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50% of the Hindi film workforce is managed by women: Amitabh Bachchan

The Piku actor launched the latest book, Once Upon a Time in India, written by film critic and journalist, Bhawana Somaaya on 17 January.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

As Hindi cinema has begun its second century as an industry, superstar Amitabh Bachchan talked about the major changes he has noticed since his nearly six decades as a performer. The most fundamental change is the shift from film to digital. The other is that, Bachchan says, “We notice now (there are) many women on set. In my time, there were just two — the leading lady and her mother, the chaperone.”

Bachchan greatly lauds this progressive move forward. “You have almost 50% of the workforce all managed by young girls, whether it's in production, camera, continuity department etc. They are just looking after everything. It’s just wonderful to see the kind of dedication and devotion that they put in. We rely a lot on them because for some reason we feel that the ladies are never going to make a mistake. They are very efficient. I love the moment when I’m on set because I feel free to be able to say my lines and be involved in the scene and not worry about what my continuity is or what I should be wearing,” he confessed.

When he became an actor, it also became his responsibility to notice all these things. He also wanted to applaud the female writers and directors who have also come to the fore in the last few years as he feels “we need them to come forward and tell the men that they are better than them.”

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Bachchan was the chief guest at the book launch of film critic and journalist Bhawana Somaaya’s new book, Once Upon a Time in India. The daily guidebook records the important milestones of Hindi cinema as it completes a century. The informative book contains illustrations by Sumantra Mukherjee and popular dialogues from iconic films like Guide (1966) to Lagaan (2001).

Bachchan made an entrance to Kishore Kumar’s ‘Jahan Teri Yeh Nazar Hai’ from Kaalia (1981) and the evening began with a trailer promoting the Film Heritage Foundation which included scenes from older iconic films like Dadasaheb Phalke’s Kaliya Mardan (1919).

Somaaya thanked RJ Siddharth, her co-host on the radio show, Once Upon a Time in Bollywood, which also inspired and helped her book. She quipped that she chose to speak before Bachchan at the dais because the mike at the podium would have to be adjusted drastically for her. She even referred to copying Sushma Swaraj, the minister of external affairs, and her habit to carry a footstool around for public speaking events.

Calling cinema ‘traditional and contemporary’, Somaaya reminded the audience that “so many of our classics and silent films have been ravaged by time, destroyed by either natural disasters or due to our own negligence. My friend Shivendra Singh Dungarpur has been working on this since 2014. He is dedicated, committed and devoted to the cause of conservation, preservation and restoration of moving images. Without preservation, there is no documentation. There is no research. There are no books. There is no recall and no nostalgia.”

She herself faced many hardships collecting things from the past. “Out of all the performing arts, cinema is the most sensitive and most effective medium. Cinema has the power to transform our lives to transform our mindsets. Human life is mortal, but cinema is timeless. It told us stories yesterday, it tells us stories today and it will tell us stories tomorrow. Stories of romance, stories of relationship, stories of friends, stories of family. My endeavour in compiling this book was to recreate images and motifs like Bioscope [show] we used to watch in childhood,” she said.

Bachchan signs a copy of the book. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Parthiv Gohil and Mansi Parekh Gohil sang a medley of songs over the years before Somaaya and Bachchan settled in to have a conversation on cinema and memories. While Somaaya could not exactly recall the first film she saw, Bachchan was able to remember the films he saw at the Capitol cinema in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh where he was born and brought up. He said, “In our time, parents used to go and whet a film before the children were allowed to go in. Laurel and Hardy’s The Flying Deuces (1939) was my first film. Perhaps the first Hindi film I saw was Jagriti (1954). It was an older children’s film. When Allahabad got an air-conditioned theatre, Niranjan, I also saw Insaniyat (1955) with Dilip (Kumar) saheb and Dev Anand saheb there.” The Capitol theatre also staged plays, where a young Bachchan got the opportunity to see Prithviraj Kapoor and his troupe perform their shows.

Bachchan also graces the cover of Once Upon a Time in India as Anthony Gonsalves from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). The ring-bound book is available online and in bookstores from Penguin Random House India.