The star and the stardust: What makes Amitabh Bachchan so endearing

The 78-year-old star, born on October 11, 1942, remains a workaholic and wickedly naughty at home, recalls Subhash K Jha, seen in the photograph with Big B, in this personal tribute

Subhash K Jha with Amitabh Bachchan
Subhash K Jha with Amitabh Bachchan
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Subhash K Jha

Everyone claims to know him after shaking hands at a gettogether or after taking a selfie with him at a public event. A gentleman had been harassing Amitabh Bachchan for a ‘together’ photograph, a request he had been politely turning down for a while… until he bumped into this persistent gentleman at a social gathering. Before he knew it, the gentleman positioned himself next to Amitji and got a photograph clicked ‘together’.

“The next thing I knew he wanted to use the picture on the cover of exercise books!” he exclaims.

It’s very difficult to win his confidence. But once you do, it’s even more difficult to lose his trust. He doesn’t trust easily. But when he finally does, he trusts blindly and completely.That’s why my bonding with ‘the’ Bachchan is so precious and so personal. Whenever I visit Mumbai, he makes it a point to make time for me.He doesn’t have to. But he still does.No matter what his schedules are, we have to meet.

While some of my other ‘close’ star- friends inMumbai like to keep their friendship with me away from prying eyes, Amitji is extremely demonstrative.

Years ago, when Kaun Banega Crorepati was blossoming and growing on television, I got the surprise of my life when one evening the host announced to a contestant from Patna that a very dear friend of his lived in that city.

It was a big moment and a turning point in my relationship with him. Until that point, I didn’t really feel close to him the way I did with his wife Jaya or his son Abhishek.In fact, I met him long after I got to know Jaya, one of my all-time favourite actresses and, to my good fortune, a close friend.

For a long time, I shied away from making an effort to connect with him.During my very first interview with him, I covered my nervousness with cockiness and said, “Jaya steals the show each time the two of you come together in any movie.”There was a disturbing silence. I squirmed. When like a fool I prodded him for an answer he replied, “What can I say to that?”Since then I’ve come to know it’s a part of Mr. Bachchan’s basic nature to suffer cockiness in silence.

Suffer in silence he did when he came home for dinner. Some time ago. That is a story I cringe at whenever I remember. You see,the security situation was such that he couldn’t be allowed to come to my home. But Amitji insisted.A promise for him was a promise.Whenever he visited Patna, he would visit me.

So, one evening he came home accompanied by a fleet of cars. Prakash Jha had panicked. But Amitji refused to listen. By the time he arrived, the main road in front of my house was a sea of eager expectant faces all waiting for a glimpse of the Man. All traffic had come to a halt in front of my house. I panicked. There were hundreds of people and cops were trying to control them

He arrived and breaking the security cordon, rushed right into crowds.The surge of crowds simply parted for the Man, like Red Sea. No one even tried to touch him.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong that evening. We were way too nervous to play good hosts. The dinner was terrible. And yet he tweeted about how much he enjoyed the dessert.The man’s generosity of spirit is unbelievable.

I sincerely believe no biography can do justice to the enigma called Amitabh Bachchan.

I remember during my first meeting with him, he hardly spoke. He was attentive and warm. But there was no real verbal interaction from him. The next morning on the sets of a film he was a different person. “I hope I was talking sense yesterday. Because I was heavily medicated for a health problem,” he told me.I didn’t tell him that there was hardly any ‘talk’ to talk about.

It takes him a while to find a comfort zone even with the people he trusts. Once there, he’s all there. Whether it’s AnilAmbani or a journalist from Patna, the Big B is equally proud of his association with all his true friends. He doesn’t measure their value in his life by their social standing or their bank accounts.

He loves to reach out to people, make new friends.He loves to connect with his son Abhishek’s generation. And now he is buddies with his grandchildren.

“Whenever I shoot with the younger generation, I want to socialize with them, go out to a discotheque, freak out…But they seem uncomfortable with me,” he says ruefully.

Not too many people know about the fun side of Amitji. He’s a great one for SMS, WhatsApp etc. The messages can be pithy or funny or both. But they make their point tellingly. I’m not at liberty to share some of his naughtier messages here. But I will say one thing. At 78, the Big B remains the youngest person in the Bachchan household. Almost as old as the bright Aaradhyaa. When he’s at home with family or with close friends he’s often wickedly humorous.

All the three Bachchans, Amitji, Jaya and Abhishek are great hosts. One of the things that I look forward to in Mumbai is my evening at Jalsa, the Bachchan residence. Each time I’m invited to a meal, Jaya and Abhishek make sure I’ve a perfect evening. And if for some reason the head of the family is unable to be home, he makes sure to call to say he hopes I enjoy myself in his absence.

You’ve heard reams about his professionalism. But you still haven’t heard enough.I’ve known this astounding workaholic to sweat it out under the worst possible circumstances without a word of complaint.

In Los Angeles for Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante, Amitji had a severe back problem and a toothache that felt like labour pains in the mouth.He not only bore all the pain he shot action sequences and made sure the shooting didn’t suffer on his account.

While shooting for Gaurang Doshi’s Deewaar, hewas ensconced for hours together in a set depicting a cave which was barely five feet in height. At the end of the day, he couldn’t stand straight. But there wasn’t a word of complain.

On the fateful day that he was hospitalized and operated upon after a severe stomach pain in November 2005 he was on the phone in the morning with me, painstakingly clarifying some idiotic media aberration. In the afternoon I saw a news flash stating he was hospitalized.

Later Abhishek told me, “He was talking to you in acute pain from the hospital bed.”

Most important of all, he is a man of tremendous integrity. If you’re a friend he’ll go out of his way to accommodate you. The number of films he has done just to bail out old friends from financial troubles, is legion.

Some years ago, a non-Hindi actor needed Amitji to put in a guest appearance. Since I knew exactly how crowded his schedule was, I was hesitant to ask. But since this was a really close friend who genuinely needed AB’s presence in his film, I sent him an SMS.The response was immediate. And positive. Of course, he would do it!

If I ever make a film (which is doubtful) I know one star who will unquestioningly support my endeavour, and that’s Amitji. I can’t say the same about anyone else in the industry. I only have to see that unflinching look of warm acceptance in his eyes to know that this man means business…Or rather, he means a lot more than just business.

During a private conversation when we spoke about the state of the nation— when he expressed concern about the growing vulgarity and mediocrity in every walk of life, he spoke in Hindi, and that’s when you knew he was really disturbed. Out of the blue he said, “I have very few friends…I depend on my friends like you’.

It might have been a casual observation. To me it’s a great responsibility. I hope I am up to it.

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