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In a country where going to the cinema is a national pastime, India’s novel coronavirus-related lockdowns hit the various regional movie industries particularly hard, with a slew of summer movies missing out on a lucrative theatrical release.
One such film was the eagerly anticipated Gulabo Sitabo, the latest from Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan. Producers behind the comedy caused waves in the industry, and not all of it of the good kind, when they skipped a theatrical release for a streaming debut on Amazon. Originally slated for release on April 12, the film, in which Bachchan co-stars with Ayushmann Khurrana, will stream globally on June 12. The film marks another milestone in the five decade career of Bachchan—his first direct-to-streaming feature.
When Amazon announced it had acquired Gulabo Sitabo, it sparked a fierce debate in the industry over marquee films bypassing theatres. Bachchan’s only comment on the issue so far has been via a tweet at the time of the Amazon announcement in which he said was “honoured to be part of yet another change” given he had seen “many changes and challenges” since he began his career in 1969.
Bachchan, 77, is entering his 51st year as an actor. After making his debut in Saat Hindustani, his filmography has spanned over 200 titles and in the ’70s and ’80s, when he was at his peak, he portrayed the “angry young man” in some of Indian cinema’s biggest hits such as Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay, among others. His dominance over the Indian box office at the time led French director Francois Truffaut to hail Bachchan as a “one man industry.”
Though it has caused controversy, the Amazon deal for his new film isn’t as dramatic a career move as when Bachchan made history in 2000 and became the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which went on to set TV ratings records.
As for his evolving film career, over the last decade or so, Bachchan’s selection of projects has seen him working with a host of new talent, from directors to co-stars, and Gulabo Sitabo is no exception. In the film he stars with Ayushmann Khurrana, 35, one of the most successful actors of his generation, who has delivered a string of hits since his 2012 breakout hit Vicky Donor. Titled after locally famous glove puppets, Gulabo Sitabo tells the story of two scheming men who try and one-up each other in increasingly outlandish ways.
In this email interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bachchan talked about working with Bollywood’s next generation and explained why Kaun Banega Crorepati is still popular after two decades.
In Gulabo Sitabo you co-star with Ayushmann Khurrana who is a rising star among the youth. How was it to work with him and what do you make of the current generation of actors in Hindi cinema?
Correction, Ayushmann Khurrana, is not a rising star… he is a very risen prominent star, living up to his name Ayushmann which means long lasting, LONGEVAL. With due respect, the oft repeated question ‘how was it working with him’ in all such interviews is most cliched. We are all considered professionals and when we work on a project we all wish to bring the best output in the interests of the film. If we do not enjoy the company of our colleagues the project suffers. The final outcome of [Gulabo Sitabo] will be decided by the audience of course, but I can tell you, that working on it has not been a suffering!!
The current younger generation is brilliant, each and every one of them. They are so well prepared, confident, equipped with the very best talent and faultless. I learn in their company, for I lack what they possess, and consider myself fortunate that I get an opportunity to do so.
2020 marks the 51st year of your career. Can you share some highlights in terms of how the Indian film industry has evolved in all these decades in your opinion?
My first film was black and white, then [the industry] moved to color, from 35mm to 70mm, from mono sound to the most advanced sound systems, from single screen to multiple screens, from the Mitchell camera to the Arriflex to the Digital, from celluloid to the chip, and most importantly, the worker on set, from pyjamas and bare feet to jeans and Nike shoes!
Creatively, edit cuts over time have increased, if 50 then, [they] are 500 now. Speed of expression, the presence of several other entertainment devices, TV, mobile from all over the world at the same time has given film making a huge competitive spirit. Quality competes with the best of the world, so the challenge has increased, maybe the writings have changed. Purists will live with the old, I feel we need to move with the times… if you’re OK I‘m OK.
You made your Hollywood debut in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. How was that experience?
That was not a debut, it was simply a friendly gesture, with no other intent. The experience was a delight. Immaculate preparation, detailing, extensive planning, indelible care on authenticity and the joy and relief of knowing that once the camera rolls we are all the same, Leonardo DiCaprio and Baz Luhrmann not withstanding… haha!!
You have been hosting Kaun Banega Crorepati since 2000, which still draws large viewership. What can you share about your two decade experience on this show and why do you think its still so popular?
KBC is the extreme joy of watching a life changing experience of the contestant on the hot seat, in the shortest period of time, to give me the opportunity to bring their stories to the rest of the world and to be in their personal space personally!! If it wasn’t ‘still so popular’ you would not have put that question to me!
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