Amitabh Bachchan At 70: The Youngest Bachchan

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During a private conversation when we spoke about the state of the nation — when Amitji expresses concern about the growing vulgarity and mediocrity in every walk of life he speaks in Hindi, and that’s when you know he’s really disturbed – he suddenly said. “I’ve very few friends. I depend on a few people… like you.”

To you Amitji, that may have been a casual observation. To me it’s a great responsibility. I hope I am up to it, now and for as long as you remain India’s biggest humblest and most cultured star ever.

I remember my first meeting with Amitabh Bachchan. It happened when his career in a films wasn’t doing well. Earlier to that I was always more a JB (Jaya bachchan) fan than an AB fan.

He never says much on or off screen. His smoldering silences convey a wealth of feelings thoughts doubts and conflicts, all calcified by the presence of pauses that fill the long passages between the sparse words that he speaks.

That was the Bachchan I knew on screen before I met him in Zanjeer and Deewaar. Remember him peeping out of the window at streetdancers singing Diwane hain diwanon ko na ghar chahiye in Zanjeer? And that stubbled, red-eyed brooding Vijay with his shirt knotted at his waist in Deewaar?

This man never speaks without reason. In the 12 years that I’ve known him I’ve never seen this marathon runner talking frivolously or criticizing anyone. The one time AB lost his cool was when he reacted to Subhash Ghai’s statements against AB Corp Ltd. Without mincing words AB put Ghai in his place.

I couldn’t sleep on the night of the interview. Should he speak this way? Wouldn’t it go against his soft-spoken genteel nature? To his credit AB never went back on his words. My greatest triumph as a journalist was when one of the media-persons Pritish Nandy whom I respect the most called to ask, “How did you get AB to open up this way?”

Contrary to general opinion AB trusts very easily. But this trust is only skin-deep. Don’t expect to get to know the “real” Amitabh Bachchan.

He’s hidden far away from public view. He’s an assimilation of all the characters he has played on screen and yet he’s totally distanced from the ‘Vijay’ he immortalized 28 years ago.

Today when I watch him reinvented as the Crorepati anchor I wonder how he manages to be so comfortable with so many people from the grassroots. AB isn’t a crowd person. And yet when put into one he can be the life and soul, without trying.

Long ago when I met him, AB suffered from a severe neck problem. He was distracted. But the very next day when I ran into him on the sets of a movie he was joking, laughing with his co-stars and playing little tricks on the frazzled producer. “I hope I didn’t say anything wrong yesterday. I was on severe medication,” he shouted at me across the railway set as Arjun Rampal stared in deep puzzlement.

“Oh you did,” I shouted back. “But never mind, I’ve erased it from my memory.”

There I was being cocky again. But AB just smiled that hint of a smile that we saw on Vijay’s face when he saw Parveen Babi for the first time in Deewaar. Beyond the smile, there’re hidden depths of pain and conflict which no one will ever get to. Some things are just not meant to be.

As India’s greatest star-actor turns 70, Hindi cinema has much reason to be proud. If Dilip Kumar defined male acting in the 1950s onwards, AB took over from the mid-70s. Today we see a glimpse of him in every actor who shows up on screen. And even AB’s star-contestants on KBC subconsciously lapse into his genteel wry demeanor.

There will NEVER be another Amitabh Bachchan!