Vajir Singh (VS): Did you expect Piku to be this big?
Amitabh Bachchan (AB): No, it has come as a great surprise to all of us. When you work in a project, you always expect and hope that it will do well. I doubt if anybody has any alternative thought. You don’t deliberately go and work in a film for it to not work. But despite all the expectations that we had while it was being made and afterwards, the kind of results, which have shown have really surprised us. And when I say the kind of results, I just don’t mean the business and figures, which are very popular now and are indicative of the success and failure of a film, be it 100 crore or whatever. But what has been most wonderful for us is the fact that it has done something more than just the business. There is a connect with the film, which does not necessarily need to be measured by rupees and other factors. That is very important and a very satisfying feeling.
After a very long time, the connect with the people has been fantastic. It’s not just like going there. I mean a lot of people and films are there, which do well, they have done great businesses and people have enjoyed, have had fun and come back. But very strangely the very simple thread has entered the minds and hearts of people and that has been most satisfying, I feel. Every message of praise that has come has also come with a certain personal message: ‘We love your film, congratulations, it’s terrific, you reminded me of my Nana, you reminded me of my Dadi or I saw my family in it.’ You know, that came across very well. And when that happens, then it goes beyond business and that’s very enjoyable.
BOI: After a long time, the industry has come out in support of a film wholeheartedly, which is Piku…
AB: It’s been quite amazing. I am so happy that Shoojit (Sircar) was able to get that connect right. It’s a remarkable thing that I think has happened with Piku as this is a film with no story. There are just three-four people in a car and they are talking, travelling or in a house... that kind of ambience. But somewhere, somebody has found themselves in it. And that’s what is great! In fact, it has been liked not only here but all over the world.
Just three days back, there was a follower of mine on the blog, who is taking training as an actor in New York. In her student’s group, she has a lady from Equador in South America and she has a 10-year-old kid and they all went to see the film together. The boy said that he wanted to send a message to Amitabh Bachchan. So he recorded it and sent it to me. He said, ‘Mr Bachchan, I went to see your film. People enjoyed the film and what I have learnt from it is, when I grow up, I will look after my parents.’ He doesn’t know anything about India or Hindi films or anything else, but for this to come out from an absolute foreigner is a quite amazing. And that shows the value and strength of the story, what people saw in it.
BOI: Also, you have been wanting to work with Shoojit but Shoebite didn’t happen. Would you say you were second-time lucky?
AB: Yes, but Shoojit and I have been working together for years and years before this. All our endorsements and campaigns that we have done together, there are several of them, so it’s not that I was new to him. Yes, we worked on Shoebite. Let’s see, we have tried to persuade the people who are sitting on the film to let it go. I have been talking to some people. We are hopeful that it will mature.
BOI: When Shoojit narrated the film to you, what did you feel?
AB: Nothing! I have actually come to a point where I completely listen and believe Shoojit on what he has to say. I think he has got very strong convictions about what he wants to do and this is not the first time we have sat on a story. We have sat on a lot of stories before. There have been multiple subjects that we have sat on, discussed and tried to make a film. This time, he just came and told me, ‘This is a Bengali family in Delhi who travel to Kolkata and there is this man and his daughter.’ I said, it’s fine.’ He asked me to listen to it. I said I understood what it is, so we just went ahead. It’s only afterwards that he said his script was ready and he narrated portions to us. But I really never listened to the narration. He just told me that there is this relationship between a father and a daughter. He is constipated and that is his graph and in the end he dies with a smile on his face. That’s it. A lot of people wouldn’t believe this but I actually haven’t read the script. It was just the idea and the thought I used to go with on the sets and then the scenes were given to me to enact.
BOI: Speaking of the climax… many people who have been watching your films over the years have cried every time you ‘die’ on screen, like in Sholay, Deewar and Agneepath. But here we knew that this man breathed his last happily, so no one really cried. This has happened after more than 40 years in your career…
AB: That’s the beauty of it. He has died happy. He had a problem. That problem is solved, so he goes happily. He also tells his daughter, ‘Today I have had the best motion. I am happy now.’ That’s the strength of writing and the concept.
BOI: Was it difficult shooting the film because, almost an hour of the film has the four of you in the car?
AB: No! What you must appreciate in the film is that there is continuity, there is always something happening. Shoojit told us before, ‘Look, I just want you people sitting normally.’ Who will construct a scene on a dining table for so long? Who will construct the whole picture in one car with three people chatting with each other? Even when they are stopping, they are chatting, there is no story. But Shoojit said, ‘Since this is the concept, I don’t want to give the idea that there are regular dialogues that you have to speak, it’s like conversation. Please act like it is conversational even if that means overlapping somebody.’ We used to rehearse a scene during an entire eight-hour shift, and we would shoot it in one go, the next morning. That was the beauty that you become so conversant with the dialogue that when you come there, it seems like a conversation with each other and you are done with it. That’s how we shot this film. In the car, of course, it was difficult to shoot, there were loading of cameras, there was a van moving ahead of us with the technical set-up in the traffic, so we couldn’t keep stopping all the time. So we just carried on on the highway and whatever needed to be done was done in one shot. And that’s why you find the kind of continuity that you find in the performances. We couldn’t have done like abhi iska dialogue aayega, phir main bolunga. Aisa tha hi nahi. It happened very naturally so we never really felt the effort. So all of us on the last day of shoot were like amazed that it’s finished. What do we do now? It’s been so wonderful. It was such a joy to go there every day and be the character.
BOI: Why was the AB Corp banner not there for this film?
AB: Saraswati Entertainment is one of the producers. That company is Abhishek (Bachchan)’s. He is the producer there.
“As long as my body is with me and I look acceptable in front of the camera, I would love to keep working”
BOI: More than four decades and people are still writing stories for you and thinking about you…
AB: Yes, I have been very lucky, very fortunate. I feel blessed that people are still thinking about me even now. And I hope that they continue to think because I would love to continue working. Not only because I love the art but I simply enjoy the time that I spend with this generation. I love their minds, their attitudes, the way they conduct themselves, they are so good, each one of them, they are so prepared, managed, confident, aggressive, they have a vision, they know what to do. I just love being in their company. So I hope I can continue working because I enjoy their company.
BOI: Are you enjoying this time more than the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s?
AB: In terms of roles, if you mean, then yes indeed. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, when I was younger playing leading roles, there was no scope to play roles like these. Now there is variety. This year itself, I am playing three different characters. I have done Shamitabh, now Piku and in a couple of months, Wazir.
BOI: My name with a different spelling…
AB: (Smiles) Yes, your name with a different spelling. I would never have got such chances earlier. So it’s very nice. See, it’s a tough call for most artists to understand this fact. After you’ve played a leading man for all these years and enjoyed all the success and adulation that leading men have, then to be relegated to the back to find that there is somebody younger and more prominent. I think that is the circle of life, circle of this profession and you should be able to understand that. So I am not going to be in the upfront but if I get something that is sizeable, has value and is exciting enough for me to perform, I would love to be there. And those chances are now coming. I am very excited with this. I don’t want to be all alone by myself for that would be very selfish but I would want the younger generation with me as I truly enjoy their company and talent. They are incredible.
BOI: After every film you do, we wonder what is left for you but you continue to surprise us…
AB: It’s not about surprising. If somebody keeps challenging me in writing, it is exciting for then I can make that effort. And luckily that has been happening. I look forward to the next challenge, the next script, what they offer me. And if I find that challenging enough, I will do it. Sometimes I want to do all the films that are offered to me. I want to be in every film, actually, but I can’t.
BOI: Is that the reason you are ruling?
AB: (Laughs) I am not ruling. But whenever I see a film and like it, I feel, like, why am I sitting and watching it? I should have been there.
BOI: You have seen a lot of ups and downs in life. What keeps you going
AB: Ups and downs is a clichéd term as everybody goes through them. In this industry, it happens more perhaps because the box-office rules your success and failures. There have been massive disasters in my career but that happens with all of us. I think if you lose faith in your mind and capability, you should stop and fade away. But if your mind is rich enough to accept whatever has happened, choose another path which may not be as large and big as it was but still gives you a chance, you should take it. I think I have done that.
I don’t know whether that should be a yardstick as everyone has different ways of looking at their careers. And there are many greats before me who have done exactly that. They have played leading men all their lives, whether Dilip Kumar, Dev Saab (Anand), Rajji (Kapoor)… all of them. But sometimes there are circumstances. For me, because of the failures in my company and my financial failures, it became imperative for me to keep working. I had to find ways to earn a living. So whether it was TV or anything else, I went along with what I could do. Maybe it’s not as prominent as before, but if it keeps me occupied and I enjoy doing it, I will continue.
BOI: Today, youngsters try to work in different films, whether commercial or offbeat. During your time, you too did that…
AB: For us, we had someone like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and a lot of others who followed the middle path, not too realistic or art cinema nor too commercial, the typical escapist fare. They were able to walk the middle path and those were wonderful films and stories. We had such a good association with Hrishikesh Mukherjee that we never said ‘no’ to him.
And it’s not just me, whenever he called anyone, we said we are doing the film. That’s it. Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, he had great equations with all those who worked always with him. It’s because everyone liked working with him for everyone got a chance to express differently.