| Amitabh Bachchan in Singapore on Tuesday. (AFP)
Singapore, March 16: The brooding intensity is in place, as is the baritone. But the angry young man — now a grandfather of two — has mellowed. The master of monosyllables doesn’t mind a chat and isn’t miserly with a smile.
And, boy, is he busy. More than 10 films in hand, a series of ad campaigns lined up, the task of turning around a company, leading the Hindi film industry to a global audience, playing doting grandfather to Agasthya and Navya Naveli (children of daughter Shweta)...
Amitabh Bachchan is not short on roles to play. “I have a manager to manage all these,” smiles the 62-year-young man.
Facial muscles back in familiar place, he adds on a more serious note: “I love facing the camera and I work 18 to 20 hours a day. It’s just about managing time and keeping fit.” Chatting with The Telegraph at The Grand Hyatt, on the sidelines of a curtain raiser for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards 2004, Bachchan took a peep into the past to praise the present.
“Fifty-sixty years ago, the Indian film industry was socially looked down upon. Girls from decent families used to hesitate before joining the industry. But today it has won respectability… It’s a huge march forward.”
But present-day Bollywood (a bad word to utter in front of the Big B) is not without its pitfalls. While the use of technology and professional expertise brings a smile, the lack of quality content (nothing to match the Bimal Roys and Hrishikesh Mukherjees) creases the brow.
“Probably, today’s generation doesn’t want content,” says the brand ambassador of IIFA, in the Lion City to promote the three-day award ceremony scheduled between March 20 and 22. The show, in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board among others, will include a celebrity football match (with organisers confident of having Bachchan on the ball), a seminar on India-Singapore co-operation and the gala awards night on March 22 at the Indoor Stadium.
It’s all in a day’s work for the actor who “pioneered” the process of corporatisation in 1995 with ABCL and is convinced it’s the only way forward for the film industry. “We are trying to revive it, but the good thing is the attempt brought others into it and today there are 18 to 20 such companies. The Indian corporates today are willing to put money into the industry,” points out Bachchan, who was the top draw at Frames 2004, Ficci’s initiative for the entertainment industry in Mumbai before hopping over to Singapore.
But in its second innings, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) — or rather AB Corp — will play it safe and take one step at a time. “We wanted to do a lot of things at one point of time… In India, around 85 to 90 per cent of the entertainment business comes from Hindi films. We will enter other areas, but slowly,” says Bachchan, adding that he was in the “final stages” of working out the details of a public issue.
His present occupations in front of the camera range from an army officer (Lakshya) to the teacher of deaf, mute, and blind Rani Mukherjee in Black (“Sanjay Leela Bhansali (the director) took me to an institute to train to communicate with a deaf, mute and blind person. It was really difficult”). Plans for the small screen include a Kaun Banega Crorepati rerun, where he will host 85 more shows. A project for Sahara TV is also on the cards. “But I haven’t seen the script yet,” he clarifies.
The sign-off is reserved for Calcutta. “I know I am the jamaibabu there,” smiles the husband of Jaya Bhaduri, who started his career as an executive in the city. He’s “excited” about returning to the city to work with Rituparno Ghosh. “Problems in dates pushed back the project, which both of us were planning for the past three-four years. Shooting will start by the end of this year.”