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CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey talks to the man who has been at the centre of many controversies this past year, and who has been the favourite target of many a politician â€” Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan.
Bhupendra Chaubey: My guest on the show is none other than a Bollywood superstar, who has been creating a buzz online, Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Welcome to the show.
Amitabh Bachchan: Thank you for having me.
Bhupendra Chaubey: 2007 was a particularly troublesome year for you what with so many legal cases and what not. All that is now taken care of. The legal tangle is all over. Are you relaxed and satisfied now? A happy person?
Amitabh Bachchan: Actually I have never really looked at it that way because I don’t really believe that there has been a single year in my career when there haven’t been any problems or issues. But you know, this is a part of life and one has to live with it.
Bhupendra Chaubey: But this was of very, very different nature, with the fact that there were so many charges being levied against you.
Amitabh Bachchan: Yes but there have been charges levied against me since the 1980s, so there was nothing new.
Bhupendra Chaubey: I talked about 2007 in particular because many outside the industry thought that Amitabh Bachchan the individual not the actor, was finding things tough for himself. In 2008, we have seen a lot of people targetting you. The Health Minister, the UP Chief Minister, Raj Thackeray all seem to have some problem with you or are upset with you. What is it that is happening in your relationship with the general people. Do you look at yourself like a victim or would you say that you are actually the culprit?
Amitabh Bachchan: This you’ll have to ask them. I don’t have any relationship with them for them to level accusations against me or as you put it, making me a culprit. People are not going to be judgemental about my character and if they are, then they have to be fortified with sufficient evidence which is legal. So long as I am doing things which are within the Constitution and legally correct and correct within myself â€” which is something that I have been saying all along â€” then I don’t need to pay attention to them.
Bhupendra Chaubey: You talk about you being honest to yourself and you being sincere to Constitution, so I will take up these problems one by one. The Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss recently made an appeal to you not to encourage scenes which are related to tobacco or alcohol consumption on screen. On your blog which has become a favourite pastime of sorts for you now, you came up with a very extreme response â€“ “The Health Minister should think first in terms of banning alcohol and cigarette consumption for Government servants. One has not seen this kind of an extreme response from you for a long time now. What happened there sir?
Amitabh Bachchan: I feel that whenever there is ever any need to bring up an issue, people from the film industry are the first ones that get targetted or are spoken about. I am just trying to draw their attention to themselves saying look clean up your own house first before casting aspersions on people in the film industry. Yes, we are high-profile, we are celebrities, but that does not mean that we are all defaulters. Film creation is a creative art. If you are wanting propagate a philosophy which the Government or a Ministry is wanting to pursue, don’t make us the vehicle of your propaganda. Then art doesn’t stay art, it becomes a propaganda. That’s all that I am saying and so clean up your own house.
Okay, you are asking Mr Shah Rukh Khan not to smoke and drink because that influences people and he said that if he starts drinking apple juice would the rest of country also start drinking apple juice instead of alcohol? So there are various arguments. And this is what I basically said.
The other thing is â€” and a point that I am afraid has been completely ignored and not taken up seriously at all â€” the manufacturing of the beedi leaf. There are beedi plantations…
Bhupendra Chaubey: So what’s your point? Are you saying that there should be a ban on beedi consumption?
Amitabh Bachchan: No, no I am not saying that. I am just saying what about that? I am not saying ban anything.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So, you are saying that the Health Minister should target beedi production…
Amitabh Bachchan: I am not asking him to target anybody. I am just saying that if you are going to talk about us, please talk about these issues as well.
Bhupendra Chaubey: But why do you feel that someone is targetting you? Why do you feel that this is an aspersion? It’s not an aspersion or a suspicion that is being cast upon you. It was a gentle appeal that was made by the Health Minister given the fact that you are someone who has an enormous impact on people.
Amitabh Bachchan: You will have to ask him that. I take it very gently then. I take it equally gently then. I myself do not smoke. I do not drink. I am not a culprit. I am actually a follower of what you are saying Mr Health Minister. I am really saying that if you are going to pinpoint somebody, there are several others that need to be talked about also.
Bhupendra Chaubey: What is it about Amitabh Bachchan that everyone seems to be enjoying the process of targetting you? Is it your stardom? Are you a soft target?
Amitabh Bachchan: You are the analysts, you are the conscience of the nation, you know the pulse of the people. You should be able to answer that question yourself.
Bhupendra Chaubey: My question to you is very simple sir. Are you a soft target for everyone in this country particularly political opponents, simply because targetting you doesn’t lead to political damages for a person. In a cost benefit analysis, it may only benefit a few individuals and so it is okay to hit out at Amitabh Bachchan?
Amitabh Bachchan: Well I think that you have answered your own question here.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Is that the reason that you are so angry these days?
Amitabh Bachchan: No I am not. I am not angry at all. I am vry happy.
Bhupendra Chaubey: You don’t think that the kind of responses you are coming out with say that? Again to quote your blog on another instance, in your tiff with Shatrughan Sinha, he was talking about awards being fixed.
Amitabh Bachchan: There was no tiff with him.
Bhupendra Chaubey: And you said that I hope that his son also does well and when he gets an award he should not be someone who should be facing these accusations of fixing of awards. I have never seen Amitabh Bachchan talking such words sir.
Amitabh Bachchan: Okay now you are seeing it.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So what has changed?
Amitabh Bachchan: Nothing. We keep jibing at each other. Whether it is Shatru or whether it is Shah Rukh or anybody. We keep passing these remarks to each other very often. It’s just the fact that you are coming and seeing these things now that’s all.
Bhupendra Chaubey: But don’t you think that at the end of the day, there was a difference between Amitabh Bachchan and the rest of the stars.
Amitabh Bachchan: There is really no difference and I don’t see why you should imagine that there is a different person. And even if it is, so what?
Bhupendra Chaubey: But don’t you think that given the kind of love and affection and adulation that you have got from the people…
Amitabh Bachchan: I hope that love and admiration will remain intact.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Well, maybe they expect something different from you. Maybe they expect you to be different sir.
Amitabh Bachchan: If they do, then I shall give it to them. I hope that I can give it to them. If not, then that’s my misfortune.
Bhupendra Chaubey: What about the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. recently, Jaya Bachchan made a statement saying that Mayawati is upset with the Bachchans. What have the Bachchans got to do with Mayawati?
Amitabh Bachchan: I have no idea. You’ll have to ask her.
Bhupendra Chaubey: You personally have no grievances, no problems at all against Mayawati?
Amitabh Bachchan: No. Nothing at all. Not at all.
Bhupendra Chaubey: You don’t think that you often get caught in this political crossfire which actually takes place between parties in Delhi?
Amitabh Bachchan: Not at all. Not at all. I am again saying this that if I have done something wrong, then yes, the authorities and the Government have a right to challenge, to accuse, to take me to court, to send me notices or whatever it is. And the courts will decide whether I am right or wrong.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Let’s talk about Raj Thackeray. Papers are full of it, your blog site is full of it.
Amitabh Bachchan: We have freedom of expression in this country and everyone is free to say what they want to say.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Raj Thackeray started targetting you at a public rally. When you heard about it, what was your first reaction?
Amitabh Bachchan: I am saying that this is a free country and everyone has the right to say what they want to say.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So Raj Thackery has the right to say what he wants to say and Amitabh Bachchan has the right to say what he wants to say and do what he wants to do.
Amitabh Bachchan: Sure, absolutely. so long as it is within the confines of the law of the country.
Bhupendra Chaubey: In a paper, you had given a glowing tribute to the spirit of Mumbai. You said that you have learnt a lot from Mumbai, how when you get up and go to work every morning, you see people around you and you see how much the city has given to different individuals, including you. Is there a sense that you are being projected as the outsider in a city which you have made your own?
Amitabh Bachchan: No. I don’t think that there can be an outsider in any city in India. This is a free country. I don’t need a visa to go to any place, state or city.
Bhupendra Chaubey: One gets the sense that people are trying to project you as a selfish kind of a figure, someone who doesn’t give a damn about the kind of impact his actions are going to have. Is Amitabh Bachchan a selfish person?
Amitabh Bachchan: Not at all.
Bhupendra Chaubey: You don’t think that all the charges, all the talk that one gets to see and hear from all these politicians affecting you in any way?
Amitabh Bachchan: How should it? And why should it? I am still doing my work, I go and do my films. People go an see my films. Sometimes they criticize it, sometimes they like it. That’s my profession and that’s been happening with me all my life. I don’t see what my personal attributes have got to do with my output in creativity.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Would you say that Raj Thackeray is just a young boy in a hurry? Maharashtra elections are around the corner, he needs an issue and he hits out at Amitabh Bachchan. Are you a soft target?
Amitabh Bachchan: I really wouldn’t know why somebody does that? All I can say is that they have the freedom to do it.
Bhupendra Chaubey: It doesn’t alter your lifestyle in anyway? Do you feel under pressure to prove to people that you at the end of the day are as much a Mumbaikar as anyone else?
Amitabh Bachchan: Why should I? I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.
Bhupendra Chaubey: There’s been this whole talk that Amitabh Bachchan has not contributed to the growth of Marathi culture and Marathi cinema. Do you agree?
Amitabh Bachchan: Look, I can enumerate various things, but then this is just entering into a debate and an argument which really is of no consequence as far as this issue is concerned. But there are people who have been affected or have been benefited or have been associated with me and my contribution â€” if you want to call it that, though I feel that it is an extremely derogatory word to use. I believe that I am an Indian and whatever I do, I am contributing to a country and not to a particular sect or a caste or a creed or a religion or a city. I think that whatever we do is pan-India and that’s how it should be looked at. So to pinpoint and place me in a corner in unacceptable to me. I think I live my life as an Indian and whatever I do, I do for the country and my profession is for my industry. That’s it.
Bhupendra Chaubey: You seem to have taken a very intellectual and academic view of the entire situation. But on the ground, the reality is different. I mean as early as yesterday, there was a demand that the Bombay Scottish School, which is a well-known school should undergo a name change and become Mumbai Scottish School. Do you think that these demands are valid? What’s your take on that?
Amitabh Bachchan: I am not in a position to take a decision on that. But those that are in the position, they should decide.
Bhupendra Chaubey: What is that prompted you to start the blog?
Amitabh Bachchan: Well I think that it is a wonderful vehicle to react with your fans and your well-wishers. It’s like sitting across the table and talking just as we are. I like the idea. The concept is very good. You are immediately able to put out something that comes to your mind and immediately get a response. And it has been so encouraging and so wonderful and I am so, so obliged.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Would it be a correct assessment sir to say that maybe Amitabh Bachchan was feeling that people are not being fair to him and that the media is not being fair to him? And therefore he must come up with his own version through the blog?
Amitabh Bachchan: Not at all. But this is certainly an aspect which gives me the right, the authority and the strength to be able to respond to something which I may find has not been properly or adequately put across or which has been mutilated by the media or by anybody else.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Do you feel like someone who has been wronged by the people and wronged by the world.
Amitabh Bachchan: No I don’t. I can never ever say that. Especially not in the profession that I am in. Not with the kind of love and affection that I have received.
Bhupendra Chaubey: But one gets the feeling that at the end of the Amitabh Bachchan is now getting into a situation where he feels eenth ka jawab pathar se. Agar koi mujhe kuch bolega toh main bhi usko bolunga. (An eye for an eye. If someone says something to me, I will answer back in kind.) Is that true?
Amitabh Bachchan: I have just addressed this issue in my latest blog which I wrote last night and I said that if the media, or a community, or a group of people who call themselves the media or journalists are in a position where they can pass comment, give an opinion or their views, then it seems to the reader as though it is an opinion, comment or accusation or whatever it is of a hundred million people. Now that’s a very powerful expression and that is your strength. And that is what the media is all about, but it is actually the opinion of only one person â€” it is one journalist who will write all this. To me it seems as if a hundred million people are saying this. When I go out on the street, I believe that everything that came out in the press today is on everyone’s mind.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So, in that sense Amitabh Bachchan has changed from the time when you did not bother about what people wrote about you.
Amitabh Bachchan: I did not have the medium at my disposal then.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So if that medium was there then you would have done this earlier?
Amitabh Bachchan: Most certainly I would have. I would have wanted to correct a lot of things.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So are you using the blog to correct things.
Amitabh Bachchan: Sure. But it’s just not to correct. It is also to accept.
Bhupendra Chaubey: So in that sense in 2008, as opposed to the 80s and the 90s, are you accepting that this whole image that was created about you â€” the angry young man, the man who could not do any wrong â€” is not right and that you are also a mere mortal?
Amitabh Bachchan: Have I ever disagreed with that? Who gave me these wonderful epithets? You.
Bhupendra Chaubey: The reason why I am asking you this question is because I would like to know who the real Amitabh Bachchan is.
Amitabh Bachchan: I don’t want to tell you that.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Is Amitabh Bachchan the person that we see on screen?
Amitabh Bachchan: Why would you want to know that?
Bhupendra Chaubey: Or am I making a mistake by looking for an Amitabh Bachchan who might be different?
Amitabh Bachchan: You are actually. You are making a mistake. I think that this is a very valid question. I think that it just doesn’t apply to me and it applies to all creative people, artists and public figures. Why is it necessary for you as the media or anybody else to know who I really am? You didn’t come to know me because of what I really am. You came to know me through my art, through my creativity and through what you saw on cinema. If you hadn’t seen me on that screen, you wouldn’t even have spent a farthing on me. But you came to know me through a medium.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Recently I read a quote from you where you had strongly approved of Priyanka Gandhi’s visit to the Vellore jail and you thought that this was an act of huge…
Amitabh Bachchan: The question asked to me was, what have you thought of Priyanka Gandhi going to Vellore jail to visit her father’s killer and I said that I said that she was very brave. That’s all I said.
Bhupendra Chaubey: But Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are just like your children. There has been a lot of talk of Rahul Gandhi being the future leader of this country. As a person, do you think that Rahul has the credentials like his father did? You knew his father very well.
Amitabh Bachchan: Well I would always wish everyone all the very best.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Do you think Rahul has the similarities of his father?
Amitabh Bachchan: I cannot comment on that.
Bhupendra Chaubey: There is a possibility of political realignments happening at the Centre. I would like to know where Amitabh Bachchan would stand in a crowd with Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh and the Gandhis on the same platform?
Amitabh Bachchan: I stand in my own place at my own house.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable?
Amitabh Bachchan: No.
Bhupendra Chaubey: What happens if these two groups come together?
Amitabh Bachchan: That’s politics. I am in the film world. They don’t mix as far as I am concerned.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Given your love-hate relationship with the media, would like to play the role of an editor-in-chief?
Amitabh Bachchan: Forget the role. I actually want to be a journalist.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Is that the reason why you also have your own camera here Mr Bachchan, while we are recording this interview?
Amitabh Bachchan: No, no that’s for my personal record. But this is something that has been my ambition.
Bhupendra Chaubey: But there are also many people who say that this blog at the end of the day is a business venture for you. That this website belongs to Anil Ambani therefore you are trying to promote it.
Amitabh Bachchan: No it isn’t. The site does belong to him and I am using their facilities and server. I could have used anyone, but because I knew him and because I have relations, I asked if it could be done and that’s all.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Final question to you Amitabh Bachchan. You are perhaps the best actor that this country has seen over the last five-six decades. Do you think that all these controversies â€” which have become a part of parcel of your professional and personal life â€” have coloured the legacy somewhere, the legacy which you have left behind?
Amitabh Bachchan: I have no legacy. I don’t believe a word of what you say of my acting capabilities. I don’t believe that any of things that you say, or the controversies, which you say have diluted my legacy, are of any consequence. Problems and controversies are a part and parcel of our life. We have to live with it and that’s what we are doing. I don’t want to attach any meaning to it. I a just a very normal human being, a very ordinary man, a very ordinary and mediocre actor and these are things that are happening to me.
Bhupendra Chaubey: I want you to look into the camera sir and tell me how you want the people of the country â€” people who have given you so much love and affection â€” to look at you?
Amitabh Bachchan: Just keep looking.
Bhupendra Chaubey: As an actor?
Amitabh Bachchan: Uh-huh.
Bhupendra Chaubey: All right. On that note Amitabh Bachchan thanks for talking to us.
Amitabh Bachchan: Thank you.