There’s a huge painting which adorns the wall of Amitabh Bachchan’s office. From a distance though, it looks like a class of school kids sitting for a group picture. But see the faces of those kids and you realise that they’re all the characters played by the legendary actor. Just when I was observing that painting, he walks into the room in a white kurta-pyjama teamed with a Nehru jacket and suddenly the entire atmosphere changes. I tell him, ‘Sir that’s such an interesting painting. In fact, what’s amazing is that you actually still seem like a kid if someone sees you work – your passion and excitement is something else!’ To that he responds, ‘Everyone who works has passion. Obviously there needs to be a certain amount of involvement when you work on something’. He is one of the most humble people you will ever come across, and it would be an understatement that he’s like a book on acting himself. We get talking all about acting and how the man functions, which only can leave one amazed. Excerpts:

“Everyday is a challenge, irrespective of the creative satisfaction”

With your kind of stature or experience, what is it that a film needs to appeal to you?

For me, it’s an opportunity to get another job. I don’t know anything else so I work in movies. The script, the story, the maker, what my character is going to be – things like that which are pretty normal, come into picture.

It’s amazing – the amount of preparation or detailing that you still put into every character. For instance, in ‘Te3n’, even how you speak is different. There are a lot more pauses and the pace is slow.

It’s just that when the story came about, we all sat down and discussed it, debated about a few things – how he’s going to behave, what he’s going to look like, how is he going to walk, what he’s going to wear, where all are we going to shoot. All these were given to me by the director and the producer and once we reach an agreement, we go on set. And on set, it’s the director that commands the ship. He decides if a take is good or not. Whether you’re going overboard or not, these are normal things. If you are an artist and you’re given a job which involves performing, you have to work at it. This is my profession, it’s not going to come to me on its own, I have to work towards it. A doctor will never take his job lightly; he won’t say that, ‘Oh I’ve cut a person’s stomach several times so now it’s easy for me’. Any professional has to study and take care of every aspect, that’s what even we do.

Also, there’s so much subtext in your scenes. While most of your dialogues are legendary, there’s so much conveyed through just your eyes in so many scenes. What is it that’s easy for you?

Nothing is easy. The dialogues are written by the writer and a writer is the most important person in any film. They design the story, dialogues, character, how you’re going to speak, what location should it be, so all credit to them and the director that sits with them and designs something like this. There are times when you have no lines, and that also is conceived by the writer. They decide, and that’s a challenge for us. How are we going to express something without saying something and there are many moments in life when you have to do that, so we draw from that.

Is that what is needed for your own creative satisfaction? Is it easy for you to meet the expectations that you have from your own self?

Everyday is a challenge, irrespective of the creative satisfaction. In fact, we will never get creative satisfaction. If artists say or claim that they’ve had creative satisfaction then they should stop creating. Everyday we strive for something new, something fresh, something that is challenging, something that we can improve upon. Everyday is an exercise in that, and that’s how I approach work.

Most people who work with you are anxious about doing their best, just hoping they don’t make a fool of themselves. Are there any anxieties that you go through?

Nobody wants to make a fool of themselves, so there is always that anxiety of what you’re going to do. Whether it’s an audience you are performing for or members of the crew on the set, you are always conscious. I just hope I don’t mess up, I hope I don’t have to do another take, I hope I don’t forget my lines – all these are the anxieties that actors go through but that’s a part of our profession. Which is why, we work with other artists, rehearse with the director and when finally there’s a collective opinion on something, we go ahead. Then sometimes we find flaws in a film when we watch it.

“Nobody wants to make a fool of themselves, so there is always that anxiety of what you’re going to do. Whether it’s an audience you are performing for or members of the crew on the set, you are always conscious”

You’re a director’s actor….
Every actor that goes and works with a director is a director’s actor because we listen to them. If we do not listen to them, he will throw us out. We have to make someone responsible and he is the responsible person. He has the entire vision of the film in his mind much before we come on board, we cannot challenge that. Yes we can discuss things, but discussions and debates should take place off camera, not on set. The time we spent on the research or discussions on the script, that’s the time when we express our thoughts. The director may accept them or reject them, but that decision is carried on the sets.

While the audience has loved to see the quintessential Amitabh Bachchan element and the larger-than-life aura in most of your characters…you’ve now shed that and completely succumbed to each of your roles – be it in ‘Paa’, ‘Piku’ or now ‘Te3n’.

I think they’ve got fed up of seeing me. At this age, what does one do? These are the kind of roles you’ll be approached with. I guess I won’t be able to do the other kind of roles because my age won’t commensurate for that. I’m 74 now. Roles that come to me, will be within the age group. So these are the kind of roles that come to me, and I do them. Though I won’t be able to say what I enjoyed more or what is better because every project is looked upon as a thorough professional job. Whether it was successful or not, is a different thing but we give all our heart and soul to every film.

 You say you’re 74, but on the set, you seem like a child who is raring to go. That level of excitement and curiosity to learn…how?

If you’re a professional actor, then anything that concerns performances or cinema, its process, watching other people perform, all these things are a learning for us. If am working with Vidya or Nawazuddin, it’s a learning opportunity for me to watch them. They are such talented artists. You can never be the ‘be all and end all’ of a performance. There will always be faults in you. People who write criticism about movies will point out these things, we don’t know about it. We just go and perform but there are many times when you read criticism and realise that hey, this is correct. Those points are noted, and we are conscious when we go in front of the camera next trying to not repeat the same.

 Is that why even on social media, you’re quite open to all sorts of opinions and be so humble?
Well, it doesn’t require management. If I feel something, I say it. Whether it’s criticism or abuse or appreciation, everyone has the right to have an opinion and one should accept it. Nobody is perfect.

What is it that you still want to learn? I heard you want to learn to play an instrument.

Yes, I want to learn to play a musical instrument. I want to learn different languages. Hopefully I’ll get there (smiles).

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