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AB 70

Amitabh Bachchan Looks Back — And Ahead — As He Turns 70 Today. A t2 Special

He tweets. He is on Facebook. Directors half his age are queueing up to cast him. And, while many will call Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, that also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, his big Hollywood debut, he insists it’s not even a cameo — “It’s just a meo,” he laughs.

t2 met Amitabh Bachchan at his office — Janak, in Juhu — on a stormy October evening. Dressed in a simple white kurta pyjama, he has a cream shawl keeping him warm. Days short of his landmark 70th birthday, he has been under the weather. But that hasn’t stopped him from picking up an award at GQ’s Man of The Year function, attending the premiere of English Vinglish and the screening of Chittagong and keeping his appointment with t2.

“It’s just a little chest congestion,” he says before sitting down to talk about his legacy, 70 being “a great age” and, of course, birthday cake!

What do birthdays mean to you?

Just that another year has gone by. I have never really believed in celebrations. But sometimes family and friends decide to honour and celebrate. One doesn’t want to stop their enthusiasm so one carries on. By and large, I shy away from them.

What are your earliest memories of birthdays?

In school, I waited anxiously for my birthday, not because it was a special day but for the gifts. (Smiles) You would get to spend the evening with a whole lot of your friends who would come over. And the bonus was the gifts that they’d bring. So, I was no different from any other kid. Once you get older, birthdays lose their sheen.

One can’t talk of birthdays and not mention cakes. Do you like birthday cakes?

I have stopped eating cakes. Actually, I have had to stop eating and drinking a lot of things for many, many years. But I have never been fascinated by cakes. I have never been able to understand why cakes are such an integral part of birthdays. Why just a cake and what is the point of the candles and the whole act of blowing out the candles?

How do you look back at the life that’s been?

Life has been kind to me and god has been gracious. I am grateful that I was my parents’ [Harivansh Rai and Teji] son. I am happy to have the family I have. I have had the opportunity to be in this profession and I am happy that people appreciate what I do. Fans have been very sympathetic and loyal to me. I am just delighted that I can connect with them and share their love and affection for me. Highs and lows come in everybody’s life and I am no different. I just feel blessed with the way life has treated me.

What would you want your legacy to be?

I am not worthy of leaving a legacy. You can talk about my father leaving a legacy and I will respect that. But to talk about my legacy sounds almost arrogant. I just hope that I have done things in my life that my children and family are proud of. I would want to have respect for my family and be able to see respect for myself in their eyes. I have not bothered my children [Shweta and Abhishek] to be good academicians or to have successful careers, I just want that people who interact with them should tell me how well-behaved they are or how they conduct themselves. Just the fact that they are good human beings is sufficient for me. I hope that legacy remains.

If you were to live your life again, would you change anything?

I won’t want to change anything. Even my failures were moments that taught me something. I went into politics on an emotional note and I failed there. I resigned not because I didn’t want to pursue politics but because I didn’t know the job. So I accepted that I wasn’t able to do it. From that experience I learnt that it’s something I will never be able to take up again. There are so many other incidents where I have failed but there is always an opportunity to learn. I value that moment rather than look upon it as a failure. If I was to live my life again, I’d want to live it the same way. Otherwise I could be deprived of all this learning I have got as a result of all the failure.

You have achieved so much, do you ever think, ‘maybe I should sit back and take things easy’?

I don’t believe there has been much achieved. On the various cyber platforms, my fans keep telling me that I work too hard but they are not in my situation. I am okay with it. I am happy that they are concerned about me. If I get tired, I take rest. If I have the will and capacity to continue working, I hope to be able to do that. This is the only job I know. But I know that I am not going to go into any kind of excess. If I ever find it overbearing, I will stop.

What does success mean to you?

I have never paid any attention to this. When you tell me about my ‘greatness’, I feel embarrassed to hear that. I am very happy being just a normal person and that’s how I think of myself. I want to be treated normally. I don’t like all this fuss around me, neither do I want these accolades to come my way. I just feel they are unnecessary. I feel that I am just doing a job. If some people are happy with it, I am happy with that.

What makes you happy?

I am happy now. I am happy to be talking to you. After I finish all the work here, I’ll go back and spend time with my family and that would make me very happy.

What makes you angry?

I don’t really get angry. I am a fairly docile person.

It’s said that grandparents relive their childhood with their grandchildren...

I think we tend to spend more time with grandchildren than we do with our own children. For me, it was primarily the working hours that kept me away when Shweta and Abhishek were growing up but I still found the time. But grandchildren are special. We tend to be more liberal with them than we are with our own children.

In an interview to t2 a few months ago, Abhishek had said you were particularly indulgent when it came to Aaradhya...

Ya, if I have the capability to be indulgent then I will be. I would say I am pretty okay as far as indulging my grandchildren.

What are your hopes for the coming year?

Hopefully to be associated with more films, spend more time with my granddaughter and just to be with family.

If a film was to be made on your life, who would you cast as Amitabh Bachchan?

I don’t think it would be a sensible project. I would certainly not contribute to it.

If you could invent a device for yourself today, what would it be?

I don’t know. I am very happy with the way I am. Maybe it would be helpful to have 26 hours in a day but I am happy with just 24 as well.

What’s the one ingredient that makes a marriage last forever and what did you tell Abhishek on the eve of his wedding?

I don’t give any advice. I am not a marriage counsellor. I believe that trust, faith, belief in each other and having confidence that we are doing things for the benefit of the marriage are important. To be able to generate that kind of affection to who you bring into this world. Be considerate and helpful while they are growing up in this difficult world that we all have to face. Those are the things that I think Jaya and me have been able to do.

Not many would like to be an Abhishek Bachchan given the amount of expectations the surname exudes. How much of a dad are you when you are talking to Abhishek about films and how much a superstar who has seen it all?

Stars and superstars are lovely epitaphs that you all have bestowed upon me but I have never believed in them. I am just another actor. As an actor, I see a film of Abhishek’s and I can point out the mistakes. We discuss them and he follows my advice diligently. Other than that, I have never given him much advice. He has been working on his own. I have told him that success and failure are part and parcel of this profession. Each failure means that you have to work harder and each success means that you need to work even harder. Sustaining success is more difficult. Criticism will come from all walks of life and you have to take it healthily. People’s sentiments and emotions are very valued. They should be given respect. These are the people who can make you and the people who can break you. Arrogance and attitude are not words that enter my vocabulary. I would like to pass that on to my children as well.

How would you react if you woke up one morning to find yourself 5” shorter?

I could accept it because that’s how nature would want me to be. I would have a few problems with my clothing but otherwise it should be all fine (laughs).

What is your message for people turning 70 this year?

Welcome to the club. It’s a wonderful age to be in. Enjoy yourself and do as much as you can of whatever you do. Just keep moving forward.

What is that one question you keep getting asked that annoys you the most?

More than the questions, it’s when people say, ‘This is my last question’. It’s never the last question. (Smiles)

Karishma Upadhyay

What ‘last question’ would you like to ask Amitabh Bachchan on his 70th birthday? Tell t2@abp.in