“I find the young breed of filmmakers and actors amazing

At 74 Amitabh Bachchan is brimming with energy and continues to give the younger generation of actors a run for their money. His timeless charisma hasn’t changed nor has his deep baritone voice, which is a trademark of his personality. With a keen eye for detail, a great sense of discipline and an amazing memory, the veteran actor continues to treasure every new film as an experience. He is also the most celebrated star on Twitter with an incredible 21.5 million followers, a feat that makes him one of the most popular stars on social media. In a candid interview, the superstar talks about his latest movie TEEN, his fascination with the city of Kolkata and how he finds the younger generation an inspiring lot.
By Manishaa R

On the idea of TEEN and how it was born:
Actually it was Sujoy who came up with a brilliant idea of making a film based in Kerala. Then one day he and Vibhu Dasgupta told me that they had acquired the rights of this Korean film. The moment they narrated it, I felt that it was the right idea to develop into a film. It was initially planned to set the film against the backdrop of Goa but they had problems with permissions. That’s when I suggested Kolkata and they were very excited about it. However since the character was a Goan Christian and had an Anglo connect to it, they changed it to an English haracter living in Kolkata, except that he does not have the typical nuances of a typical Anglo-Bengali. Post the release of Piku, it was decided that I should not end up sounding like another Bengali. Also, we discovered that the Anglo-Bengalis there are like any other normal Hindi speaking guys.

 
On his age-old connection with Kolkata:
My first job in life was in Kolkata in 1962. I had spent 7-8 months working as an executive there. There’s a very large Anglo-Indian community that resides there and I used to mix up regularly with them because that was part of our existence. I was also connected to the amateur theatre there and the theatre groups had Anglo-Indians too. We were all friends so I was aware of the way they spoke and conducted themselves.
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On his character in the film:
I play the role of John Biswas- a middle class retired bureaucrat, who lives with his aged wife in a modest home. He’s 74 years old-as old as I am now. He is not aggressive and pushy, he’s a weak looking individual, he has an exasperated look on his face and there’s a tragedy that has happened in his life. He is just anxious to know the truth about the incident and goes out on his own pursuit. The character has been designed in such a way that he speaks very softly; he is a tepid and insecure kind of a person who rarely challenges anyone. We deliberately decided to keep the character low=key because there had been many other films where I had been the aggressive person and fought for the truth.
 
On technology and the experience of shooting in actual locations in Kolkata:
The whole film is on actual locations in Kolkata, there are no sets at all, which I would say is an accomplishment of some kind by our cinematographer, Tushar. There was a time when we would be surrounded by piercing heavy lights and big sharp reflectors, which barely allowed us to open our eyes. It is quite different to be in an environment where you don’t see lights at all but that is what technology has done today.
 
On his decision to invite marketing suggestions from his readers and fans for TE3N, instead of publicising it like all other films:
TE3N is not a big-budget film, it does not have big stars and I felt it was futile trying to go overboard with the marketing of the film. For a film like TE3N, you can’t be spending crores of rupees on the marketing of the film, knowing that it is budgeted at a modest Rs 15-18 crores. That’s why I felt that the best option was to involve the audiences and get their point of view instead of wasting so much money on the marketing.
 
On the marketing overdrive of big films:
There’s praise for that and criticism too but you have to understand that in our times, films used to run for 25 weeks and 50 weeks. Today they run for three days and your money is recovered. If you see a Shah Rukh Khan or a Salman starrer, the budgets run into several crores of rupees. For them it is the first three day collections that make the film a viable profit model and they require that kind of marketing. The attention span of this generation is very short, they want quick results and it becomes necessary to have aggressive marketing.
 
On the techno savvy and content conscious young breed of directors and actors:
The best part of working with the younger generation of directors today is that they are aware of technology and know how best to tap it. Today the audience tastes have changed and they demand something that is slicker and technically more brilliant because they have an opportunity to see all that on television, internet and mobiles. In that respect, these young filmmakers are very much focussed. They are aware of the competition and the fact that their content has to be up to the mark. They keep improvising on the technology in order to get outstanding results. Also the talent available is absolutely remarkable. I am stunned at times to see how perfect some of these actors are in their first outing. They know where they want to go and provide such amazing outputs. At 74, I sometimes feel odd to go on the sets when I see these thoroughly prepared actors at 25 but it’s a great joy too. I love being with them, seeing them work and their approach to work. They are very normal and natural in front of the camera. They are quite cool and are perfect in their work too.
 
On how stars in the 70s and 80s were forced to take up 10-12 films at a time:
While content and technology matter a lot these days, funding of films is hardly a problem today, unlike olden days where filmmakers had to go through a long drawn process for the funding of their films. One of the reasons stars used to take up multiple projects during those days was due to the problems of funding and finance. Those days filmmakers had to borrow funds and they would get money from the financier to shoot for a period of 7-8 days, after which they would show the portions to the financier in the hope of getting more funds. That’s the reason why we used to work in 10-12 films and shuttle from one set to another every day because we couldn’t wait till the next finance would come, lest we would be sitting for a long time without work. That problem fortunately does not exist today.

 
On the incredible following he commands on the social media from his personal blogs to his Facebook account and his record following on Twitter, which now stands at 21.5 million:
Previously we used to wait for fan letters to get reactions. We had fewer opportunities to interact with our fans and the only connect we had was when we got a fan mail or went out to public functions. With social media, we have opened the doors to millions and millions of people to interact, talk to them and get a feedback. In my case, it started with a blog when someone came up with a suggestion that I should have an official website of my own, since there were 50 other illegal sites running under my name. I was told that it would take a period of 6-7 months but I was very keen to start something the very next day. That’s how the idea of writing a blog came up. It started with jotting down a few of my thoughts for which I received a great feedback after which I started blogging every day to an extent where people from every region began to keep in touch, interacting and giving their point of view on everything I wrote about. I later gave them the name of my ‘Extended Family: (EF). I now get 400-500 responses from my EFs in India and over the world, from Mumbai to London. They keep in touch with each other too, travel to each other’s towns and even meet me when they come down to Mumbai. It is truly a big family. I started my Facebook and Twitter account soon after. Now I make it a point to tweet every day about something that I strongly feel about. Today it is my 2983rd day of blogging. I have been doing so without a break, even when I was in hospital. It is my 2243rd day on Twitter and 1373rd day on Facebook (a week ago). I know at least 2000 of my social media followers on a personal level.
 
On the remarkable feedback he gets from his fans about his films and how his social media presence indirectly helps in building up the awareness about his films:
I think a good deal of my social media friends are an amazing lot of cinema savvy people and some of them give some great feedback about my films. Their remarks and some of the things that they write are beyond comprehension. There are some brilliant minds out there who look at a film. They even criticise films objectively but their criticism is different from the regular critics. They also offer a comprehensive analysis on why a particular film scored well at the box- office. I remember Ritu-ji (Nanda), the daughter of Raj Kapoor and also the mother-in-law of my daughter, Shweta, brought out a book on Raj Kapoor, years ago and wanted to update it. I thought about it and was in touch with several other people, who were perceptive about several aspects of Raj-ji’s life, including his films, politics or entertainment. I had a discussion with them through the blog and they came out with an analysis on him, which I had never quite figured out. I sent this across and they were absolutely delighted.
 
On how we have taken some of our legendary filmmakers for granted, by not documenting their celebrated works:
It is a very sad truth but despite having some of the best filmmakers in the history of cinema, we have never quite gone out and documented their works. For instance, one would have loved to sit with legendary filmmakers like K.Asif, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor to find out what went behind the making of some of their best films, how they chose particular camera angles, what was the atmosphere like on their sets and how they coined some of the best dialogues for their films. We only go and look at the films, we have never ever sat with those people and asked them. I hope we seriously start something on this front, so that it will be a treasure house of information for filmmakers in the future.

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