The London-based Asian Guild's lifetime achievement award may seem just another feather in the crammed cap of India's biggest entertainer. But Amitabh Bachchan, who flew back to Mumbai after a longish gap, is elated by the honour. "It comes from expatriates in Britain. The Guild is composed of people from both the main communities in India and Pakistan and recognises those who help bring them closer. The Guild felt Shah Rukh Khan, Yash Chopra and I have contributed in this endeavour. So they honoured the three of us."
Bachchan flew to London just for a day. "And it was well worth the effort. It was a well-organised and well-attended function."
He is also quite pleased with the recent IFFA awards in Johannesburg. "It is gaining in recognition and attendance every year. I think IIFA has created a lot of awareness about Indian cinema overseas. The people from the venue chosen each year are especially delighted. They ask, 'Where was Indian cinema all our life?'
'My South African fans have always been very generous to me. I have been visiting the country regularly since 1989-90. At that time, apartheid was on its way out. The ANC was on its way in. My friend in South Africa and the organiser of my first concert there, Anant Singh, received a lot of support from [former president] Nelson Mandela. Sixty thousand spectators watched my first concert there in a football stadium. As an entertainer, it was a revealing moment for me."
Regarding rumours that he will star in a film based on Mandela's life, the actor says, "Anant wants to produce a film based on Nelson Mandela's biography, Long Road To Freedom. He is keen that Shekhar Kapur direct the film and has spoken to him about it. While the film was in the scripting stage, I told Anant that if there was any role for an Indian actor, I would like the canvas for it -- even if it lasted for a few seconds only. And that's where it is at.
"When I was in South Africa this month, the South African high commissioner to India said there were some lovely biographic stories of freedom fighters in South Africa and the Indian film industry should look at them. I replied that Shekhar Kapur was planning a bio-pic on Mandela. But I think he is making a film called Paani first."
Bachchan's latest film, Honey Irani's directorial debut Armaan (Anil Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Gracy Singh), released to shockingly unresponsive audiences, both in India and in South Africa. But the star stands by the film. "I don't think Honey had any pretensions about the kind of film she was making. It was more sensitive in treatment than mass-oriented products and not designed as a blockbuster. I guess people were not ready to accept it."
He agrees the film had a poor promotional campaign. "I think Honey was honest about her intentions in the promos. Armaan was presented as a mild, mellow and sensitive film. As for me, I had very little to do. My role had its limitations. Within those limitations, I did my best."
Meanwhile, he has other things to look forward to.
He will be honoured with a retrospective of his films at the Marrakech festival in Morocco, to be held from September 30-October 1. Since the retrospective will be screened in the Carte Blanche section, Bachchan is free to select four to five films of his choice. The focus of these films will be on Indian cinema as perceived through the work of its biggest star.
Bachchan has also been invited to be a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations. "But where's the time?" he sighs. Currently, he is busy shooting for Rajkumar Santoshi's Khakee (Akshay Kumar, Aishwarya Rai, Tusshar Kapoor) in Nasik.