Near 70, Amitabh Bachchan still gets mobbed

Amitabh Bachchan
There was electric anticipation before the start. And warmth, laughter and the glow that comes from sparkling talk during the Express Adda on Friday where cinema's iconic superstar Amitabh Bachchan was in conversation with Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Express Group. No, you couldn't call it Bollywood, because Amitabh dislikes the term. As well as that other dreaded word: 'filmi'.

"If I were a filmi guy, I wouldn't be sitting here," he said, to much merriment. By then the chat was well on its way, and the consummate actor and beloved star had the audience eating out of his hand.

'Filmi' he isn't, even if he is the biggest 'filmi guy' that's graced the Adda. When Amitabh is holding forth, the conversation can range easily and knowledgeably and urbanely from politics to the girl child to the impact of television on society to poetry. And, of course, the movies.

Amitabh Bachchan, who will turn 70 in a few days, occupies a pole position in Hindi cinema. His contemporaries have either fallen by the wayside or have given in to the vagaries of ageing. Actors who started much after him are floundering because they haven't bothered to keep pace with trends and technology. Amitabh, on the other hand, is on the top of his game.

He is listening to narrations which put him centre-stage. Roles are still being written for him. Younger directors are still queueing up to cast him. His turn-around of a TV channel with the first season a gameshow is the stuff of legend: now 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' is in its sixth season and on a different channel, but its appeal is only mounting. More than the crores, the fact that the contestant gets the chance to share space with Amitabh, keeps them flocking, and the TRPs skyrocketing. The numbers of his endorsements keep rising. He is an active blogger. He tweets. And now he's on Facebook with a fanpage that's bursting.

The Adda reflected all those facets of Amitabh's polymath personality, honed over 40 years of show business. He fielded questions with grace, even those that he didn't quite want to answer; the deflection was firm, but done with inimitable style. He was asked to sing, which he didn't ('I am not a singer'). He was asked to recite poetry, which he happily did. Those famous lines from 'Kabhi Kabhie' ('kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai') flawlessly rendered in that voice which has no equal in Hindi cinema, leaving us with goosebumps.

Reading poetry is a personal thing, he said. He reads the works of his father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, and gains inspiration from them. He talks of his grand-daughter and says she will be what she wants to be. He believes in the energy and skills of the young directors that are taking the film industry into new directions, and he is working with many of them. That he is a wonderful raconteur was evident from a couple of incidents he recalled: of the time he had travelled to Afghanistan and discovered he had fans among the mujahideen; and of the time when he met a 90-year-old woman who quavered: "Beta, main bachpan se tumhari filmein dekh rahi hoon". Amitabh deadpanned with impeccable timing, and the audience cracked up again.

The evening draws to a close, but the audience is not done. Far from. Left to them, he'd be there for several extra hours. The lucky ones get the chance to receive autographs on copies of an Express photograph featuring him. He leaves, in a cordon of tight security, and all around people are left sighing. Near 70, and the man gets mobbed: that can only be the Amitabh effect.

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