The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tagore for Big B birthday
- Friends in business and films line up as Amitabh turns 61

Mumbai, Oct. 11: Amar Singh gave the muhurat clap, Anil Ambani was at the camera, Dilip Kumar broke the nariyal and blessings were solicited from Yash Chopra.

AB Corp, formerly ABCL, made its second beginning today. Amitabh Bachchan, the entrepreneur, gave himself a second start on his 61st birthday, to the words of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, Where the mind is without fear, at a glitzy function in friend Lalit Suri’s new hotel, Intercontinental-The Grand.

Though visibly tired — he arrived from the Marrakesh film festival this morning — Bachchan and wife Jaya stood at the entrance for more than an hour to welcome the guests, a who’s who of Bollywood and industry.

Firmly in place were his friends — many of whom had given Karisma Kapoor’s wedding a miss — Amar Singh, the Ambanis, the Sahara family, Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej, and Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar. Shah Rukh Khan was, however, not seen till dinner was served.

Led by Dilip Kumar, golden oldies Saira Banu, Bindu, Dharmendra, Prakash Mehra were present in strength, as were the new crop represented by Karan Johar, Tabu, Govinda and Fardeen Khan. Mr ‘Moneybags’ Bharat Shah, too, made a grand appearance.

“Today happens to be my birthday, but tonight isn’t a celebration because I lost my father this year,” Bachchan, in a black bandhgala and trousers, said.

“My father gave me this body, face, mind, voice, speech, character demeanour, education, wonderful upbringing, and surname, but above all he gave me my conscience.”

Tonight, Bachchan was clear in his conscience. “Eight years ago, I started ABCL when I felt the need to corporatise the film industry. Somewhere we went wrong and failed. Suffice it to say, we were in the red. I wanted to restart the company because somewhere my conscience did not allow the shutting down. I felt it was my moral duty to pay back the debts,” he said.

Broke and broken, Bachchan had walked across the street to Yash Chopra’s house and asked for a role. Mohabbatein happened and his life began again. “Today every single penny that was owed has been paid back. It was 90 crores. Today, AB Corp is making a small beginning, taking a baby step towards Ranveer, starring Sunjay Dutt, Abhishek and myself.”

Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, the film will be AB Corp’s launchpad. Its focus will be feature films. Later on, AB Corp will try to move into music, distribution, exhibition and television, but Bachchan said that is not the priority now. As of now, it was more the vision than the business that is in place.

AB Corp will be headed by 49-year-old retired Wing Commander Ramesh Pulapaka, who was the creative and development head with Applause Entertainment for the past six years.

Bachchan thanked Amar Singh, Anil Ambani and Subroto Roy as “the three of them joined hands not to put money into my company but to encourage its start again”. AB Corp is being funded by “our own money and some investments” and Amar Singh will be on the board of directors, said Bachchan.

He refused to confirm reports that the AV Birla group, headed by Kumar Mangalam Birla, was pumping in funds into his venture.

But he admitted that he made several mistakes with ABCL and said he has learnt his lessons. It was wrong to leave financial matters in the hands of “outsiders”. This time, he is going to be more hands-on and keep a sharp eye on the accounts ledger. He said he would check the balance every night.

With the new AB Corp, Bachchan said he would work with more people he knows personally and do what he knows best.

Bachchan is busier than ever before, with about a dozen films in hand, like Vikram Bhatt’s Aitbaar, Santoshi’s Khakee, S. Ramanathan’s Zamaanat, Nagesh Kukunoor’s Tandoor, Govind Nihalni’s Dev, Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya, Sameer Karnik’s Kyun…Ho Gaya Na', Milan Luthria’s Deewar: Let’s Bring Our Heroes Home, Anil Sharma’s Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon, Ramgopal Varma’s Ek, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black and Rituparno Ghosh’s new film, apart from Ranveer.

Well into a busy second innings that life has afforded him, how does he feel' “I feel 61,” he said at the airport this morning, wife and son by his side and well-wishers and fans mobbing him, as usual.

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