Indian matinee idol Amitabh Bachchan was famously branded as Bollywood’s angry young man. But at 71, the long-enduring superstar is just painstakingly politically correct.
“I am no patriarch and nor do I ever wish to be one, for I simply do not possess the qualifications for the job,” said Bachchan in an e-mail interview, ahead of the world premiere of his satire Bhoothnath Returns at Dubai’s Grand Cineplex on Wednesday.
While his fans may disagree with his calculation of self-worth, the benign superstar — who has appeared in over 150 films since 1969 — is a leader of reinvention. He began his career with a slew of corruption-slayer roles in films such as Zanjeer and Deewar, but in the last decade, he has surprised his fans with films such as Paa, in which he played a 12-year-old with progeria, a rare disease in which the body ages rapidly, and the psychological thriller Nishabd, in which he played an ageing photographer infatuated with his daughter’s best friend.
While the story of Bhoothnath Returns is not as dramatic, Bachchan vouches that it will keep his fans entertained. In the satire, a sequel to 2008’s Bhoothnath, Bachchan plays a friendly ghost who’s denied entry into ghostland because he failed in his duty of scaring mortals. When he sets out to tick that off his list, he meets a street kid who reminds him of the pathetic conditions surrounding them. Together, they take on an evil, corrupt politician (Boman Irani) and attempt to resolve some of the burning issues in the neighbourhood.
“It was the story that attracted me to the film,” said Bachchan. However, it’s not all work and no play for the legend. On Wednesday, his wife of 41 years, Jaya Bachchan, will ring in her 66th birthday in the UAE. While Bachchan dubs the UAE-connect as a “coincidence”, he’s also in no mood to reveal what he intends to gift her. But for all else, he’s game. The veteran opens up about movies, mortality and what he would do if he had superpowers.
Welcome to Dubai. What are your thoughts on premiering Bhoothnath Returns in the UAE?
Coming to Dubai is like stepping out of our home in Mumbai and moving on to another home. The warmth, the hospitality and the respect meted out is so genuine and effective. The UAE markets have expanded immensely for Indian films and holding a premiere there is the natural thing to do. There is a sizeable community that watches our films and we hope that they shall watch Bhoothnath Returns in large numbers too.
What drew you to the role in Bhoothnath Returns? How do you go about choosing roles after over three decades in Indian cinema?
It was the story that attracted me to the film. Nitesh Trivedi, the director, has written a wonderful script and I immediately agreed. Plus, the fact that BR Films, Ravi Chopra and his family [producers of Bhootnath Returns] have always been very gracious to me. I worked with them in Zameer, Baghbaan, Baabul and Bhoothnath.
Has this movie propelled you to reconsider human mortality or even your own?
We all have to go sometime or the other. What is there for us to reconsider?
Supernatural comedies for children are an untapped genre in Bollywood. Is this sequel an attempt to be a torchbearer on that front?
We make a film not with the intention of it becoming a torchbearer. We make films because we enjoy telling a story. Films for children are a must and more attention should be paid to them.
If you had supernatural powers in real life, then what powers would you exercise?
Better life for the underprivileged, removal of violence and hunger to be in the past.
What are the limitations and positives to playing a friendly ghost?
Playing a character in a film is guided by the concept of the director and writer. They wished that I do this film and so I did it. It was inspiring enough.
You are rightfully positioned as Hindi film industry’s patriarch. How do you view the films that are being made there today?
I am no patriarch and nor do I ever wish to be one, for I simply do not possess the qualifications for the job. Today’s cinema is guided and composed by the younger generation and all of them are restless, well-trained and accomplished professionals. This can only bode well for the industry.
You have over 100 films to your credit, are you happy with the roles that are coming your way now?
You are one of the most avid bloggers in Indian cinema today and you have almost put entertainment journalists out of business with your crisp, well-articulated writing. Do you ever face writer’s block or fear being overexposed?
I have no intention of putting established journalists out of business as you suggest, simply because I do not possess the acumen to do so. Journalism is a tough job and I believe journalists lead a very hectic life too. I have no idea whether my writing is articulate and crisp but what I do know is that after I finish answering your queries, I would like to get back ASAP to my social media platforms.
You are celebrating your wife’s birthday with a movie premiere in Dubai. Is it a good idea to mix business with pleasure? And have you thought of what you are getting her as a gift?
The premiere has been planned without any particular date to be kept in mind. It is merely coincidental that Jaya’s birthday falls on the day I shall be in Dubai. And, do you really think that I would answer your second question? Leave something of our lives to be in the personal and private domain.
Tell us three things that the world should know about you?
1. That I am incapable of answering this question.
2. That I am simply unable to answer this question.
3. That I am simply and completely unable to answer this question. (That’s three, is it not?).