Here’ a rare interview of Big B and Kaka together.
QUESTION: Welcome aboard! It has been 17 years since you last came together, professionally or personally. What kept you apart? Why did you not team up after Anand and Namak haram?
AMITABH: Who’s going to talk first? … I think after Namak Haram the only semblance of an offer was made by Goldie saab when he wanted to make Rajput.
RAJESH: But I wish we had done a third film also. It would have been a hat-trick!
AMITABH: Yes, I agree. However, I think it was important for a person like Hrishida to come up with something, because – with all due respect to Rajesh – I think Hrishida really scripted stories which suited our personalities. The lack of a proper script or a proper setting for the two of us was perhaps one of the major reasons why …
RAJESH: I would like to interrupt, Amit. What if the roles had been reversed in Namak Haram? In your opinion, could we have done justice to them?
AMITABH: I don’t think so. I think that Hrishida must have had something in mind before he cast us in our respective roles. He, perhaps, wanted me to play the more aggressive role since the script itself was patterned on Beckett. I think it had Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton in it. And,in fact there was a time when they did switch roles. But as to reversing our roles, I don’t know about Kaka, but I could never be put into the same category as Peter O’Toole or Richard Burton. Fine actors, the best in the world.
QUESTION: Amitabh, don’t you think it was comparatively easier to cast you in Anand when you were a newcomer or even as a parallel hero in Namak Haram but your subsequent superstardom disturbed the equation?
AMITABH: This question can best be answered by Hrishida. I really don’t know what the reading is in the mind of a film-maker when he takes, say three artistes of the same period or perhaps, of the same category. But I would imagine that I would be very happy to do something lesser because I am junior to Raiesh. As to the question of somebody being more popular, it is pure economics. I have said it before that nobody superceded anybody in popularity or whatever. Somebody’s film does economically better, therefore he becomes bigger. I don’t believe in these epithets of superstars or phenomena.
RAJESH: But how did you feel when you became a superstar after Namak Haram and Deewar?The reason why I am asking you is because once I was also at the top. And I use the term superstardom because that’s what the masses, the press, as well as the film-makers use. Did it affect you or not?
AMITABH: No, it didn’t affect me at all. I feel that my success was more dependent upon the script, director and co-stars. I just happened to be there.
RAJESH: That’s the technical part of it, but what of your own contribution? Personally,I feel that when a director says, ‘Start sound and action,’ no other department exists except the actor.
AMITABH: Quite right. You are given your role, you have to do your best.
RAJESH: Agreed. So stardom goes to the actor.
AMITABH: I haven’t really looked into it.
RAJESH: So that means you won’t own up to the failures either?
RAJESH: Neither the success nor the … crash?
RAJESH: You take neither the credit nor the blame?
QUESTION: What about you, “Raiesh’ What did success do to you?
RAJESH: I felt next to God! I still remember the exact moment when for the first time I became aware of how mind-blowing super-success can be. It psyches you totally — or you’re not human. It was just after Andaaz, at a lottery draw held at the Vidhan Sabha in Bangalore .
AMITABH: We were working together, in fact, when you had gone there …
RAJESH: Yeah. And! I remember because Andaaz ka premiere tha wahan. One couldn’t see anything but heads bobbing down the whole road, which was not only broad but almost ten miles long. And there was just one echo of the voices – `Haaaaa…’ You know, it was like a stadium in the times of the Romans. I wept like a baby. I am very surprised, Amit, that success and failure leave you untouched. Because later, when I started slipping, I hit the bottle. I mean, I am not a super human being. You are not Jesus Christ and I am not Mahatma Gandhi. I remember that once at three o’clock in the morning I was pretty high on spirits and suddenly it was too much for me to stomach because it was my first taste of failure. One after another, seven films had just flopped in a row. It was raining, pitch-dark and up there alone on my terrace, I lost control. I yelled out. Parvardigar, hum garibon ka itna sakt imtihan na le ki hum tere vajood ko inkar kar de,’ (Don’t test my patience to such an extent that I question your very existence). Of course, Dimple and my staff came running, thinking that I had gone insane! It was because success hit me so much that I couldn’t take the failure. I remember, the next day Balaji (a South producer) offered me Amardeep out of the blue. It gave a second lease to my career. Haven’t you experienced anything of this sort?
AMITABH: No, I have been very pessimistic about myself, I must say. And it’s really a wonder that I continued upto a certain point. Perhaps, it is due to the grace of God, prayers of the people and my lucky stars! Each day I felt that this is the end, tomorrow is my last day, so I have never really looked at it as emotionally and as passionately as you, Rajesh.
QUESTION: Don’t you recall the overwhelming response of the people to your illness in ’82, when you were fighting for your life in Breach Candy hospital?
AMITABH: Well … it disturbed me very much, but you cannot compare that incident with anything else. It was an unnatural situation. Of course, it affected me for a very long time because I didn’t know how to pay the people back. That always disturbed me. Jaya and I spent long hours trying to figure out how to return the immense love.
RAJESH: Naturally. Duaa mein jo baat bath woh dava mein kahan? I recall reading that when you were in hospital, your heart stopped beating for thirty seconds.
AMITABH: Yeah, I had no pulse and there was no blood pressure.
RAJESH: When you came to know about it later what were your feelings?
AMITABH: Well … at that point one is so weak, emotionally and physically … It’s very difficult for me to explain, because I still have no explanation.
RAJESH: Did it make you a better human being? Did it make you more humble? Or did it make you feel a super man, knowing that you had conquered death?
AMITABH: I think the people outside talked more about it than me. I haven’t had the time to really reflect on it. I haven’t really analysed that moment as Kaka would like me to. I have shut it away somewhere. Maybe when I am old and tired,I may reflect on that moment. One can only thank the people who prayed.
QUESTION: Your family is probably more acutely conscious of it. They must’ve gone through hell.
AMITABH: Yes, yes, and I am sure somewhere in the back of their minds they must be having some dark areas.
QUESTION: Has it left you less afraid of death?
AMITABH: When you gotta go, you gotta go.
QUESTION: What about you, Rajesh?
RAJESH: Oh,! am not scared of death at all. If on my death bed, I am asked, I shall say that I have no regrets, I have had the best of everything. So when death comes, I’ll just smile. I know that I have missed nothing, and if I am given this life again, I’ll go through it exactly the same way.
AMITABH: Oh, yes, I think the lord has been far too kind. I must admit that he gave me a lot of things at a very young age. But as for the adverse part, I would’t wish it even on an enemy.
RAJESH: Yeah! A king dies a king! He might not have a following. He might be dying alone, lost in a desert but he will still be a king, whether on the throne or in exile!
QUESTION: Rajesh is such an incorrigible romantic at heart, that he even romanticizes death, complete with a desert scenario et al! Amitabh, do your intense, violent roles spill over into your life!
RAJESH: Like you said, there is no dividing line in my case. There’s always some hangover which you carry back home. Just as I have my affairs and women, do you carry your violence home?
AMITABH: I can’t answer that question. I don’t even know whether I am doing it well on screen. All I can say is that I am given my lines and do what I have to do, after which, when it’s pack up time, it’s pack up.
RAJESH: You’ve played the romantic hero too. Is that more like you?
AMITABH: I’m terrible at romance.
RAJESH: Amit, in my esteem you are a very good actor. But you’ve become typecast as the angry man. Do you agree that you have become a victim of your own image?
AMITABH: Absolutely. It’s sad because everytime something else was tried out, it did not succeed.Even though people may have had faith in me, that faith would obviously get destroyed because the film didn’t work. Eventually, you know, we are all going to end up doing character roles whether we like it or not! It’s difficult for people in India to accept me as a leading man anymore. But Kaka has been a romantic all his life, he’s romanticizing even death, so perhaps he will continue to play romantic roles and one wishes him all the best. But, the fact is that, I will not be able to. So it’s pack up time for me.
RAJESH: No, I don’t agree with you at all. A good actor never says die, just as a good cricketer always remains a good cricketer. Even Bradman had a rough patch. Talking about Apeepath, why did you turn your voice, which is such a great asset, into a liability? Why did you do it? You know that Amitabh Bachchan means The Voice. Kiske pass hoti hai itni khubsoorat aawaz? And you turned it against you?
AMITABH: Actually this contradicts what you said earlier, where you said that I put in a said image. People criticize me for doing the same thing over and over again but when I make an attempt to do something different, they reject it. So where the hell am I?
RAJESH: But changing the voice does not change the image! You were playing an angry man and it was not as if you were playing something else and so you changed your voice. No, the rest of you – your physical appearance and your dialogue, remained the same. The only thing you changed was your voice, that’s all.
AMITABH: Well, people are willing to accept changes only upto a certain point. In Agneeparh I tried to be different within the demands of the character which didn’t permit overall changes. As for turning an asset into a liability, I can’t single it out and say, that no matter what, isko to main nahin change kamonga, baqi sab change karoonga.
RAJESH: Are you trying to say that images are more powerful than actors?
AMITABH: Certainly, in the minds of the people.
QUESTION: Why were you slaves of our images to such an extent that you created a Frankenstein which eventually devoured you?
AMITABH: When! did Anand I know that millions of people came to me and said, ‘Don’t you dare get out of that dhoti. This is it, stick to this. Always play the doctor’s role.’ But as time went on directors kept experimenting, kept throwing challenges at me, and I kept accepting them. And what is most important is that people kept accepting them also. The films ran and that lured the directors into repeating popular scenes. They’d say, Woh drunk scene kiya Hera Pheri mein, woh achha tha. Now,let’s do a scene where he smashes ten people and then twenty people.’ Your ultimate aim is to want to keep adding, keep making it more exciting until you arrive at a saturation point.
RAJESH: Directors would insist on the same set of mannerisms, especially in songs, ‘Waise hi aankhen Jhapko jaise Aradhana main kiya tha. Finally, those mannerisms went against me. But apart from that, I have been lucky because I haven’t had a set image. If I played Anand, I also did Bawarchi and Amar Prem. I’ll give you a small example, Souten was – – absolutely romantic, emotional and I was singing songs with Tina Munim and Padmini Kolhapure. Where as in Avatar, I threw out my mannerisms, wore a grey wig and played the father of grown- up children with daughters-In-law. Although the difference between Avatar and Souten’s release was only one week, people accepted both the roles. Amit, have you seen any of these two pictures?
AMITABH: No, I am sorry.
QUESTION: Was there ever any film for which one of you was signed and eventually the other did it? A rare instance of interchangeability of images?
RAJESH: Salim-Javed and I had differences. They refused to give the script to Yash Chopra because they wanted only Bachchan. So, although Yashji wanted me for Deewar, he had no choice. And, I guess overall, he must have felt that maybe Amitabh fitted the bill better. Later, I saw just two reels of Deetvar and honestly, I said, `Wah kya baat hail’ Honest to God. Talent was always there whether I worked with him in Anand or Namak Haram – I mean handi mein se agar chawal ka ek daana nikalo to pata lag jaata hai ki kya hai – but talent needs the right break. After Deewar I always envied him. Only thing is, I smiled each time he slipped because he made the same mistakes that I once made.
AMITABH: Well, I just can’t sit here taking all these compliments from you, because it’s a little embarrassing.
RAJESH: It’s not embarrassing, it’s the truth, which I feel from the bottom of my heart.
Part 1 | Part 2