I feel that I still have a lot to learn – Amitabh Bachchan
A legendary actor, a fine singer, a Twitter-addict and recently a marketing expert, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan has juggled between a lot of roles not just on-screen but in real life as well. It is always a pleasure to interact with the multi-faceted personality who is replete with interesting insights to share.
Ahead of the release of his upcoming film, the veteran star enthusiastically talks about his current experiences in the film industry and working with the digital generation in Te3n, after being a part of 200 films in an elaborate span of four and a half decades.
Tell us about the kind of preparation that went into your role in Te3n
This story is a remake of a Korean film. Sujoy (Ghosh, Producer) had discussed a different film with me earlier, which was based in Kerala but then one day Ribhu (Dasgupta, Director) and he came and told me that they have bought the rights for this one. They narrated the story to me and I told them that we go ahead with this one. It was earlier based in Goa but there were certain issues regarding permissions so I suggested that we shoot in Calcutta. So, since the character initially was Christian, we decided that he should remain so. He is therefore an Anglo Bengali based in Calcutta. When I was working in Calcutta back in 1962, I mingled with a lot of Anglo Bengalis. They were a part of our general existence and so there were a few people I knew because we were involved in some amateur theatre together. I therefore asked Ribhu and Sujoy to bring in those elements into the film.
What elements did eventually come about to define your character?
I play John Biswas in the film. He is 74, as old as I am now. A middle level retired bureaucrat who lives with his aged wife. He is a very soft, almost weak looking individual. He is not at all aggressive, nor pushy, disinterested almost. But there is a tragedy that has happened, he has lost his granddaughter. And his only desire is to find out what happened. He is not a character who has revenge on his mind. He is just anxious to know the truth and that is what the pursuit of the film is. His speech is soft, his walk is almost insecure. He dresses as a very very ordinary man, rides a broken down scooter, walks around with a bag, and is a very nondescript person, in a nutshell.
You have your strongest fan following in Calcutta. Was shooting there a pressure in any way?
That is a part of our profession. Once the camera goes on, you become your character. These are things all celebrities go through but you can’t let them affect your performance.
It was very different to be in a regular environment and not see any lights at all
How was it to work in Te3n? Are there any unique experiences you associate with it?
So the whole film has been shot on actual locations. There are no sets at all in this film. It has been shot in natural lighting, which is quite an accomplishment by the DOP Tushar (Kanti Ray). And obviously it’s on digital, so that was quite different. We are used to, from our times, to heavy lighting, these sharp reflectors that would hardly let you open your eyes. So it was very different to be in a regular environment and not see any lights at all. Sometimes I would wonder if anything is being printed at all.
You have worked with a lot of directors in the span of your career. How different is this younger lot that you are working with now?
I can’t say that there is any creative difference, they are all equally creative. What has changed actually, is the audience tastes. They demand something that is slicker and technically brilliant, because they have an opportunity to see all that there is on television, on internet, even on their mobile phones. So today’s filmmakers have to compete with that. In that respect I find this generation a lot more conscious about this factor. Also funding is now readily available, so that is not a problem anymore. They’re therefore concentrating on different kind of stories. Also, the talent available to them is remarkable. I am in awe of this talent. If you look at any one in this generation, they are perfect in their very first outlet. I feel that I still have a lot to learn. And they seem to be perfect. I can’t find any mistakes. They are valuable people. Moreover, they are a very relaxed lot. They are very normal and natural in front of the camera. That is the hardest thing to do in front of the camera; to do nothing. But this generation knows exactly how to do it and they deliver perfectly.
Do you at times feel wary that the current generation is so insistent about marketing?
See, there is praise for that and there is criticism too. But we have to understand one basic fact. In our time, films used to run for 25 weeks. Today, they run for three days, and your money is recovered. In order to make the film viable within those three days, you require this kind of marketing. Also the attention span of this generation is very short. So these promotions have become imperative.
The attention span of this generation is very short. So these promotions have become imperative
Like you mentioned, so much has changed over the years. Has the core of getting into a character, and playing a role, also changed?
Well that is a really good question. And the answer is, yes, it has. One of the biggest changes that has happened is that there is no celluloid any more. There is no film. In our times, film was the most important asset on a set. The whole concentration was on how to save that. So you had to be perfect in the very first take. Retakes were very few because that was wastage of film. But now you have digital. In my upcoming film Pink, we have shot a 50-day schedule in 33 days max, taking shots that are 15 minutes long. There were more than 15 artists performing at a time and six cameras. This lent a fantastic atmosphere to work in. It is very tough, because you have to get your character right, you have to get your lines right, and yet you can take your time to say something. You can leave how the shot is used up to the editor, you just have to play your part naturally. Take your pauses, say the lines that you feel like saying and even if you’ve made a mistake, the camera still keeps running and you can just correct yourself. All of this leads to a creation that is much more spontaneous.