Our films are making a huge impact globally: Amitabh Bachchan
Just back from Cannes, Amitabh Bachchan talks to Shubha Shetty-Saha about his unique experience and the need to sell Indian films better in the international movie market
Critics all over the world have been unanimously appreciative about your performance in The Great Gatsby. Does the critics’ opinion matter to you at this juncture in your career?
I think critics give a very unbiased opinion that any product that we make, they are able to see the faults that we perhaps don’t. It is their opinion on many occasions that really coerces the general public to watch a film. This is more prevalent in the West where a critic’s opinion is given great value. Here, not so much because there is such a diversity of language. The true reviews are not really read by everybody, perhaps that’s the reason why they don’t influence everyone so much.
The Great Gatsby was given a lot of attention because it is an iconic book. F Scott Fitzgerald was a renowned writer and the recreation of the 1920s was something everyone looked forward to. It was the time when the First World War had ended and it was this age of extravagance and everything was booming just before the big economic crash that happened in the US. This movie has been made thrice. Baz Luhrmann has always had a different approach to the way he projects a film. It is wonderful to see that different interpretations are accepted worldwide. Cannes doesn’t usually entertain films that have been released earlier. But this was the opening film in spite of the premiere being held 10 days ago in the US. It just goes to show the prominence they gave the film.
How did you get involved in it?
I just did it as a friendly gesture. I didn’t do it as a deliberate move to step into another world. When Luhrmann called me, he said, “It is a small role not worthy of your stature.” (Laughs). I don’t know what he was thinking, but I said yes. I enjoyed the experience and , as an artiste, it was a great opportunity to work in the same medium in a different atmosphere. I always knew that they had a particular way of working, but being right in the middle of that every moment was nice.
Talking about the Cannes film festival or other festivals abroad, do you think we Indians are making a difference or are we just skimming the surface?
When you ask this question, you will have to go back thinking what we did 50 years ago. That was the time when cinema was not considered a noble profession in our own country. I remember when we were young, we were not open to watching any and every film. Our parents would first check it out to see whether it was worthy for us to watch. From that mindset, to grow to a stage where the world honours and respects our cinema, is a huge achievement. We are different in our approach the way we make our films, and the way we tell our stories. Thankfully we haven’t changed the way we make movies, but people in the West have changed the way they look at our films.
Is it also because our young filmmakers are more confident about our identity?
Most certainly. I am proud of the new generation of filmmakers, who are not just experimenting, but also have this astonishing self-belief that what they are doing is correct. Look at movies such as Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahaani, Dirty Picture, Vicky Donor…they are not necessarily the typical fare and it is nice to see these films doing extremely well. It is a remarkable change. Many of our filmmakers are invited to international festivals, so there is a certain awakening about India in general. I personally have a different argument on this. Ever since the economic liberalisation in the ’90s, everything about India has suddenly become important and good. The world loves economics. (Laughs) We used to be criticised and told that our biggest problem was population. Now it is looked at as a consumer base. Where can you find about 1.25 billion consumers? When their (in the US) number one TV show reaches 12 million viewers, they open champagne. We take care of that in Bandra alone. KBC alone is viewed by 250 million people. Hence our dress, our food, our politics, our films…there is a general liking for India all of
Do you think there is a need for our films to be marketed better?
That is an area where we need to learn from the Americans. It is just incredible how they think and they seem to have the finest marketing brains. In Cannes alone, there were about 20-25 top executives from Warner Bros to promote The Great Gatsby. Yes, they have huge amounts of money but they start planning even before the studio decides to make a film. In fact, sometimes, the marketing team advises the studio whether they should be making a movie or not. The way they marketed The Great Gatsby was unbelievable. When Steven Speilberg was making Jurassic Park, a few years before the film was to release, the studio started talking about these prehistoric animals, books started coming out and when people were at the peak of their curiosity, they released the film. We really need to do the right kind of marketing because there is a huge interest in Indian cinema overseas right now. At Cannes, I went to an Italian restaurant, and even before I could reach my table there were a group of people from Egypt wanting autographs. Later, in the same restaurant, I found people from various parts of the world wanting to take autographs and wanting to know more about films in India. Once I was in Jaipur and I saw a group of Chinese people approaching us and suddenly the girls in the group started touching my feet. I was surprised, but they know all about our culture. Our films are making a huge impact globally. This interest will only grow.