Faridoon Shahryar's Blog

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

“Box Office insures your next film, not the next critical acclaim”:Amitabh Bachchan

“Box Office insures your next film, not the next critical acclaim”:Amitabh Bachchan
By Faridoon Shahryar

Yash Chopra was in love with love and it showed it in everything that he did,” said global superstar Amitabh Bachchan in ab exclusive video interview with Faridoon Shahryar. Fresh from the glorious response to his performance in Piku, Mr Bachchan opens up on reasons why he lays more importance to Box Office as compared with critical acclaim. He also shares rare insight on genius directors Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra and Hrishikesh Mukherji.

Your performance in Piku was amazingly entertaining. How does it feel that everyone is unanimously appreciating your act?

Thank you so much, first of all, for your kind words. I am very happy to hear that! Any artist is always happy to hear some kind of compliment which endorses the work that he has done. I am satisfied not just with the kind of work that we did but also the kind of appreciation that it has been garnering in all parts of the world. It is very rare that a film which is so simple and has appreciation from every section of the society, gets critically acclaimed and yet does commercially so well! And the credit goes to the audiences and people who have thronged the theatres and reaffirmed our faith in them. And they have given us a lot of impetus to
continue making films like these!

What is more important to you – critical acclaim or box office?

There has to be a selfish way to look at it. If I look at it selfishly, then I’ll probably say, ‘I hope I am critically acclaimed and I hope I hit the box office as well.’ I think that’s a dream kind of a project that everybody wants. I am particularly pleased about say a film like Piku because we got a bit of both. But there are times when the criticism you face is very severe and yet your box office results are quite the opposite. I guess the box office insures your next film, maybe not the next critical acclaim.

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas – the writer or director?

The Human Being! We called him ‘mamu jaan’. He was an exceptional human being, much bigger than his status as a writer or a director. He had certain principles in his life. And it’s very difficult to maintain those principles. It’s tough having certain beliefs about what life should be, about what your mind should be, how you want to conduct your society and then translate that into a film and your writing. And yet, never make a compromise. That’s incredible! And he had so much respect. He was in hospital and he never ever told anyone that he’s getting admitted. And he never asked for any help because that’s the way his life was. And he sold the rights of his films to pay his hospital bills for a pittance. If anyone would have offered to help, he would have refused. When we were shooting Saat Hindustani for example, he insisted that we all should travel together. So we travelled by 3rd class in a train. We went walking whenever needed. We stayed in government circuit houses which were not so well equipped. The whole unit would sleep on the floor – cameraman, spot boys, artists and Abbas saab! There was no electricity and he used to burn a ‘laalten’ and he used to write the whole night to prepare for the next day’s shoot. Where do you find people like that anymore?

Please tell us about your experiences of working with Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra, Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Whenever Manmohan Desai came up with a concept, we all thought it was madness. He was wild in his thinking. And we haven’t produced another Manmohan Desai. His extreme thought process was initially laughable. But in the end he was the one who was laughing and we were all wondering, ‘How did that happen?’ For instance, a film like Amar Akbar Anthony starts with a scene of three guys lying next to each other and a mother receiving blood from one bottle! There are three pipes, attached to the three brothers. It’s beyond any kind of medical practitioning! We used to tell him, ‘Mann, this doesn’t happen. You can’t do this.’ But he’ll retort, ‘Just shut up, yaar. Dekh kya hota hai!’ And when the film released, there was a massive applause in the beginning scene!
Prakash Mehra had a great story and music sense. His writing was very good. He was quite the opposite of Manmohan Desai. Manmohan Desai used to believe in larger-than-life kind of cinema. Prakash ji was very simple and his stories were very powerful. He’d tell me, ‘Kahin bhi khade ho jao aur bolna shuru kar do.’ He’ll then place a simple camera and tell, ‘Jahan ruk jao wahaan bata dena.’ Then he’ll take the shot and then re-take in a different angle and that’s it. The scene is done. He never bothered about extravagant sets. The most extravagant sets he ever made was in Namak Halaal for the song Pag Ghungroo. He was very upset about the fact that he had to put up the set.

Yash Chopra excelled in romance and its finer points. He was in love with love and it showed it in everything that he did – the way he used to choose the subjects, the actors, the way he used to shoot the scenes. We used to tease him while he was doing Deewaar which was a very aggressive, rough kind of a film and totally away from anything romantic. But even in Deewaar, he took a close up of mine and then panned the shot to a flower that was lying next to me! And we used to say, ‘Aap bhool nahin sakte na romance ko.’

Hrishikesh Mukherjee trod the centre path – his films were neither too artistic nor too commercial. And it was very difficult to do so. Many people who saw Piku stated that it reminded them of Hrishikesh Mukherjee kind of films. He came from Bimal Roy’s school – he was his editor and assistant. And he was not just a brilliant director but a brilliant editor as well. If some artist, for instance, was late, he would take the shots of those actors present first. Then he’d shoot the portions of the artist who was late. We would ask him, ‘Hrishi da, what are you doing?’ But he’d shut us up! He knew how he is going to edit that particular scene. He would then join the scene so seamlessly that viewers would presume that all the actors were present at the set at the same time!

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