Financial Chronicle - - EDIT, OPED, THE WORKS - SAN­DEEP BAMZAI (san­deep.bamzai@my­dig­i­

MORTUUS Diu. Amitabh Bachchan is fa­mil­iar with that ex­pres­sion for he has cheated death twice in his amazing life­time, once when Puneet Is­sar punched him in the stom­ach on the sets of Coolie and then again many years later, a per­ilous es­cape with fi­nan­cial ruin. Both times, his grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion brought him back. A mist­imed jump and punch which Bachchan should have dodged ended up with the star rup­tur­ing an in­tes­tine. He was rushed from Ban­ga­lore to Mum­bai’s Breach Candy Hos­pi­tal for an emer­gency splenec­tomy. Round two saw him tee­ter­ing on fi­nan­cial col­lapse, as his dream ven­ture ABCL went bust and cred­i­tors be­gan to hound him for their money. In 1999, pushed into a cor­ner by cred­i­tors and run­ning up losses of over Rs 70.82 crore against a net worth of Rs 60.52 crore, ABCL ap­proached the Board of In­dus­trial and Fi­nan­cial Re­con­struc­tion (BIFR). It came to a sit­u­a­tion that he faced the the prospect of los­ing Pra­teek­sha, his beloved Juhu house. Work­ing in Plus Chan­nel, fronting and pro­duc­ing In­dia’s first daily morn­ing busi­ness show — Busi­ness Plus — on Do­or­dar­shan, I had a ring side view of Bachchan’s fis­cal rig­ma­role. From my room’s win­dow one used to see the ac­tor blessed with the Paul Muni bari­tone com­ing and go­ing to work on the first floor of the same Ajanta Ho­tel com­plex which we shared with ABCL.

Fade to Black. Long years ago, Harsh Man Rai and I were sent to Ja­balpur to cover an event where in the heat and dust, we de­cided to watch Sha­hen­shah which had been re­leased. Both of us die hard Bachchan fan­boys went to this pokey and dank theatre to watch the movie with the masses and and came out re­peat­ing what be­came a cult dia­logue — Rishte mein toh hum tu­mare baap lagte hain, naam hai Sha­hen­shah. Hav­ing grown up on large dosages of Bachchan meds, it was a given that I would see the movie, such was the al­lure of the megas­tar who had gone through sev­eral troughs. I have had the oc­ca­sion to meet and in­ter­view the man many times, the most re­cent be­ing when he in­vited me to his show, KBC, as a guest for a cou­ple of episodes. Trav­el­ling to Film City where the Sid Basu team had erected a mam­moth set, one could see how Mr B was metic­u­lous in ev­ery­thing that he did.

De­spite the fre­netic sched­ule, I asked him for one more in­ter­view, partly to lis­ten to the Voice and partly to hear his thought process on work­ing with new­bie di­rec­tors after be­ing type­cast most of his ca­reer in Prakash Mehra and Man­mo­han De­sai masala block­busters. One can ar­gue that he was al­ways a star, the ac­tor in him has truly emerged in the re­cent past and with age he only gets bet­ter — Black, Shamitabh, Piku, Pink, Pa, Cheeni Kum, Sarkar 1 and 2, Wazir, Bhoot­nath 2 - are cases in point. Dis­rup­tive ideation con­sum­ing him. How­ever, his counter on be­ing type­cast came straight off the bat — “I don’t think I got type­cast, this is a mis­con­cep­tion. For every Prakash Mehra on Man­mo­han De­sai en­ter­prise like Zan­jeer or Amar Ak­bar An­thony, my­opi­cally there was a dif­fer­ent cin­ema that I did. Ab­hi­man, Mili, Alaap, Bemisal, Chupke Chupke, Jur­mana, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Do An­jaane and many more.” Fact, but ig­nored.

I ques­tioned him about his love af­fair for grease paint and he an­swered mat­ter of factly — “I want to keep work­ing, I shall con­tinue to do my best. Ac­tu­ally, I don’t know what else to do. Life is a blur when one is es­say­ing dif­fer­ent roles, it is so ful­fill­ing. As a pro­fes­sional, I can­not af­ford to be com­pla­cent. I want to per­form and be tested; I want the vi­brant en­ergy of the younger gen­er­a­tion of di­rec­tors and ac­tors to rub off on me. An ac­tor’s ca­reer should not and can­not end, the stream should run cease­lessly. Ac­tor should take on fresh chal­lenges be­cause the hu­man mind is a sponge, it soaks up all the time, the process of learn­ing doesn’t end.” Sus­pi­cion and shad­ows lurk in the cor­ri­dors of Amitabh Bachchan’s mind. The thes­pian in his au­tumn can­not and will not for­get his bank­ruptcy. His in­se­cu­rity stems from those dark and de­spon­dent days. They act as a whet­stone for him, a ref­er­ence point and equally a grim re­minder. In his case, it is the fear of the known rather than the un­known. He said, “This is the in­cen­tive to keep go­ing, to test fron­tiers be­cause in my mind’s eye, I still fret over what will hap­pen to­mor­row. We all go through these phases, peaks and troughs are what life is all about. I have been in a sit­u­a­tion where I was at the low­est ebb in my life — pro­fes­sion­ally, com­mer­cially and per­son­ally. In or­der not to give up the mo­ment, I was op­er­at­ing on the prin­ci­ple that the Cor­po­ra­tion (ABCL, or Amitabh Bachchan Cor­po­ra­tion) must not die, I had to en­sure that I paid back every sow that I owed to a vast army of peo­ple. I felt it wasn’t eth­i­cally right not to re­turn the money.”

Against this back­drop, Amitabh Bachchan clawed back from the abyss of gloom. He paid back over Rs 90 crore he owed to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, slowly and grad­u­ally. Remembering those days, he said, “I paid back one and all, in­clud­ing Do­or­dar­shan. When they asked for the in­ter­est com­po­nent, I did com­mer­cials in lieu for them. I can never for­get how cred­i­tors used to land at our door, be abu­sive, threat­en­ing and de­mand­ing, and worse still, when they came for kud­kee at Pra­teek­sha, our res­i­dence. With­out a doubt that was one of the dark­est mo­ments in my 44-year pro­fes­sional ca­reer (in 2013). It made me sit and think, I looked at the op­tions be­fore me and eval­u­ated dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios. The an­swer came pat — I know how to act. I got up and walked to Yashji, who stayed be­hind my house. I im­plored him to give me work. That is when the worm turned, he gave me Mo­hab­batein.” Bachchan ac­knowl­edges the role played by KBC in his life, it be­came a cen­trifuge in his re­turn for a whole new gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple dis­cov­ered his art­form. When Star Plus came to him with this project in 2000, even Bachchan couldn’t have an­tic­i­pated its pop­u­lar­ity. It re­sulted in an overnight craze and the cre­ation of a brand new medium in Indian tele­vi­sion. Most im­por­tantly, a whole new au­di­ence re­dis­cov­ered Amitabh Bachchan, a new par­a­digm, a new brand with salience, eq­uity and pull was born. He him­self said — “I can­not ig­nore KBC’s con­tri­bu­tion. It came at a time when it was most needed, like a booster shot. Both pro­fes­sion­ally and fi­nan­cially, it acted as a cat­a­lyst. Be­lieve me, it helped me pay back all my cred­i­tors. That is the debt that I al­ways recog­nise.”

The other night I watched a re­run of Adalat and I found it riv­et­ing. The junkie got his fix. As a Bachchan junkie, I could never ac­cept Ganga Ja­muna Saraswati or some of the bilge like the in­tol­er­a­ble Lal Bad­shah, Ram Gopal ki Aag that he made in be­tween, but I watched them nev­er­the­less for they were quin­tes­sen­tial Bachchan. Truly a Muqqadar Ka Sikan­der and the song from the same film sum up the man and his oeu­vre, penned by An­jaan — Rote hue aate hain sab, Rote hue aate hain sab, Hansta hua jo jaayega, Woh muqad­dar ka Sikan­dar, Woh muqad­dar ka Sikan­dar, Jaan-e-man kehlayega, Rote hue aate hain sab, Hansta hua jo jaayega. Sa­lut to the man, his bound­less en­ergy and his craft.

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