Bollywood’s Shahenshah on his 74 th birthday

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Amitabh Bachchan, the most monitored, adored and also preyed upon actor in the files of Indian cinema, has retained his equanimity, cool and of course, nuclear stong star power. On the superstar’s 74th birthday, here we have one of his conversations with senior journalist and film critic Khalid Mohamed, which was first published in Hindustan Times:

You keep getting feted with honours/ Are you surprised?
Accolades have always surprised me. I’m never convinced that I deserve them. Somebody somewhere thinks otherwise. So, I’m truly grateful and acknowledge these wonderful gifts with humility and pride.  God has been kind, my parents’ prayers have been with me. The unconditional love of the people has been overwhelming.

No artist can truly digest criticism. Down the years, have you become immune to criticism? Is it a necessary evil or essential?
Criticism is essential. Without it we would all be flying aimlessly, knowing not where to go! It provides an alternate perspective, a viewpoint, which we in our exalted condition. And why just in professions? Criticism even in personal and intimate relationships is most welcome and valuable. It helps evaluation constantly that’s essential for any progress.

Yes criticism is hurtful at times. But dealing with it and accepting it is a far greater accomplishment. People will remember when you fall of a horse, but admire you — when  you get up and ride again. So criticism can be inspirational. That’s marvellous isn’t it? To be able to use a negative situation for positive ends. So, I thank critics and value criticism. I digest them, I’m never immune to them. There is some hidden goodness in them which we must all search. If after searching you disagree with it, get out there and disprove it.

Has any piece of criticism really upset you? Do you read film criticism?
Giving you a specific incident would defeat the purpose. Yes I read all film criticism religiously and yes it has altered from the earlier years. Earlier it was sedate and somewhat reserved in its comment.

The times were such. Media was not such a vast and vibrant entity as it is today. Competition was not as fierce. How to attract eyeballs and ears to your channel, to your paper, to your station is a phenomenal exercise in this country. The desire and drive to accomplish that, coerces managements to devise new methods and techniques.

In this pursuit, codes of conduct and ethics are not necessarily adhered to. I admire the guts of some media that does self-analysis and corrective criticism. But at the end of the day it is a free world we live in, and how fortunate we are that we do. It’s absolutely joyous to be able to have a platform for free expression and it’s equally joyous to have the freedom to disagree with it.

I would be lying if I were to admit that a particular criticism has not upset me. It has. And yes I shall admit that at times I have felt that it has been unfair. But what it was and at what phase, is for me to know and deal with. I would not want that to become public property.

You have been tolerant of the media, saying it is performing its job. But hasn’t your private life become a hunting ground, especially for the electronic media?
Tolerant? By using this word you pay me huge compliment and put me on a pedestal. I am not worthy of it. You attribute saintly qualities to me as if I am some divinity (haha)!  But seriously, yes, I do believe that the media has a job to do, and so it must. I tell this to Abhishek, while trying to educate him on this aspect. I’m proud that he has diligently followed what we as a family strongly believe in. That the media is the conscience of the nation.

Credibility and truth is their creed, a rare quality in today’s times. Just as you wish others to respect your job, respect theirs as well. They’re not some giant ogres out to devour you. You have a job to do, they have a job to do. They are not your enemies. Treat your camera, your script, your character in it, your dialogue, your dance as your enemies. Fight them and win over them and you will win over the media.

My private life as a hunting ground for the media? Listen, if you enact public activities, they are no longer private. The air does not belong to me or my ancestors. Media has the democratic right to cover, to intervene, to speculate and pass opinion. Just as it is our democratic right to respond to it or not. This is personal choice.

With hundreds of TV channels, what do you expect? They need to feed the monster they have adopted. The desire of the masses know about the private lives of public figures is insatiable. You want your private life to be private don’t do anything publicly, or stop being a celebrity! End of argument!

Are you indifferent, hurt or annoyed when OB vans are parked outside your home?
I have not objected to OB vans parked outside my house. That is not my personal property. They can do what they like. I would object if they entered my drawing room uninvited, purely because it would be impossible to accommodate this rather large vehicle within the somewhat restricted confines of a room!

How do you maintain your cool in face of intrusion?
I missed this report and the astrologer on television – it’s tough keeping track of 200 channels. My director of the day, did mention it to me. In fact he told me he was quite impressed by its content and its presentation.

Maintaining one’s cool is quite simple – have a glass of cold water!

Obviously, you will never re-enter politics again…but there will always be controversies. A definitively final word on this?
(Laughs)  No politics.

When did you last laugh out loud?
I just did at your last question.

-Karnavee Kamdar

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