Just a minute with Amitabh Bachchan

Bollywood's reigning king talks about India's media and 'Rann'

MUMBAI -- Interviewing Amitabh Bachchan is an event in itself. You go over your questions several times, make sure the recorder has backup batteries and reach the venue early.

Once inside, you will notice the two video cameras that will record every word because the 67-year-old actor records every interview.

It does get a bit unnerving but once you start the conversation, all that fades away as
Bachchan talks about his relationship with the media, his upcoming film "Rann" and how sad endings work for him.

Q: Your new film "Rann" deals with the world of news and media.

A: "'Rann' is about the fact that the media has got the title of the conscience of the nation, but the media is also a business and sometimes to run a business, you compromise with your conscience or vice-versa.

"It is a battle that goes on in the mind of one individual, which is my character, Vijay Harshvardhan Malik. He has a voice, he has an opinion and when he talks, the nation believes him. How he then gets involved in the politics of the nation, the competition that exists in the news media, issues in his family, issues with industrialists and how he either comes out or succumbs to it."

Q: In the past, you've had quite a tumultuous relationship with the media. How do you look back on those years?

A: "Well, it wasn't tumultuous; it's just that certain understandings that went wrong. The media accused or assumed that I was responsible for press censorship during the time of the emergency, which was completely wrong and false and therefore they banned me. And when they banned me, I reciprocated and that's how that relationship went.

"But you know I have friends in the media and everything is eased out now. And I said they have a certain responsibility, they have certain formats to follow. We are public personalities, we will be written about and we have to learn to live with that. Of course, if it goes beyond a point then you have to talk to them or now, give a clarification through some other medium."

Q: So does the fact that there are other mediums now available, like your blog which is so widely read, diminish the need for the media in a way?

A: "I don't know. If there are so many mediums available then obviously there will be a lot of dilution taking place. Yes, it's an asset, advantage that we can directly go (to them) without another medium and that's a lot of fun I think. And it's immediate. You get an immediate response and you can respond to that response, so I think it's marvelous."

Q: You record all your interviews, you save every message you get from the media. Is there an element of mistrust there?

A: "That is just in case I don't get misquoted and then I have an opportunity to tell you or correct you. And also for my own record."

Q: What's been the reaction of the media to the "Rann"?

A: "They find it very interesting. They have seen the promo and they are very curious about it. I haven't really shown it to many people but Barkha (Dutt of NDTV) and Aroon Purie who is a personal friend, were all very keen to see it.

Q: The director of this film, Ram Gopal Varma, is a man who has been called everything from mediocre to brilliant. You have stood by him in spite of that. Why?

A: "Well, it isn't like you are married to someone and you have to stand by them no matter what. I enjoy working with him, the roles that he gives me, even the ones that didn't work. There is a certain creativity and respect for each other, he presents me very well, so I enjoy working with him."

Q: You career could be divided into two phases, during the 'angry young man' phase and now. Which would you say has been creatively fulfilling?

A: "That's because of my age. I can't be playing leading men any more. Even in the early part of my career, I was doing things that were very fulfilling and the same is happening now. I cannot differentiate because I would be being dishonest if I were to differentiate between a phase of my creativity."

Q: Your last film "Paa" was very well-received and is sweeping all the awards. That must be very satisfying.

A: "Yes, it is very satisfying. I am happy that a lot of people appreciated the film and that they were able to see something different and still patronize it. It shows that the audience, as we always believe, is never ignorant and they are the most intelligent people. If we test them you will find that they are very vocal and very knowledged (sic) about what is meted out to them and we must never ignore that."

Q: You've also done television shows recently. Do you enjoy that medium?

A: "It's a very different medium, a very challenging one and it is not as easy as it looks. I am in great admiration of the amount of labour that goes into putting up these shows. I have had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see how it works and it's a massive operation and it is all handled by youngsters.

"In fact, I think that is the trend everywhere. I was on a flight to Delhi yesterday and the pilot came out to meet and take autographs and they looked like kids out of college (laughs). They must have great acumen to handle such responsibility at this age."

Q: Do you feel younger then, in the company of all these young people?

A: "Of course I feel old, very old (laughs), because I see them doing so many things, and I am not doing them and I feel all this is beyond my age now."

Q: Speaking of young people, you played a 13- year-old in "Paa." Weren't there apprehensions about the fact that your face and your personality wouldn't be visible at all?

A: "This was looked upon as a challenge more by Balki but this thought never entered my mind. But it was only after 9/10ths of the movie that one of the production executives said ‘sir, do you realize that the original actor's face will not be seen in the film'. And I said 'oh my god, I never thought of that'.

"Also there was the fact that we wanted Auro to be there, not Amitabh Bachchan, so the marketing and publicity were centered on Auro and not me. I only came on once the film was out. I think that worked."

Q: At the "Rann" press conference you spoke about "poetic justice" in Indian films.

A: "The beauty of Indian cinema is that you get poetic justice, otherwise no point making a movie is there? So, if there is poetic justice in every film, there will be poetic justice towards the media as well. You know that good will triumph over evil in the end."

Q: Yes, sad endings don't really work for us, do they?

"Actually, if they are done with a purpose and if it falls in line with the story then it is fine. A lot of sad endings have worked. 'Sholay' has worked for me, 'Muqaddar ka Sikandar' has worked for me, 'Kasme Vaade' has worked for me, 'Paa' has worked for me. Maybe I should be dying more often."