Amitabh Bachchan is disturbed.
His frail mother Teji recently underwent emergency cataract surgery. "She is stable," he says. "Now we have to see whether her vision is back."
Bachchan is also upset at the way Aishwarya Rai's accident was projected by the media. "We were shooting [for Rajkumar Santoshi's Khaki] on the road outside Nashik. The stuntman drove too fast, at 60, 70 kilometres per hour, and skidded. All of us jumped out of the way. But Aishwarya and Tusshar Kapoor couldn't move fast enough. The car slammed into her chair. It was terrifying."
"The car hit her and took her down a crevice," he continues, "and slammed into a cactus plant. Akshay Kumar pulled the car out and extricated her. We rushed her to hospital. We had to go through terrible crowd management problems. I have gone through this 'VIP syndrome' before. Thank God the hospital and doctor were very good. The commissioner of police in Nashik organised everything.
"I asked Aishwarya's mother if she wanted to take her daughter back to Mumbai," says Bachchan. "We organised [vice-chairman and managing director, Reliance Group] Anil Ambani's private plane. Since there is no night landing facility in Nashik, we had to take permission from Delhi to land the plane at the military base which is 45 minutes away from the hospital. The seats had to be removed from the aircraft. And everyone is brushing it off as a small incident blown out of proportion."
"For two nights I couldn't sleep. To see this happen in front of my eyes! Her back was lacerated with cactus thorns. The bone in the rear portion of her feet is broken. She suffered severe cuts. And her injury was reported as trivial," rues Bachchan.
Hazards on the sets, says Bachchan, are a troublesome issue. "No amount of precautions are enough. Basic safety rules must be followed. How can you do a car stunt on the road? We didn't even know the stuntman was going to do it. Khaki's stunt team apologised, but that is passing the buck. We are not professional [enough] on the sets. That is really unfortunate."
"I have worked with an American unit in Sanjay Gupta's Kaante. The safety level on the sets was exemplary. The insurance agency makes sure the unit is working under absolutely safe conditions. A representative of the insurance company is always present at the shoot. The director will not allow you to do anything dangerous."
"We in the Mumbai film industry," he says, "survive on love and fresh air. The attitude is sab ho jayega, very lackadaisical. There are hundreds of instances of crew members dying during shooting. Stuntmen are injured all the time. Do we have to wait for a prominent person to be fatally injured to take remedial action? We are all at equal risk. There is no difference between me and a stuntman."
Major corporates like the Tatas and Birlas will soon get into film production and Bachchan seems to be their choice for a good beginning. "I don't know what their intention is," says Bachchan who will act in their films. "But it is a very good thing to happen to the film industry. They bring with them a certain work culture and professionalism that is bound to benefit us. That funding is also guaranteed ensures every film reaches the finish line."
Adds Bachchan, "The Tatas have already come in [with Vikram Bhatt's Aitbaar], the Birlas too are coming in. Their script has been finalised and I have okayed it. A director is yet to be finalised. We are working out the modalities. Talks for two other productions with the Tatas are on."
His dream of corporatising the Mumbai film industry seems to be finally coming true. "I had tried to nurture that dream in 1995 when I started my company [Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited]. I am glad that dream is coming to fruition," he said.
Bachchan and son Abhishek are finally coming together for a film. "Rajkumar Santoshi had signed Abhishek for a film which he planned to direct after he finished Khaki. I think the name of the film is Zakhm. While shooting in Pune, we [Santoshi and Bachchan] exchanged ideas. Now I am in the film as well."
Bachchan visited Vancouver on April 15 to shoot for Aitbaar. He will then attend the fourth Indian International Film Awards between May 15 and 17. "They are being held in Johannesberg," he says. "The nominations have been announced. Two films will be premiered -- Apoorva Lakhia's Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost [Abhishek, Lara Dutta] and Honey Irani's Armaan [Amitabh, Anil Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Gracy Singh]."