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When Amitabh Bachchan thought Manmohan Desai was crazy for making Amar Akbar Anthony

Bachchan had many misgivings when filming his iconic role as Anthony Gonsalves.

Sonal Pandya

After launching Bhawana Somaaya’s new book, Once Upon a Time in India: A Century of Indian Cinema, actor Amitabh Bachchan sat down for a conversation with the film critic and journalist. When Somaaya lauded his knowledge of cinema, Bachchan denied it saying, “I miss the point many a time” and that his wife, Jaya, had better insight on cinema.

Amitabh Bachchan and Bhawana Somaaya at the book launch. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

He went on to narrate the time when filmmaker Manmohan Desai came to him with the story of Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). Bachchan told Desai, “Man [his nickname for Desai], tu pagal ho gaya hain [You’ve gone mad]. Kaun dekhne jayega aisi picture jiska naam hai, Amar Akbar Anthony [Who will watch a film named Amar Akbar Anthony].”

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This was because film titles like Badi Bahen and Chhoti Bahu were the norm. “[Desai] abused me and said, ‘You watch what happens!’ And then to our horror, we had the opening scene of the film where three brothers are lying in hospital and one tube is going through each one of their veins into one lady. I said, ‘Man, this is atrocious, this is not permissible, in medical history!’ ‘Chup chap, bhete rein, tu kuch mat bol tu dekh kya hota hai [Be quiet and sit, don’t say anything, see what happens]’ And you know, when the film was released, when this shot appeared in the opening sequence, there was huge applause in the audience. So obviously my knowledge of cinema is useless.”

Recently, Rishi Kapoor too revealed how he misunderstood Desai when the filmmaker called him to offer the role of Akbar. He thought he had to play the character played his grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor in Mughal-e-Azam and took out his rage on the poor director before sorting it out eventually.

The cover of Once Upon a Time in India features Bachchan as Anthony Gonsalves from Amar Akbar Anthony. Bachchan jokingly referred to the song ‘My Name is Anthony Gonsalves’ as “one of the atrocities he asked me to do — Tereko ande ke andar se nikalne ka hai [You have to come out of the egg].” Though he later called Desai a true genius. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) celebrates 40 years in 2017.