'Remember watching every Bachchan film, braving crowds and bruises'

Priyadarshan Amitabh Bachchan
Combo image of film director Priyadarshan (L) and Bollywood's star icon Amitabh Bachchan. Photo: J Suresh / Manorama

The name Amitabh Bachchan evokes a childhood nostalgia in me. I remember going to Sreekumar theatre to watch a Prem Nazir film (Panchathanthram) only to be told that tickets had sold out. As I started to walk back home, dejected, I noticed a poster of the Hindi film ‘Bombay to Goa.’ I also noticed an unfamiliar actor on the poster—Amitabh Bachchan. A few minutes into the film, I couldn’t take my eyes off the tall, lanky young man on screen. There was an arresting quality about him. When I recounted the actor to my school friends the next day, they refused to believe me. They hadn’t even heard of such an actor. And then it so happened that within months, he had grown into the stature of a superstar in Indian cinema. He had become a force to reckon with in Bollywood. Later I remember watching every Bachchan film, braving crowds and bruises. From then till now I have been worshipping this actor and been his biggest fan!

Rising from the ashes

His comeback to cinema after ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited) went bankrupt perhaps provided the biggest dramatic twist in Bachchan’s life. None of his films came closer to that narrative. Bachchan kept away from films for 3 years, maintaining a low profile.

Then we heard that he was coming back with the TV gameshow called Kaun Banega Crorepati in 2000. A lot of people scoffed at his decision to explore Television. They felt this was definitely a setback for a matinee idol like Amitabh Bachchan. You have to remember that during that time TV actors were turning into movie stars.

On 2000 July 3rd they telecasted the first episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati. That night turned his life around. He had won back everything he had lost. This was a twist we hadn’t even witnessed in films. Amitabh Bachchan was back in style! Soon fans started crowding in front of his house. Here was a King who reclaimed his kingdom in a single night. From then till now, there is only one Emperor in Indian cinema.

Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan during the launch of Sony Entertainment Television's season 14 of quiz show 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' in Mumbai in August 2022. Photo: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP

I have keenly observed how much that crisis has changed his outlook on life. He only acted in films that he felt required his presence. Bachchan restricted himself to films and his family. I could see that he had rediscovered the actor in him. And picked roles that suited that actor. He would arrive hours before a shoot. There are even stories about Bachchan reaching the sets much before a vehicle was sent from the production house. I have seen him standing obediently in front of new directors.

A child at heart

It was the time when Kimi Katkar was acting with Bachchan. While driving through Mumbai, actor Tinu Anand told Bachchan pointing towards a flat—“That’s where Kimi Katkar lives.”

Bachchan turned his car, reached the apartment, and told the watchman—“Tell Kimi I have come.” The gatekeeper ran inside and conveyed the news to the actress. She couldn’t believe it. By the time she came down, Bachchan was nowhere in sight.

After giving the watchman a piece of her mind, she went back to her apartment.

After some time Bachchan returned to the apartment gate. “I had gone to park my car. Please call her.” He repeated the same behaviour thrice. Finally, he returned only after having a long chat with the watchman and meeting Kimi. Clearly shows that he is a child at heart.

Compassionate and caring

It was former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Minister KC Joseph who once told me about a child who worshipped Amitabh Bachchan like God. That child wanted to meet Bachchan. I hesitantly broached the subject with him and to my astonishment, Bachchan went out of his way to find time for the child and spent hours with him.

Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan during the shoot of his film 'Gulabo Sitabo'. Photo: PTI

When a child belonging to a famous family in Mumbai was hospitalised Bachchan used to visit him every evening carrying a tiffin box. He was that boy’s best friend. Bachchan was always this caring and compassionate to the people he loved.

While conducting the Miss World show, director TK Rajeev Kumar sir was with me. Even after 20 years Bachchan recognised Rajeev Kumar and also called him by his side and had a chat with him.

I once asked him why he decided against political positions though he could have easily achieved them. He told me that politics wasn’t his world. And that he can thrive only in his world. Maybe that’s what life also has taught him - to stand firmly on one's own ground. And I am sure as he celebrates his 80th birthday today, it is the same thought that helps him stay relevant and dynamic. Though I am very close to Bachchan, even to this day, I approach him with a little unknown fear in my heart. But I think, that’s the case with everyone who meets him. The fear that is generated from an overwhelming sense of respect for the legendary actor.

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