‘Relationships take a backseat when you are in front of the camera’

Everyone in the trade says that once a director works with Amitabh Bachchan, they want to work only with him. It seems R Balki..

Amitabh Bachchan (AB): Ha ha ha! I consider myself lucky, that every time he comes to me, he comes with some very challenging characters that he wants me to portray.

True, sir! Cheeni Kum was very different from Paa, and Shamitabh is very different from Paa. How do you think he comes up with different concepts every time he comes to you?

AB: Well, you will have to ask him about that. He has a very unique mind, he has always thought differently and looked at filmmaking in a different manner. He has never done the usual. So, in Shamitabh, there isn’t the usual romantic angle; there isn’t the usual political angle or terrorist angle or violence.

It’s got none of that. It’s just a story on an issue that is different, perhaps relevant in day-to-day life, and it’s a story of two individuals who have qualities that don’t match. I mean, one has something that the other doesn’t have and the other has something that this fellow doesn’t have.

And the journalist who learns of these qualities feels that if they were to combine their abilities, they would make a lot of progress. So she gets them together. Of course, you must have watched the second trailer by now and would know that it is the voice given to Dhanush.

That’s how they progress and their work progresses. Then the ego comes in, and one feels that the other is there because of him and the other feels he is there because of himself. This becomes an issue of conflict and the story begins to unfold.

How did you react when R Balki came to you with Shamitabh?
AB: Every time he comes to me, I wonder, What has he brought me now?’ (Laughs)

Ok, let’s start with… how did you react when he came to you with Cheeni Kum?
AB: Very different and unusual. I mean, I had worked with him on various endorsements and he had been saying, ‘You know I want to direct a film and I will come to you.’ And then he brought this story. I found it to be really unusual. When you are past that stage of playing heroes, when you are past that stage when you know there is no popularity and stardom any more, it’s very strange for somebody to come to you and say, ‘I want you to play this part. So it was very unusual. But if you look at life, there are many examples where the elder person or the elder man does have a love interest. And that’s what Balki had explored in this movie.

And then he came to you with Paa.

AB: Yeah, when he came to me with Paa, I thought, ‘This fellow has gone mad!’ I asked him, ‘How do you expect me to do this now?’ He said, ‘No, we will manage.’ Then he dropped another bomb on me, saying, ‘Abhishek (Bachchan) would play your father in the film.’ As I said, he thinks differently. But we have all worked together many times because he really challenges me as an actor. Also, his pattern of storytelling is very unique.

Then, how did you feel when he came to you with the story of Shamitabh?

AB: Again, it was a very unique concept. Sometimes, there are people who do not possess the quality of voice. We know there are people who feel rejected because of their voice. So here (Shamitabh) are two individuals who perhaps were in a similar situation, who were never exploited or never received any importance. How wonderful it was to be able to do that. So it was because I am giving my voice to Dhanush… The whole process of making this film was rather difficult because I recorded the entire script of the film before we started.

The entire script, the entire film… I recorded in a dubbing studio before going on the set. Then, when we were on the set, we enacted to the voice. Later when the filming was over, we dubbed again because I had to catch the actor’s facial expressions, moves and everything. It was almost like working three times all over again. First you record, then you imagine because you have not been on the set, you don’t have the co-artiste with you, you don’t know what the locations would be like. It all depended on what Balki had told us, that this is what it is going to be like, so say it like this. That’s how we recorded it. Then when you are enacting it, we act according to what we had recorded. So it became very difficult because we had to lip-sync.

Now my facial expressions could be different from what I am lip-syncing. It’s almost like Lataji or Kishore Kumar singing a song, and when you lip-sync, you give it your own feel and your own movement. Lataji or Kishore Kumar may not have that facial expression, so it’s different. Then, because it’s all together, we had to re-dub. I had to dub the whole thing again. It was very tedious and that was the tough part.

You have worked previously with Balki, and you share a comfort level. How does that help you as an actor?

AB: I think comfort level, associations, relationships… they all take a backseat when you are in front of the camera and you play the character. Your mother, father, sister, wife, son or daughter could be in front of you but when the camera is on, they are the character. At least, for me, that’s how it is. So if I have to be rude to them, if I have to be nice to them, it’s all part of the enactment of the characters I play. But yes, if you have worked with somebody quite often as Balki, you understand them. In the past, I have worked with several people like Ram Gopal Varma, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, with whom I have done the largest number of films, Manmohan Desai, Salim-Javed, Prakash Mehra, Mukul Anand… you understand them. With any new project, you are apprehensive in the first week of shooting. You don’t know what is going to happen.

Even if you have worked with the director in the past?

AB: Yes, it always happens because you never know whether you are doing the right thing or not, is the character Ok? Am I doing all right? So those were a few things, and as you go along, you begin to understand the scenario better, you understand what the director wants. So, yes, in a sense, I would say there is always going to be a comfort level with somebody whom you know as a person and at the same time you can’t take anything for granted. The other thing is that one has to do, and this is something I believe in, that whatever you may want to discuss with the director, it must be done prior to going on the sets. Balki has given me the liberty and I have the privilege of expressing myself. If I want to differ with something or want to suggest something, I do that before going on the sets.

Once on the sets, there is no further discussion as we have decided this is how it’s going to be. Whether it’s good, bad or different, I don’t like it or like it, it doesn’t matter. It’s what the director wants. So we discuss everything before that. Yes, sometimes on the sets, we do a shot and I say, ‘Balki, I want to do another one.’ And he has the liberty to say, ‘Okay, we try another one.’
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