Amitabh Bachchan: At 74, I feel odd to go on the sets of Te3n full of youngsters

The veteran, who will be seen next in Ribhu Dasgupta's Te3n with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan, speaks about the film and other aspects of acting and filmmaking. Read interview...

Keyur Seta

After Shoojit Sircar’s Piku (2015), Amitabh Bachchan’s association with Kolkata will continue with Te3n. But this time he is not playing a typical Bengali. The legendary actor gets candid with on the film and the changing scenario in terms of acting and filmmaking. 

What is Te3n about?
Initially, Sujoy Ghosh [the producer] wanted to remake a film based in Kerala. But one day, he and Ribhu Dasgupta [the director] said they have another idea based on a Korean film. The moment they narrated it to me, I agreed. They wanted to set it in Goa but were having problems getting permissions. So I said let’s go to Kolkata. They got very excited. 

You are playing an Anglo-Bengali, a community hardly known in other parts of India. 
As the character was Christian with an Anglo connect based in Kolkata, they changed it to an Anglo-Bengali. My first job was in Kolkata in 1962. There is a very large Anglo-Indian community. There is also a very large Chinese community. I have done theatre with Anglo-Indians. So I was aware of the way they spoke and conducted themselves. We did some research. And because Piku had just released, we wanted to make sure I don’t sound again like a Bengali. When we did some study, we realised that the Anglo-Bengalis are like any other Hindi-speaking people. So we went with that. 

My character is John Biswas. He is 74; just as old as I am now. He is not aggressive or pushy. He is a soft, meek-looking individual. He is almost disinterested in anything. But his granddaughter has gone through a tragedy. His desire is to find out what exactly happened. Revenge is not on his mind. He is just anxious to know the truth. So we had to design the character as soft-spoken. He is quite insecure. He is not someone who will go out and challenge someone. Sujoy and Ribhu said there are many films where I have fought for the truth. 

Have you shot the whole film on locations in Kolkata?
There are no sets at all. The whole film is shot on actual locations, in actual lighting, which is some sort of an accomplishment for our DoP [director of photography] Tushar Kanti Ray. During our olden times, we used to have those big lights with sharp reflectors. You could hardly open your eyes. So it was quite different to be in an environment and not see any lights. This is what technology has done today. Keeping in mind this technology, even if I spoke a bit loudly, Ribhu would tell me that we need to keep it very plain and soft. 

The film also stars Vidya Balan. She had played your mother in Paa (2009).
Who knows? She might play my sister or lover in the next film [laughs].

You have worked with veteran filmmakers as well as young, new-age filmmakers. What difference do you observe between both? 
There are no creative differences. They are equally creative as the veterans. Their talent is remarkable. I am in so much admiration for their talent. I feel amazed as to how can they be so perfect in their first outing. I am still learning. I make so many mistakes. At 74 I feel very odd to go to the sets since the average age there is 25 [laughs]. Sometimes I wonder what am I doing here. But it’s a great joy. They are very relaxed, which I find difficult to do. And they are very normal and natural in front of the camera.

You have worked with new directors even in your earlier days. You never thought it was a risk that could affect your stardom?
Stardom kya hai? Kuchh nahin hota. [What is stardom? It's nothing.]

What is your take on the change in audience tastes? Today they are more exposed to content from all around the world.
The audience’s taste has changed and they demand or want something sleeker and technically more brilliant because they have the opportunity to see such content today on television and internet. If they don’t get it, they will stay home and watch such content on TV. 

What major changes have you observed in the making of a film?
For today’s filmmakers, funding is not a problem. In fact, it’s irrelevant. It’s easily available, unlike in our times. We had to borrow funds. Suppose we had money to shoot for 7-8 days, after which the producer would show the product to a financier and hope to get more funding. That’s why we used to work in 10-12 films at the same time; 2-3 films a day. We couldn’t wait for the next financier else you would be sitting at home without work for a very long time. 

Do you think the art of acting has changed over the years?
I have just finished shooting for Pink. The biggest change is that there are no film reels anymore. In our times, it was the most important thing as it was very expensive and it was important to save that. So you had to be perfect in one take. You wouldn’t be given a retake as that was wastage of film. The moment the director said, “Cut!”, they had to stop filming. Now you have digital cameras. We completed the 50-day schedule of Pink in just 33 days with six digital cameras and took 15-minute-long shots. This is unheard of. It is very tough for me. But there are huge benefits. Even if you make a mistake when the camera is on, they ask you to continue as that can always be edited and corrected.

The era of biopics is in full flow these days. What is your take on it and how interested are you in acting in a biopic? 
There always comes a period when certain type of films do well and then everyone starts making that genre of films. If someone offers a good biopic to me, I will do it. But people have different views on biopics. If you have seen or known a person on whom a biopic is made, then you might not find it up to the mark. For example, when my father saw Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, he wasn’t happy and said, “Who is this Ben Kingsley? How can he be Gandhi?” This is because my father was associated with Gandhi and had observed him closely. But those who haven’t seen or met the real person would like such biopics. Many people didn’t know about Neerja [Bhanot, the air-hostess on whose life and bravery the 2016 film of the same name was based]. I knew her and had also met her. But I liked the film. But you people didn’t know about her and also about the incident in Airlift (2016). So there are two sides to biopics.