"Dilip Kumar is my idol" - Amitabh Bachchan
Q. Which films were part of your growing up years?
In English there were mainly Laurel And Hardy comedies and fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella. In Hindi cinema, early awareness would be associated with films like Jagriti (1954), Ranjan’s sword-fencing escapades (like Chandralekha in 1949) and all modern day movies of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand.
Q. Who were the actors you grew to be fascinated with? Why?
Dilip Kumar was and is my idol. I was very impressed by his performances and his most natural presence. I also admired Motilal, his natural demeanour is something that I have yet to discover in a performance. Though I must admit, some of the fresh and new talent in the industry are a delight to watch.
Q. You’ve always shared your great admiration for Dilip Kumar. Please share the performances you were riveted by?
Almost all his films were inspirational and worthy of mention but Gunga Jumna (1961) was a favourite. For someone born and brought up in Allahabad, UP, the land of Awadhi, to watch and hear Dilip saab ostensibly from Mumbai, behave and speak the perfect diction of a UP inhabitant was incredible.
Q. What was your first brush with onscreen romance? Which love story did you find the most moving?
None… maybe Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) because of the incompleteness of its love story.
Q. Your admiration for Waheeda Rehman is well-known. Which of her films did you enjoy? Why?
I enjoyed Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool but all her performances were exceptional. She was to me the ultimate personification of the Indian woman. Apart from the grace of her presence, there was always that mischievous quality about her which was most endearing.
Q. For which film did you do the first screen test?
I never gave screen tests for any film. I did do a screen test through the kind courtesy of Nargisji on the set of a film that was starring Manoj Kumar and was directed by Mohan Segal.
Q. What was individually special about the cinema of Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra and Hrishikesh Mukherjee – all of whom gave blockbusters with you?
Manmohan Desai had the unique quality of making the most ridiculous look credible and succeeding while doing so. Prakashji had great sense of story, especially its dramatic content. Yashji was someone who shot Deewaar (1975) and Kabhi Kabhie (1976) simultaneously – subjects that were worlds apart, yet successful. And Hrishida was, well, Hrishida. An assistant to the great Bimal Roy, his subjects were powerful and real, middle of the path and successful.
Q. You’ve done many films with your wife Jaya Bachchan. Which are your favourite scenes?
One in particular stands out – in Abhimaan (1973) when the husband (Amitabh) visits Uma (Jaya) at his sasural after their friction.
Q. What is the most beautiful memory you carry of the classic Sholay (1975)?
That my first child, my daughter Shweta (Nanda), acted in it too. Jaya (played Radha) was pregnant with her in the scene when Jai (Amitabh) goes to return the keys to her after Veeru (Dharmendra) and he have been caught trying to steal from Thakur’s (Sanjeev Kumar) locker. That’s a memory.
Q. Which films would you consider as classics in Hindi cinema and why?
The list is too long for this interview but it would largely be films by Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and so many others when I joined the industry.
Q. Please share memories of the first shot you gave with Dilip Kumar for Shakti.
It was the jail sequence in Shakti when the police commissioner (Dilip Kumar) visits his errant son (Amitabh). Dilip saab is an actor who innovates every take that he gives. You could do a hundred retakes with him and have a problem deciding which one to keep.When you won the Filmfare Award for Black (2005) it was a defining moment. more so because it came clo se to your illness. What does Black mean to you?Black was the most rewarding experience – in its story, the character and the aesthetics of the film and above all with Sanjay Leela Bhansali being behind the camera. The craft of this young and dynamic director and the freedom he gave helped me carve out my own interpretation of the role. Barring one mistake that I made in the performance, which was my personal failing, I believe, Sanjay presented all of us in such a wondrous climate that it was a sheer joy to see the final product on screen.Reportedly, Dilip Kumar was in tears after watching Black...He was moved but it was I who was in tears when I saw him standing outside the theatre waiting to greet me after the film was over. He just held my hands and said nothing. That moment said everything.
Q. Something about Shah Rukh Khan that sets him apart from the rest...
I don’t have the ability to assess that but it must be something very powerful, else he would not be in the position he is today.
Q. What’s good, bad or different about contemporary filmmakers?
I have only discovered the good in all the contemporary filmmakers. They are all young, knowledgeable and most aggressively keen to succeed. They are unafraid, have immense belief in their craft and are determined to compete and challenge not only their adversaries but also themselves. I admire their courage, their thinking and their immense talent. The future of cinema in India is in the most capable hands.
Q. Who are your favourite actors in Hollywood. Why?
Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Al Pacino. Because of who they are.
Q. It’s often said, ‘Oblivion is the fate of every artiste’. Do you agree?