The final session of day 1, THiNK 2013, had the audience palpably eager on the edge of their seats. It was the ‘Don’ himself, Amitabh Bachchan, speaking with TEHELKA‘s Editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal. The session was titled “The Hermit and the Emperor – Amitabh Bachchan and the Roads not Taken”, and it featured Big B, arguably the greatest film star in the history of Indian cinema, sharing stories about his beginnings, struggles and triumphs with the audience.
Bachchan candidly spoke of his parents’ first meeting at a mutual friend’s house. His father, prominent poet Harivanshrai Bachchan, happened to discover Teji Bachchan (Amitabh’s mother) in tears during the recitation of one of his poems. They decided to get married within a couple of hours, and became the first couple in the area to go ahead with an inter-caste marriage. Bachchan described his childhood as “a lovely mixture of East and West”, influenced equally by his affluent Sikh mother, who grew up with English nannies and expensive cars, and his father – a poor poet who studied by the light of kerosene lamps. Although many questioned why Bachchan turned to cinema when the atmosphere in his household was one of literature and poetry, his mother understood his decision, and remarked, “one poet in the family is more than enough”.
Bachchan spoke fondly of his roles in the two landmark films, Zanjeer and Abhimaan, that came out in the watershed year of his career, 1973. Zanjeer gave him the type of character that propelled him to mega-stardom – an invincible, charismatic, larger-than-life young, angry man. Bachchan attributes his success to the political and social context of the time – “The country itself was going through a time when the people were not happy with the system, things were going wrong, the Emergency was around the corner, and the people needed an individual to stand up and take on the system”.
On his late-90s sabbatical Bachchan said, “An artist needs to be involved, to be working all the time. When I returned to come back to Bombay and start working again, I felt that a lot of water had flown by”. And although he spoke of the difficulty of seeing newer, younger actors getting placed on a higher pedestal, Bachchan also talked encouragingly of the determination and perfectionism of the emerging generations of young actors.
By Sara Sudetic