By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: In his first interview after the Cannes Film Festival where he walked the red carpet, Amitabh Bachchan speaks to Subhash K Jha about his experiences. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q: How was the experience of representing Indian cinema at Cannes ?
The belief that I was representing Indian Cinema is a misapprehension of huge proportions. I cannot dare to assume that that was what I was doing in Cannes. No. I was an insignificant part of The Great Gatsby, the film chosen by the Cannes Film Festival for its opening. Warner Bros invited me to join them at the French Riviera and so I went. I stayed just for the moment of the opening, which was magnificent, and left. The Festival asked Leonardo and me to declare it open and which is what we did.
Q: And how was the experience?
Being a part of the illustrious cast and crew of the film has been a most welcome experience for me. The respect and the dignity that they gave to me and indeed to the entire team was most endearing. Being in their company of course gave me opportunity to meet their own greats that were visiting Cannes, which was also something admirable, but by far the most important feel has been to be an Indian artist at an International event of such gigantic proportion, in the year when the Industry celebrates its 100 years of existence !
Q: Did you meet any particularly interesting personalities from world cinema at Cannes?
Yes … The premiere at New York had all the greats from Hollywood connected with the film there of course, but also some invited guests who have an astronomical presence in the world of cinema. Actually, the film itself has such huge talent that worked on it, that that in itself would be enough… Leonardo diCaprio, Toby Macguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, whose husband is the very talented and very funny Sasha Baron Cohen, Elizabeth Debicki, the exceptionally tall and exceptionally fresh talent from Australia, Jaz-Z and his wife Beyonce and the many that have made such valuable contribution. Other than that Jennifer Lawrence, best actress Oscar winner, and a host of others. At Cannes apart from so many luminaries present, there was Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese and that wonderful actor from Django Unchained Christopher Waltz. The list shall never end, but what an honour and privilege to be breathing the same air as these icons.
Q: I saw an interview with Leonardo diCaprio where he was absolutely appreciative of you as an actor and humanbeing. How was your rapport with him and the rest of the Gatsby cast and crew?
It shall be very difficult to imagine what a massive star Leonardo is, and for a person of his standing to be so kind is most humbling. Not only is he immensely talented but a very down to earth, caring and a collaborative – to use his own expression – actor. He is totally involved in all aspects of the film, and often gives supportive suggestions not for himself but for his co artists. I know he did for me, in that one small brief scene we were together in. This is most unusual. Despite his enormous fame, he possesses no airs at all, and is just another simple lovable human.The rest of the cast and crew have also been extremely respectful and caring towards me, and I can only look at them with the utmost gratitude.
Q: Baz Luhrmann is a lifelong fan of your talent. His visuals in Gatsby , Le Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet reminded me of Sanjay Bhansali.
I shall fiercely disagree with your assumption that Baz has been a life-long fan of whatever little that I possess, with respect to talent, and also feel that it is time that we as a community stop making odious comparisons. Baz has his own body of work of great international renown, Sanjay his own … Vive le difference !!
Q: Apart from from your Bahurani Aishwarya, Vidya Balan too was at Cannes this time. How seriously does the world cinema treat Bollywood?
The Indian Film Industry has had a great presence almost every year at this prestigious event. But in its 66th avatar, Cannes has given it a special status and paid rich tribute to it, because of its completion of 100 years. This is a huge recognition of our worth and value. One can only look upon it with a sense of immense pride.
Q: You play a Jew character in Gatsby. Does that indicate a cultural glasnost in world cinema for Asian actors , in the sense that Indian actors don’t have to play Indians?
I cannot be certain of a response to this question, but perhaps those that now make decisions in this regard, need to be spoken to, to get an adequate answer. Cinema, in my mind, has always ridden much above caste, creed, colour and religion, and in that sense can be looked upon, in this rapidly disintegrating world, to be a great integrator. There are not many institutions left in today’s world that can boast of such occurrence.
Q: Your cameo in The Great Gatsby has been exceptionally well-received by western critics. Variety’s critic has in fact declared that you have delivered the “liveliest” work in the film.Did you anticipate such a rousing response to your relatively brief appearance?
No, I did not and it has come as a huge surprise and shock to me !!
Q: How was the red-carpet premiere on New York? Apparently the roar that went up to greet you dimmed the response to the other actors on the red carpet with you?
The ‘red carpet’ in New York was actually black. But that apart it was a most exhilarating evening. Yes there was a sizable Indian fan club at the venue, and their enthusiasm, as is the wont with most expatriates when they get a connect with their ‘home land’, was passionate and loud !! It would be wrong to say that our western counterparts received any less !
Q: The most memorable moments at the New York premiere?
The passionate response by the well-wishers from Hindi film lovers, and a few very discerning wishes from those that had no connect with cinema in our part of the world, towards my presence in Gatsby.
Q: Amitji, are you inclined to sign more films outside India?
I have no idea on this. If there are some that may be interested in me, I would certainly consider them.
Q: How much ‘Bollywood’ do you think the West is ready to accept?
All good cinema shall always find a respectable place anywhere in the world. I assume the Indian Film Industry would attract similar attention.
Q: The Great Gatsby opened last Friday in India.What is your message regarding your role and the film to your fans?
It is a half blink and a miss role in Gatsby. I played in it more as a gesture of friendship towards Baz Luhrmann, than any other. The audience should have expected nothing more.