Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amitabh Bachchan's article on Bollywood

With every passing year, I am struck by how fascinating this whole industry, unfortunately called Bollywood, has become.Six decades ago, mainstream Indian cinema was not considered intellectual enough. Today it has become a parallel culture.

We were criticized, but the very things we were criticized and ridiculed for — the content and the song
 and dance routine, which were seen as very over-the-top —are our USP now. It is truly marvellous to see how this industry has grown and how it will continue to grow.

Today, we are an industry, and interestingly, there is no dearth of funds .And the reach! I was in Paris recently, walking in Montmartre. Near the church, I heard a voice call out ‘Vijay’. I turned and saw a man who did not look like an Indian.

He started singing
 a song from one of my films. I was thrilled,  and even more so when I saw him enacting the coin-tossing scene from Sholay . There are so many countries in the world that watch our films, which we know nothing about: Algeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, South  Africa!

I myself have good memories of films, growing up. Cinema was this great big fantasy in our lives. But in our early years, cinema was practically taboo for a lot of us.As children from good homes and respectable families, we weren’t even allowed to mix with anything associated with films.

Movies were first vetted by parents and elders before we could see them and then, what were allowed were films with a message, like Jagriti, which was a film about nationalism.My father was more studies oriented, generally opposed to any kind of extra-curricular activities. My mother was just the opposite — she encouraged us to go out and see plays.

When I moved to boarding school, we used to have a film over the weekend in the common hall and I saw a lot of the English classics — from Dickens and so on.
It was only when I came to Delhi University, and became a bit more independent that I saw a lot of Hindi films
, with Dev Anand, Dilip sa’ab and so on. I was a great admirer of Dilip sa’ab then and I still am.

In Calcutta, where I worked, I read an ad inviting aspirants to a contest for budding actors conducted by a film magazine. I applied, but got rejected in the preliminaries itself.

My mother, who knew Nargisji told her about my interest in films and she organised a screen test for me in Mumbai. Soon after that, I chucked up my job and moved to Mumbai.I just wanted to be an actor in the film industry
, no matter what. So whatever came my way, I just took it. It’s not widely known that I was a junior artist in a Shashi Kapoor film which was made by Merchant-Ivory — one in a crowd at his cremation scene.

Because his family knew mine through my father and through Raj Kapoor, Shashi was very upset when he saw me there. He said, what are you doing working as an extra, you can’t do that, get out of here. The scene by the way was cut from the film.

Then I started getting roles and took whatever came my way. People ask me if I worked towards building up the “Angry Young Man” persona, but it was not like that at all.The media made me conscious about this angry young man, a crusader or vigilante who single-handedly fights the establishment. As far I was concerned, it was just a role.

I was not cherry-picking my roles, but I was careful in choosing my directors or my writers; rather I was fortunate that they picked me up to do films like Zanjeer, Deewar.

I firmly believe that films reflect what is happening in society. I once asked Salim-Javed why they wrote those roles and they said that it was the mood of the times. It was the time of the Emergency, it was a time when people felt that the system was not delivering, therefore you needed a man to stand up to it and take it on single-handedly.

In the early 1990s I took a deliberate sabbatical. I was out of politics where I accepted I had failed. I came back to cinema, started working, and then just thought that I needed to take a break.

I still don’t know what motivated me to do that but now that I look back, I think doing so was a mistake. When I did want to come back, in ‘95 or so, I discovered that a lot of water had flown under the bridge. Public memory is short.

People’s tastes had undergone a sea-change during that period and what we had been living with in the ‘80s was no longer relevant.

The vigilante, the angry young man had been overtaken by the young romantic. Anger and violence against the establishment were passé almost; the people had had enough of that. It was the age of the youth that wanted to enjoy life; singing, dancing.

Intense love stories were in. The Angry Young Man suddenly became irrelevant, but my producers still wanted me to do those roles. Every film that continued that old theme like Mrityudaata, for example, was a colossal failure.

I had to accept that times had changed and that I couldn’t possibly play the kind of men I was playing earlier on. So I switched to character roles and fortunately they worked, some of them.

In films like, say, Baghban , or Aks or Black and some of Karan Johar ‘s films, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, I was playing my age. All these characters gave me the persona of the patriarch, a kind of protector.

The industry has changed a lot. The biggest change in our film industry I have seen is of speed —speed of thinking, creativity, everything.

There is a qualitative difference in the way our films were presented and the way they look now. Take for example the editing. In the ‘50s, the editing was slow — they had the entire antara of a song in just one shot.

Even in the 1970s, when I did the drunken scene in Amar, Akbar, Anthony, it was in one shot. Today it would be cut into much shorter bits. I wonder if it would even be relevant today.

Now it would look a little over the top, too played out. Perhaps getting drunk is not such a big thing…may be if you are on drugs, or on ecstasy, maybe that would be interesting.

The industry is being criticised for apparently wooing only NRIs, but I don’t think it is correct to say we are driven by their nostalgia.

A lot of NRI families actually send their children out to see Hindi moves just so that they learn to speak the language.

But I do think it is frightening that a lot of the producers are becoming very careless and negligent about India’s interiors and they are quite satisfied with their collections that come from the cities.

Now there is massive interest in Indian cinema everywhere. The Americans have destroyed other cinemas, including in Europe. I believe attempts are being made to do the same here. This is where Indian cinema can hold its own.

Our traditions and our culture go back a long way. We have a 5000-year-old history as opposed to America’s 235 years.

And I believe that no matter how many invasions or how many different cultures may have come into our country and invaded us, we still have always maintained our culture. Our films have digressed from our basic ethos, our basic traditions and cultures.

Every time we have made a film that touches that basic nerve, we have succeeded, here and elsewhere. I believe we will continue doing so

No comments:

Post a Comment