In the few seconds it takes Amitabh Bachchan to amble across his office room to shake my hand, I have the distinct feeling that he has already sized me up. It’s the way those black eyes seem to take everything in, and give nothing back. In his brown suede track suit, Bachchan seemed relaxed and excited to talk about his most ambitious film, Paa, which is also produced by his company AB Corp Limited. “Would you like to have any tea or coffee?” he asks me. Now that’s a chance only a fool would miss. “I will have some tea, thank you”, I answer. He then makes you embarrassed. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting for half an hour”, he says. I was speechless.
People all across the world wait for an icon of his stature for years only to see his face in flesh, and I was here having tea with him. What had I to say? But then in a second came this – “My Facebook profile this morning read, ‘On my way to Janak…its Jalsa time with the little Auro. Is that what the next 15 to 20 minutes are going to be?” I ask. “Yes. I think we can do a few questions. May be I’ll tell you how I behave as Auro, the role of a thirteen year old Progeria kid I play in Paa. Actually, I’ve got my teeth in the little orange box kept in front of you. I can even put them on and do the interview in the Auro look”, he suggests. I was excited to know more about Auro. So I ask a witty one. “How much does Auro know about Amitabh Bachchan?” Big B replies, “Very little, I think (laughs). One of his favourite people in the film is Jackie Chan. Auro is more of a Play Station freak. He plays his video games, he has his own room to himself with all kind of paintings and pictures and little objects that he is really fond of. He has a huge monkey which is made in China and says that people won’t understand the monkey because he speaks Chinese. Auro is fond of himself. He talks to him, imitates himself and dances. That’s Auro.”
Big B is someone who tends to get involved. Not getting involved is never an option for this maestro. It felt as if I was talking to Auro and not Amitabh. I ask the actor and producer whether he was a troublesome child throughout the film, to which he answered, “Not really. Auro is a very intelligent person, despite the fact that he is suffering from Progeria which is a genetic disorder where you age four of five times than normal. But otherwise, he is a bright child and not troublesome at all”. Where Mr Bachchan is right now is intriguing, too, though. His most challenging role is here in the form of Auro. “The film is not issue based. It’s not a film that you’ll be seeing devoted entirely to Auro’s abnormality. No. Auro is another character in a much larger script. Paa is a regular sweet jocular story of a child who helps reunite his father and mother”, Bachchan delivers. With so much about Auro, the actor can’t wait to recall his own days at school while he was a kid. It was flashback time. “I can surely remember my good old days at my own school when I was a kid. I went to a convent school in Allahabad. I did what a normal school child would do even today – did some drawings, games and a bit of theatre. I remember I played a chicken when I was in the convent school. That’s the earliest memory I have of me in school.”
But what he doesn’t know is the fact that the little Auro’s dancing step has become so famous amongst the school kids in India that every little boy and girl are dancing to the tune when the Paa trailer is played on the television. He laughs and says, “That’s so good to know that the kids are catching up with the ‘Auro Step’. In the film, Auro dances when ever he is excited. He dances with his school mates and they all do their own victory dance”. From dancing to gaming. We shift gears. I call him the new gadget freak. He disagrees to some extent. “I’ve never been able to keep up with all the gadgetry. My grandson who is eight years old does it. And every time I think that I’ve bought him something new, I’m amazed to see that he can fix it up in five minutes. I’m surprised that their acumen with the gadgets now-a-days. I like to keep up with it and I have to make an effort. I still don’t know how to use my laptop to its ultimate output but I do manage it well. I can go on the net, browse, upload pictures, write my blog but that’s it. Send and receive emails too. But I’m sure I can do a lot more”, he comments. At 66 the actor is playing a revolution, an innovation and an invention. He states, “I think it’s important to understand what all it entails and then I leave it to you to categorise it whether it’s a revolution or not. I think perhaps for the first time in our films, you will never see the main face of the protagonist. Yes, Auro is me and I look like what I look in the posters. So people won’t see Amitabh Bachchan’s face. Maybe that’s revolutionary. I don’t know whether a sixty year old actor has played a thirteen year old boy. Maybe that’s an invention. And I think for the first time, I am playing a reel life son to my real life son who plays my father in the film. It’s a role reversal. You can call that an innovation.”
It is his voice that makes him so unmistakably Amitabh Bachchan. Goofy, but masterful; loud, yet full of cadence, it is the voice of a cartoon character and an orator all at once. Like him, it is both imposing and reassuring. Despite his overwhelming fame Big B is as charming and polite, funny and gentlemanly an encounter as you could ever hope to have. He is exactly as you think he would be, which only makes him more cheering. He is the best friend you’ve never had, but easily might. All of which feeds neatly into his celluloid persona. In many ways he is the perfect movie star: not quite handsome enough to unsettle; not celebrity enough to bring baggage; clever enough to disappear into the roles he plays; and yet always, overwhelmingly, Amitabh Bachchan.
Part 2 of the Interview with Amitabh Bachchan coming soon