalism as well.
I always imagined it that you are sitting there and it is him and it is like, ahhhhhh!
Pablo: You do! It’s not what is my next question going to be, it is like, what am I going to say? Exactly!
Raj: You know his screen presence is exhilarating; there is this kind of aura about him. But when you see him, when you actually have the privilege to meet him on a one-to-one, it’s amazing! You know, when you get pins and needles all over you, it is that kind of feeling. There are some people on this earth that are here for a reason and they exude something that is beyond a normal person – he has got that, whatever that is.
What was your favorite part of the Amitabh interview?
Pablo: There were some things we talked about and obviously and we can’t say what they are until the interview comes out.
Pablo: There were things we didn’t know, like films that he did for nothing, situations with people when he had all the financial trouble A.B.C.L. initially.
Raj: Also, how he first started in the industry and how hard it was for him. We can say this: Nargis, the late great actress Nargis, Sanjay Dutt’s mother, she actually helped, Sunil Dutt actually helped. You know, the one thing we got from him was that even though this is Mr. Amitabh Bachchan the humility that he exudes it is amazing!
What surprised you?
Raj: Just being in his presence, and that despite being Mr. Amitabh Bachchan he actually takes time out to find out how you are thinking, how you are feeling, are you okay. I mean, this is a man with a million and one things on his mind, the whole world wanting bits of his time but when you are there he makes you feel like you are the only person there.
Pablo: And not only that but you don’t often hear Mr. Bachchan saying, ‘that was a mistake, I really shouldn’t have done that’. That was what surprised me – when he talked about a certain phase and there were certain decisions he made, and he talks about them very candidly.
What question do you think he liked best?
Pablo: I think he likes to talk about how he is challenged as an artist. I think he likes talking about that – how the audiences now are accepting him where he is playing roles where they say ok, you are an actor, let’s see how far you can go as an actor.
Raj: The artist in him – that is the most fundamental thing to him, in terms of challenging his creativity to excel further. That is what really connects with him. You know, the other thing about Mr. Bachchan is that he says he is an actor first and foremost; everything else is the paraphernalia around him. It is being an actor first and foremost and how he is still learning.
Amazing – really?
Raj: I mean Mr. Amitabh Bachchan said ‘I am still learning’!
Can you give us a glimpse into what he said about working on Paa?
Pablo: Yes, he talked about Paa and his experience working with Abhishek, and also what it means to A.B.C.L. I think not just in this interview; we interviewed him before about Paa, which played out a few weeks ago, where he talked about how long make-up used to take, and the special effects, and just the rapport with him and Abhishek.
Raj: Also in the sense that even though Abhishek is family, and that is his son, the professionalism when they are on set – they become just actors. With Abhishek and with Vidya Balan as well. He also said that director Balki brought one his best performances out and how much of a challenge it was as well.
When you see a picture of him in the film, if you didn’t know, you would never, ever guess that was him.
Raj: You would never guess whatsoever!
When I was doing the music review for the site I was looking at the CD and thinking, wait a minute, that can’t be him singing that song.
Pablo: The same thing happened when we heard that track. I looked at the CD and I thought, hold on, who sang this?
Exactly!! It’s amazing. You know he has that distinctive voice, that Amitabh Bachchan voice, and it is just gone.
Raj: It is, it’s just gone – it is awesome! You know people kind of use this term quite lightly, but he IS a living legend, and for having that privilege and honor actually being with him in his own space was like, WOW!
What was your best interview ever?
Raj: Everyone actually.
Pablo: It is a difficult one, but you know when you are interviewing someone like Zeenat Aman, there is so much to talk about, much like interviewing Mr. Bachchan, it goes on a different road as to when you are speaking to somebody like Priyanka Chopra.
Raj: Or like Karan Johar or someone like Vivek Oberoi.
Pablo: As for a favorite one, I think mine would be Priyanka Chopra because it was very, very up front and very funny, to say the least.
Raj: For me it is like every single interview you get something special or something different. Me and Pablo still pinch ourselves that we are actually speaking to these luminaries, to these stars that we have seen on the silver screen. One was Dev Anand and all his reminisces. I don’t know, for me I am a great Zeenat Aman fan. I don’t know what it is about her, she does something for me and I like actually speaking to her. She told us she has two dogs, and she was sitting there with her two dogs, and she was so humble. I think the thing that gets us most is the humility of people. The whole thing about us loving Bollywood as a genre is the sheer magical escapism and we love it from the 40s and 50s onward. And to speak to them, I don’t know, it is just amazing. Especially Dev Anand I think.
Pablo: One I found very inspiring was when we interviewed Asha Bhosle. The things she said about how difficult it was, even though she had a very famous sister before she started. How she struggled, all the ups and downs, and how to maintain that status once you have made it. I found her interview to be a complete inspiration.
Raj: There is a certain dedication and humility that come across from everyone we have spoken to. That essence of just, like, being. You know one of the things that gets said to us is, My God, I can’t believe that you guys, you are British, or like you are from the West and you appreciate our work.
It is amazing how it has come out into the world.
Raj: Exactly, exactly. If you think, like, the great golden age of Hollywood, you know the Busby Berkley movies and all the rest from the 30s and 40s, that is what Bollywood is.
I think that is what I love about it so much. Growing up, I loved those musicals and so when I saw Bollywood, I found the perfect movie.
Raj: You think of Cary Grant movies and all the songs and dances in the movies. There is enough bad stuff in the world and what Bollywood does is try to enlighten you. Does that make sense?
That is exactly what I say!
Pablo: One person we really, really want to interview is Rekha.
What would you ask?
Pablo: Goodness me, there is so much! I would want to know exactly how she has managed. There is no secret in terms of her relationships and the amount of her partners that have died as well. How she managed to keep herself sane and how she managed to control her emotions and still be the diva that she is without going crazy.
Raj: In the sense of the survival instinct: what keeps a person going and maintaining, especially when you are in the glare of the public eye. And she has become an enigma you know, like the Greta Garbo of India so to speak, and what actually makes her tick?
Pablo: You don’t see her out at parties, you don’t see her out at too many big launches. You see her at the award ceremonies, and she briefly made an appearance at Shilpa’s wedding because she loves Shilpa. I can’t imagine what kind of conversation she must have with some of the younger stars in terms of talking about her experiences, because so much was written about her when she was at her peak. She didn’t go crazy; she never had a go at anyone. She just kept herself to herself and she is still, for me, she is still right up there.
Raj: There are other people that we would have loved to interview, like Raj Kapoor for instance, or someone like Parbeen Bhabhi. The other person we have not actually been able to interview properly is Helen. She is amazing: a woman that walked all the way from Burma, got to Bombay, and started off with nothing to become one of the legends of Bollywood.
Favorite answer you have ever gotten from a guest?
Pablo: Well, Priyanka Chopra saying that if she ever decides to get married I’d be on the top of her list. Do you know why that is? We were in Bombay and we were at her flat. This was before the Filmfare awards, and she had all these dresses and evening gowns, right. So, we picked her evening gown and she won an award, and she was like, from now on when I am going to get an award, you guys have to choose the dress.
Any funny moments you can share from show?
Raj: Karan Johar – we told him to change his website picture and he agreed because it was awful.
Pablo: I think it was off Wikipedia. We said he looked very, very bad and he agreed and said he would change it. There are a lot of things we talk about off-air with the stars. I think one of the funny moments was, and I am sure Anil won’t mind this, was when Anil was promoting Slumdog Millionaire and we did an interview with him, and off air we said to him there are a lot of people who are kind of upset with the movie, saying ‘why are Indians portrayed like this etc., etc.,’ We can’t repeat what he said; basically his reply was he wasn’t very concerned about those people and they could just, well, you know. He’s really proud of what he has achieved.
Raj: And his daughter Sonam, she is wonderful. She is very erudite, she reads a lot and she’s fun. She is going to go far.
Raj: One of the compliments we have had was Dharmendra saying, you are just like Bobby and Sunny, you are like my sons. He has got such a generous heart he is lovely.
Pablo: That was another surreal moment – when Dharmendra says, Oh, you remind me of Sunny, you remind me of Bobby.
Raj: He said come over here, and he gave us a hug! And this is Dharmendra!
Amazing!! How much insight have you gotten into how the industry really works?
Raj: As opposed to just seeing, like, my god, it’s a movie, now we have seen the dedication and the hard work that goes into it. On one level, it seems from a Western perspective very haphazard, but the sheer professionalism that goes into it, not only from the stars, but the assistant directors, the costume designers, the spot boys, the ways the studios operate, were like people are doing nine hour shifts, to when they are shooting abroad: how it all just comes together – there is so much dedication.
Pablo: And how many lives are affected by the industry in terms of employment, in terms of just putting food on the table. Also in terms of what you get at the end of the movie when you go watch it just as a punter (common man).
Raj: And the other thing for us, when we were in Bombay, we caught Kurbaan in Indian Cinema in Bandra, actually watching it with Indian audiences in India. It’s a completely different way of watching a movie than we do. People are enthused; they are excited, they are shouting at the screen.
Pablo: They will yell at scenes that make them angry, or in scenes that make them happy you will hear clapping, you will hear some quite strong language if they don’t agree with something. You will hear the tears, you will hear the laughter. It truly is an emotional journey; they really don’t hold back their emotions.
Raj: It is magical. We got infused by this as well – that people were talking to the stars on screen. It is wonderful, it is like, WOW! It was amazing and it has changed the way I will be watching Bollywood movies now, because if you are in London or New York or wherever you watch the movie in a certain kind of mould. The exuberance and the enthusiasm and the magic of it is like, YES!
Who do you think has the biggest career potential right now from the young generation?
Raj: Ranbir, Abhishek, and Sonam as well.
Pablo: Yeah, and I would add Deepika into that group as well.
Who has surprised you by how well they have done their career?
Pablo: I have been surprised by Katrina Kaif.
Raj: Yeah, Katrina Kaif, because her first debut was Boom, which sank without a trace, and she has hit after hit after hit now. I think with New York it was a real turning point for her because her performance was of note as well. And the other one is Kangana, because she is very underrated.
Ok getting to the hard questions: Favorite Actor and Actresses?
Pablo: At the moment I am enjoying Kareena, I think she has really come out of her shell. The other person I am really enjoying is Ranbir. I look forward to watching his films.
Raj: For me, has to be and always has been Amitabh Bachchan, and I feel Kareena really has come into her own.
Raj: Oh God there are so many… from Meena Kumari’s Pakeezah to Satyam Shivam Sundaram – I don’t know…
Pablo: I don’t know… I kind of go for the love triangles. If it was one of the old ones it would be Sangam, then you move up on the list and there is Silsila and then you get to Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. You get what I mean? I quite enjoy those types of stories. However, my all time favorite movie is Gangster with Shiney (Ahuja) and Kangana (Ranaut). I think it is a brilliantly made film.
Raj: For me, it is like one of those licorice Allsorts boxes. Think of Bollywood like that, right? You take a bite and it depends on what type of mood you are in – some of them are magical and some you just chew.
What do you think of Bollywood films today?
Pablo: Well, obviously the quality has improved hugely, and now we are getting into special effects. Love Story 2050 and even Paa would not have been possible a while ago. It’s all relative because it has moved with times. Story lines too are moving with the times in terms of how teenagers and youngsters are living today, and not necessarily just in Mumbai but even as NRIs.
Raj: Things are getting much more structured and much more molten but the essence is that Indian emotionalism, and that is what we connect to. Be it from the 50-60s like Madhumati, to Sangram, to like Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, which is a wonderful film, it is filled with that warm Indian emotionalism that permeates and I think that is what makes Bollywood unique.
How has the industry changed over the years?
Pablo: I think that there is a lot more structure to it and now. You will find actors say they get a script, which they never used to. It used to be quite difficult, there is no secret about that; they used to turn up and they would be like, this is the scene, this is what you gotta do, and you would have to get on with it and do it. Thinks are a bit more organized, I would say.
Raj: The other thing is that we have seen it grow on a worldwide basis. For the show we get calls and emails from Fiji to New Zealand to South Africa to Canada. It has touched a chord worldwide. Bollywood has got its own unique place, which is beyond the whole kind of Bombay India centralized to NRIs, to non-Asians as well. I don’t know if Bollywood has become more accessible or that the world has become more accepting towards Bollywood. It is no longer just an Indian audience or just a NRI audience that watches Bollywood.
Do you find that it is hard to separate your “fan-ness” or friendship with a star when doing a review?
Raj: No, because our essence is that we are honest.
Pablo: I think that is one of the reasons that they, if I can say, respect us, and that we do have a bit of a rapport with them, is because they know they will get our honest opinion. We don’t claim to be hard-core journalists or anything. What we are is lovers of Bollywood, so we will give our opinions in that form.
Raj: One of the things that Pablo and I have always decided is that even though there are lots of press screenings or private viewings, we always try and see a film with an audience. At the end of the day we are lovers of Bollywood, we ARE the audience; does that make sense? Like when Kurbaan came out, we loved aspects of it but we said the second half of it was x y and z-ed and, when Karan texted, we told him exactly that. The thing is to be honest. But we are not critics, we are not journalists – we are actually people that actually love Bollywood with its faults and warts and all.
Why do you love Bollywood?
Pablo: Because my life feels like a Bollywood movie. How about that for an ending?
Raj: With all the mirch and masala, the turns, the twists, the highs and lows.
Pablo: It is the only way I can make sense out of my life.
Raj: It’s true actually, and you can hum a song and everything is all happy, when you are sad you can sing a sad song. That is how we conduct our lives. It is a bit crazy I know, but hey….
I had brilliant time talking with the bollywonderful Raj and Pablo and I have to say that if I was not already a fan I would be a huge fan now! Don’t miss their amazing interview with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan on December 12th and 13th!
You can listen to Love Bollywood every Saturday and Sunday from 9am on www.bbc.co.uk/asiannetwork and on DAB / Sky 0119 / Freeview 709 / Freesat 709 / Virgin 912.