‘Amitji has no competitors’

‘In the last seven years or so, many reigning heroes have stopped working with him because no matter how popular a star they are, irrespective of whether they are playing the lead, it eventually becomes an Amitabh Bachchan film!’

The Bad Man of Bollywood and the Big B have enjoyed a long association, punctuated with movie memories and off-screen bonhomie.

As Amitabh Bachchan turns 80, Gulshan Grover gets candid in a conversation with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, “During Race 3, Salman Khan was trying hard to project Anil Kapoor as someone who could fit into the Amitabh Bachchan mould. That didn’t happen because there is only one Amitabh Bachchan and he has no competitors!”

‘Amitji wowed Gen X as a hip dad with swag’

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Amitabh Bachchan is that this man has single-handedly changed the look and positioning of older actors in Hindi cinema.

Before him, actors like Ashok Kumar, Alok Nath and Anupam Kher had played babuji or pitaji like a real father usually was, past his prime, often with a receding hairline and out of shape, dressed in out-of-fashion kurta-pajamas.

Amitji broke out of the mould, sporting designer suits and a stylish goatee, wowing the Gen X as a hip dad with swag as he swung to Shava Shava in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.

It was a gamble that could have backfired, but in his second innings, he was ready to take on daringly different roles that he couldn’t have risked when he was the ‘hero’.

In the process, he created another kind of stardom that was as big, maybe even bigger, than what he had enjoyed when at his peak.

This was something that had never happened in Indian cinema before.

‘There is only one Amitabh Bachchan and he has no competitors’

He has given dignity and brought new opportunities for other ageing actors who till then, had been living on their laurels, posting yesteryear pictures and videos online.

While a number of his contemporaries and seniors have made a comeback on screen since, he still occupies the Number 1-10 slots.

During Race 3, Salman Khan was trying hard to project Anil Kapoor as someone who could fit into the Amitabh Bachchan mould.

That didn’t happen because there is only one Amitabh Bachchan and he has no competitors!

In fact, in the last seven years or so, many of the reigning heroes have stopped working with him because no matter how popular a star they are, irrespective of whether they are playing the lead, it eventually becomes an Amitabh Bachchan film!

 

‘He was one of the first to understand the power of social media’

Amitji‘s experiments with cinema didn’t stop with the big screen.

He stepped into television and entered our living rooms with Kaun Banega Crorepati.

That KBC is one of the longest running shows today is testimony to the fact that it has not just the audience hooked, but is also working commercially.

Had that not been the case, the makers and the channel would have told him long ago that they love him and brought in another host.

Amitji was also one of the first to understand the power of social media.

Long before any of us got wise to it, he was writing daily blogs.

His laptop would be set up the minute he arrived on a set so he could post live updates.

Back then, not everyone was impressed by his ‘reporting’.

They groused that he should leave it to journalists to do their jobs.

He was unfazed by the sniggers and snide remarks, he understood the power of social media.

 

‘It was a picture-perfect moment, with Amitji and Rajinikanth sir’

He even started bringing along his own photographer, and later his videographer, to every function he attended.

The videographer came with his lights, walking backwards, filming Amitji as he posed with and chatted with colleagues.

On January 19, 2015, at the wedding reception of Shatrughan Sinha’s son Kussh and Taruna, I had a picture-perfect moment with Amitji and Rajinikanth sir on either side.

I wanted the picture for my personal album and asked for a copy, complaining to Jayaji (Bachchan) that their photographer never sent me pictures.

She reprimanded him, instructing him (the photographer) to mail me a copy the next morning.

He gestured that he would need Amitji‘s permission.

The picture never came.

Amitji was very possessive about these pictures and videos, they were for his library.

But a couple of months later, after Kussh returned from his honeymoon, when he was sorting through the pictures taken that evening, he came across a similar photograph and sent it to me.

 

‘As I was getting out of the elevator, I saw Poonam Sinha racing down the corridor’

Incidentally, I was among the first guests to arrive at the reception.

As I was getting out of the elevator, I saw a frazzled Poonam Sinha racing down the corridor, her make-up half done, tearing the curlers out of her hair.

Kya hua bhabhi? (What’s the matter, sister-in-law?), any problem?’ I enquired.

Grabbing my hand, she said, ‘Amitji and Jayaji have arrived. Sonu (Shatrughan Sinha) and the kids are still getting ready. You have to keep them engaged.’

Having defined my responsibility, bhabhi greeted the power couple, then ran back to her suite to finish dressing.

I sat down with Amitji and Jayaji and we were soon chatting amicably.

After a while, he started getting restless, sharing that he had to leave soon for a shoot.

I looked at him, dashing in a purple shirt and a black velvet jacket, and quipped, ‘Amitji, you are looking sexy.’

He looked at me gravely and said, ‘Do you know my age?’

When I nodded, he added, ‘At my age, yeh shabd achcha lagta hai kya? (At my age, is the word appropriate?)’

I retorted, ‘Bilkul achcha lagta hai (Of course, it is)’.

The banter set the tone for the evening.

Two hours later, Shatrughan Sinhaji finally made an appearance and Amitji‘s famous baritone boomed from across the room, ‘Yaar Sonu, it is customary for you to be late, but at least you could have told your children to come on time.’

His reaction was, ‘But why should they be punctual? This is a shaadi, not a shooting.’

And everyone burst out laughing!

 

‘Amitji replied, “I think I will take the longer route then”‘

Cut to another wedding reception later in the year, of Mukesh Bhatt’s son Vishesh and Kanika.

It was on November 28, 2015, at the Land’s End Hotel in Bandra (north west Mumbai).

As Akshay Kumar and I were walking out, we saw a light bobbing from a distance.

It was Amitji, accompanied by his videographer.

Spotting us, he asked Akshay which route he should take to the stage.

Keeping a straight face, Akshay told him that he could take the shorter route, but chances were that Bhatt saab (Mahesh Bhatt) would engage him in a stimulating discussion and it would be an hour before he could make his way to the newlyweds.

‘Or you could take that other route, through the garden, that will take you directly backstage. But it’s longer,’ Akshay warned.

Amitji replied with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘I think I will take the longer route then.’

It is this gentle humour that endears him to his colleagues.

He never behaves like a superstar or a senior actor, he is always warm and friendly.

 

‘I never saw Amitji lose his cool, he would just fall silent’

There’s a film which he would perhaps like to forget, but for me, Boom is memorable because I got to spend a lot of time with him and it was a great learning experience.

He plays my elder brother in the film whom I pretend to like, but given the opportunity, would kill in a flash and take over his business empire.

During the shoot, a lot of things went haywire, but I never saw Amitji lose his cool.

If he could, he would try to fix the situation or he would just fall silent. That’s a rare quality.

 

‘I love Amitji for his spirit and his humour’

When we were in Los Angeles for the shoot of Kaante, I learnt that he was not keeping well.

So though I was not required on the set that day, I dropped by to see Amitji.

As I arrived, I saw him step out of his vanity van.

I walked up and said, ‘Amitji, I believe you haven’t been well.’

‘Oh yeah,’ he nodded.

‘What happened?’ I asked.

He quipped, ‘I could speak about it in great detail, but I don’t think you will be interested. So suffice to say that yes, I was unwell, but I am fine now.’

I love him for his spirit and his humour.

I am a very driven person myself and I still work very hard.

So does he, though for him, there is nothing more left to conquer.

Money, happiness, success, by the grace of God he has it all

Yet every morning, he gets up and leaves for work and in doing so, sets an example for all of us.

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