The Amitabh Bachchan Interview, Part II

'What has age to do with acting?'

Sad, angry, reflective, vulnerable and all too human... In the second part of his interview with Vir Sanghvi, Amitabh Bachchan reveals more of his true self:

How did it feel to do ads? You had refused to do them throughout your career.

Amitabh Bachchan

It was awkward. I came to Bombay with a driving license, and that's about it. It said if I don't become an actor, I will drive a cab. I didn't have a place to stay. I spent many nights on the benches of Marine Drive.

On the benches of Marine Drive? But you were from a good family, you had a very successful job in Calcutta.

I had left all that because I had a desire to work in the movies. I didn't have a place to stay. You know there is a limited amount of time you can spend with friends because you're barging into their house. So I spent a couple of days on Marine Drive benches with some of the largest rats I have seen in my life.

The whole intention was to act. They were rough times, but I had landed up, as I said, with my driver's license and said that if I didn't make it as an actor, I would ply taxis.

There were opportunities then too, when ad agencies approached me. I was offered Rs 10,000 for an ad, which was huge money since I was earning Rs 50 a month doing radio spots. But I felt doing an ad would take something away from me and I just resisted the temptation. Eventually, when I had to do ads for the corporation, it was very awkward for me.

What needs to be said is that people had invested money in the company. One of the prominent factors we had sold them was that, sing songs, cut albums, do ads, and collect revenues for the company.

Can I ask you the obvious question? When you came out of retirement, I don't think I'm revealing any secrets by saying that producers were offering you Rs 3 crore (30 million) per movie. You could have signed seven movies for Rs 3 crore each and made a huge sum of money. Why didn't you do that? Why go into ABCL?

Amitabh Bachchan

The idea wasn't to make money. It was a vision. I wanted India to project its products to the rest of the world. The biggest danger I felt was that if we didn't do it ourselves, foreigners would do it for us because they have more money power. That is the impression I got in some of my meetings with media conglomerates in the US. They had done immense research on India and I could sense that they were ready to move in.

In retrospect, do you think people got the impression that you were on the make, that you were ready to do anything -- even sign ads -- just to make money? Do you realise, in retrospect, that you did not communicate adequately enough what you intentions were?

I didn't feel the necessity to do that. The profile of the company was a public document. The public had access to it. Our entire activity was spelt out there. It was for everyone to see and read. I can't give clarifications all my life.

Also, why would I spend so much of my energy and time in creating a new concept if the intention was only to make money? I was losing sleep, I was losing money, I was losing whatever little creativity I had.

I think it is very unfair and unjust to say that I was involved in it because I wanted to make money.

During my 30-year career, one of the accusations that used to come my way was that you've never invested back into the film industry. You've invested in pharmaceuticals, in this and that. But you've never invested your money back into the industry. But here, I felt, was one activity that was very genuine. I really was putting money back to raise the standard of working in the industry.

In retrospect, what do you think went wrong with ABCL?

I think perhaps, in many ways, I myself should be the person bearing the blame.

Why do you say that?

Amitabh Bachchan

I am not a businessman. I never have been. I have problems dealing with money. My entire career has been managed by family members or managers who have looked after my affairs. I am totally ignorant as far as money matters are concerned. For me to suddenly be thrown into this huge corporate ocean without adequate managerial capacity was perhaps the unmaking of the corporation. But I was told that 'You're like the brand figure, you don't have to get into the nitty-gritty of management.' So, I very diligently kept away from it. What was required was to have an efficient executive team where you have CEOs, VPs etc. Which is what I did. I entrusted them with the job of running the corporation. I am sorry to say, but despite all this talk of professional executives and professionalism in management, this was a terrible example as far as our company was concerned. I trusted them but their feedback, their information was inadequate and false. It led to one disaster after another.

If I was to rewind your life five years back, would you start ABCL again?

Yes. I think it was a very noble cause, a new concept, very remarkable, very unique. The best part is that there are hundreds of others now following this pattern. I don't know whether it is succeeding or not but at least it has initiated a consciousness among them.

Let's talk a little about your film career. People are saying, why doesn't Amitabh Bachchan retire, he is not young any longer. How do you respond to that?

Amitabh Bachchan in Anand
What has age go to do with acting? (What has) it do with the roles you play? There are just a handful of people who say this. Surely, I must be my own judge. None of them were around when I was deciding to work in my movies. Nobody told me I should work in an Anand or a Saat Hindustani. Or that I should work in Deewar. It is very easy to criticise the food once you have got it ready-made in front of you. But no one wants to be there when you're packing up the pyaaz and the bhindi and the mooli. So really, I should be my own judge. It is easy to look at it from a distance and make a comment, but I should be the one that takes the decision because once the camera is on, I am the only one in front.

The Bachchan Interview continues: 'Beggars can't be choosers'

Read the Bachchan interview from beginning:
The Big B Interview, Part I: 'I have never been confident about my career'
The Big B Interview, Part II: 'What has age got to do with acting?'
The Big B Interview, Part III: 'Beggars can't be choosers'
The Big B Interview, Part IV: 'I don't have many friends'
The Big B Interview, Part V: 'I will leave when I feel that people don't want me'

quoted from ReDiff on The Net