Interview: Quickfire with a Candid AMITABH BACHCHAN in Kolkata | Trams and Fuchkas to WAZIR and TE3N (WBRi Exclusive)

By J P Mandal and Asmita Mukherjee (newsdesk.kolkata@washingtonbanglaradio.com)
Photos: Abhikendu Deb Roy

Amitabh Bachchan talks to WBRi in Kolkata

Kolkata, India, Dec 28 (Washington Bangla Radio) - He needs to introduction, nor is it possible to find sufficiently glorifying adjectives before his name for the title of this feature. Let's just simply say Amitabh Bachchan is currently busy shooting in Kolkata for Ribhu Dasgupta’s Te3n, but he is also finding some time in his busy schedule to talk about his upcoming Bollywood Hindi film WAZIR which opens in theaters on January 8.

Vidya Balan talks to WBRi about TE3N, her lucky city Kolkata and much more

The Big B recently took some time out for a press meet for Wazir in which he plays a physically-challenged chess grand-master. Washington Bangla Bangla Radio correspondent J.P. Mandal caught up with the biggest superstar of India at the press meet where he spoke candidly about Wazir, his co-stars, his  career of five decades, his nostalgia with Kolkata - from fuchkas to trams and more.

What is the story of the film Wazir about?

AB: Wazir is an interesting story about two people, one of which is in the police force and another is a normal individual. I am playing Omkarnath, a Kashmiri Pandit living in Delhi and Farhan is playing Daanish Ali, a police officer. There is a certain similarity in their lives which I cannot disclose right now. But how both of them come together to get rid of their common problem and whether they succeed or not is what the story of the film about.

You play the role of a handicapped person in Wazir. How challenging was the role?

Amitabh Bachchan talks to WBRi in Kolkata

AB: I think every role is challenging. Yes, the most difficult part of my role in Wazir is to be on wheel chair for the entire shooting. It was physically quite demanding. It is always difficult if you don’t have your legs to express yourself. The chair is mechanical and works on battery and I had to move around with the help of a lever. There were actually two different types of wheel chairs in the film. In the early part of the film my character has a normal wheel chair which gets destroyed with the progress of the story. Then he is presented with a new one with more modern facilities in it. Vidhu Vinod Chopra is very particular about every detail to be incorporated in his films. He goes into a very intricate process to ensure that everything is perfect whether it is the scene or the properties or any other thing involved. So he started selecting a wheel chair for me six months in advance. We went through about forty to fifty wheel chairs before selecting the one we shot with. Basically he wanted me to feel as comfortable as it could be as I was going to spend the entire shoot on it. He also wanted me to use the wheel chair during my leisure moments so that I could get accustomed to it when shooting starts. Later we elaborately discussed how we can hide the feet and we tried a lot of processes for that. One idea was to sit on hunches on the wheel chair and cover it with a shawl. But it would have been too uncomfortable to do that as I had to spend eight or nine hours every day in that position. So we finally came to special effects to remove my leg. But still my legs had to be tied and a black mask were put on it and I used to pretend that I never had my leg. Also I had to learn how to make the chair a part of my body. Whenever I had to express something I would have to move the chair or hands only which are quite tough. I have never done such a role before.

Please throw some light on the significance of the title : Wazir.

AB: The title ‘Wazir’ is very much symbolic. The Wazir in chess board refers to the ‘Queen’. The chess board play a pivotal role in the film. Whenever Omkarnath and Daanish used to meet, they met over a game of chess. Omkarnath is an ace chess player. He also runs a school in his backyard where he teaches chess to children.  A considerable portion of the story moves symbolically on this chessboard with reference to characters in the film. The Wazir is the most powerful piece on the chess board and can move to any direction and any number of steps it wants but the less powerful pieces like pawn which moves just one step at a time and that is also in one direction. But a pawn too has its own advantages. When it reaches the spot of Wazir, it becomes an Wazir. And it can get all its power. This phenomenon has been incorporated in this film and thus it has been titled ‘Wazir’.

Are the reports of Wazir being loosely adapted on the murder of an ace badminton player in the late 80’s , true?

AB: No, this is the first time I am hearing something like this. I do not think the film has anything to do with the murder.

You have acted under the direction of Farhan Akhtar in Lakshya. How was it having him as your co-actor in Wazir?

AB: I know Farhan since he was a kid. He used to play with Abhishek when his dad Javed-ji and I worked together. Then he grew up to be a great director, actor and performer. It was a joy to have him as a co-actor.

You have been around for five decades and worked with directors of many generations who have casted you in a wide variety of roles. How was the journey and which generation of directors did you enjoy working with most?

Amitabh Bachchan talks to WBRi in Kolkata

AB: I am very fortunate that this film industry has been tolerant with me for nearly fifty years and directors have kept faith on me to play the roles they wanted me to do. It will be very difficult to pick most favorite era from such a long period. I feel that I have enjoyed every moment of my career and every director was important. I was discovered by Ahmed Abbas who gave me the first chance in ‘Saat Hindustani’. Then Hrishikesh Mukherjee cast me in the film Anand (1971).  After that I did so many films with him. He was like a godfather to me. It was not long time back that he was the director with whom I have done maximum number of films. He has given me wonderful films to brilliant films like ‘Chup ke Chup ke’, ‘Mili’, ‘Namak haram and many more. At that time Salim-Javed duo wrote many brilliant films which I did. The list included record breaking films like ‘Trishul ‘,’ Dewaar’ and ‘Sholay’. In that era I had worked with directors like Ramesh Sippy and Yash Johar. After that Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai came on board. Manmahon ji was a maker of incredible stories and ideas which when we used to hear we felt that those were ridiculous but each of them turned into extraordinary films. Prakash Mehra had very powerful story sense with him and had a great sense of music.Then came  Tinu Anand and Mukul Anand and thus I did films like ‘Kaalia’, ‘Agneepath’, ‘Sahenshaah’. Then the generation of Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar. Presently I am enjoying working with the younger generation who are very different in their thought. The all have a different vision and viewpoint. I am very fortunate that I have these directors like Sujjoy Ghosh, Soojit Sorcar, R Balki who  think very differently.  For example R Balki  is one of them. He offers such ridiculous role. I had even asked him that what he has been drinking  before coming to me and offering the role of a thirteen year old boy for the movie ‘Paa’. But ultimately he brings brilliant things out of them. It was wonderful experience to work with Sujjoy Ghosh in ‘Alladin’. My first film with Soojit titled ‘Johnny Walker’ unfortunately has not released yet. But our next film ‘Piku’ was a delightful experience. The beauty about ‘Piku’ I think is that it was not any typical story, rather it was any normal conversation in any Bengali home where there is a constipated man.  There was no story and still it’s wonderful to see how much people loved it and fell attracted towards it. Everyone felt that this was something  that happens in their own home. The daughters took their fathers along and the fathers took their elderly wives along and so on. Now I am working again with Sujjoy in Te3n which is being directed by Ribhu Dasgupta. Next I shall be working with Soojit again in his next which will be directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury. Every generation and every individual director has their own essence and I enjoyed every moment working with them.

You have been going around in Kolkata in two wheelers for last couple of years for the purpose of shooting. How was the experience?

AB: I rode a bicycle in ‘Piku’, a scooter in ‘Teen’ and now I have also rode a Toe-toe for Teen’s shooting which recently took place in Kolkata. I enjoyed a lot doing all these.

You used to ride trams a lot during your stay here in Kolkata. Don’t you miss riding trams and doing other things you used to do here?

Amitabh Bachchan's Humorous but Very True Appreciation of Bengalis and Kolkata

AB: Yes When I came to Kolkata, initially I used to stay at the places of some of my dad’s friends in Tollygunge. I had to take tram from Tollygunge to Esplanade to look for work. I liked   Tram-rides and it’s good to see that it still runs with grace. When I got my first job , my salary was a meagre 500 bucks. Around 300 bucks were spent in boarding and breakfast. So I had very little left after that to carry myself. Fortunately my office provided me with free lunch. For dinner I used to had Fuchkas in front of Victoria Memorial Hall. Just 2 annas worth of fuchkas were enough to fill my stomach. Whenever I used to get someone to give me a treat we would head to Nizam’s for a Kati roll. I also loved the prawn cocktail in Park Street. I try to do as many things as possible when I am here. I some time go out alone , late night, without telling anybody. I visit the places where I used to stay or hang around. It gives me a lot of nostalgia.

What amazed you most about Kolkata when you first came here?

AB: Kolkata started to amaze me as soon as I landed here. First to time I came to Kolkata with my father by train. As soon as we got off from the train at Howrah station I saw a car on the platform. I have never seen a car on a railway platform before and never thought that such a sight was ever possible.  Next what amazed me was the city’s passion for football which later was induced into me too. Our relatives who came to receive us did not take us  home. They took us to a football ground instead and we watched an East Bengal -Mohan Bagan match. There was so much passion about that match. I soon realised that Kolkata is passionate about everything, not only Bengal.

How are you enjoying winter days of Kolkata? 

AB: Kolkata’s weather becomes very enjoyable during winter. It is not as cold as Delhi .I am quite familiar with this weather as I have lived here before. I am really happy to be around at this time. I will be here till the end of January. That will give me a considerable time to enjoy winter here.

Many actors of your time, who too were huge stars at their prime, is not seen much in films while you stand tall embracing stardom even today. What is the mantra behind that?

AB: It’s not true that only I am working  among my contemporaries. Everyone is working except a few like Shashi Kapoor who  is extremely unwell these days. Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna are still working. They even did well in Politics. In that way their career graph is much better than mine.

Can you remember your first fan?

AB: I remember a group of young girls from Jaipaur as my first fans. I am still in contact with them.

Is it true that a Hindi version of the Bengali movie ‘Belasheshe’ is in the pipeline and you are going to play the role Soumitra Chatterjee has played in the Bengali movie?

I liked the film and praised it in my tweet. I never mentioned anywhere that I want to do Soumitra Chatterjee’s role. Also I have not received  any offer for the Hindi version. If such an offer comes I will think about it.

You were literally dragged out of Te3n’s shooting to record  the song ‘Atrangi Yaari’ of Wazir which you have sung with Farhan. How was the experience?

AB: Suddenly a message came from Vidhu-Ji that they want to put a song into the film. It is a very simple song and I loved recording it though I cannot sing well. But I am happy to learn that people has liked it.

You received you first ever award for film in this Kolkata , i.e.  Bengal Film Journalist Association ( BFJA ) awards. What are your thoughts on that?

AB: It will  always remain special. Kolkata is a very erudite city. The intelligence and judgement of Kolkata audience and critics are very genuine and pure. So receiving an award from Kolkata is always very special and more so when it is your first award.