Prem Chopra: Amitabh does not gossip
As part of our celebrations of Amitabh Bachchan's 70th birthday on October 11, we spoke to yesteryear actors, who have worked with the iconic star.
We start with Prem Chopra, who has worked with the Big B in numerous films.
Amitabh is one of the most professional and disciplined actors. He minds his own business.
We have shot many films together, and most of them have been huge hits. His body of work has already proved his acting talent. The man respects his co-stars.
Amitabh has always been an honest and straightforward person, which has won him everyone's trust. We have been on outdoor shoots many times, and he has always been fun to work with. He has an amazing sense of humour. He doesn't open up to people very often but when he does, he is such a fun-loving and jolly person.
The best quality about Amitabh is that he refrains from any gossip. He does not gossip nor does he like to listen to any gossip.
The hard work and dedication that he has been putting in all these years has brought him to his current status today. Not only has he made his family proud but he he has made the entire industry proud.
For me, he is an iconic actor. If you look at his career graph, you will see that he started with some good films and went on to become a superstar. Today, he does character roles that have been written with him in mind. He has started a trend, where filmmakers have started working with senior actors once again.
He took a sabbatical in between because he wanted to rediscover himself. This shows he really adjust to the situations around him.
My equation with Amitabh and his family has been very cordial. We share a good bond.
We recently worked together in Viruddh (2005). It is always amazing to share the screen space with him.
Image: Prem Chopra and Amitabh Bachchan in Kala Patthar
'Amitabh is one of the biggest actors of all time'
Character actor Ram Sethi played Amitabh Bachchan's eternal sidekick in several films like Zanjeer, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and Namak Haram. He looks back at their close association.
I first met Amitabh Bachchan in 1961 at Kirodimal college in Delhi. He was my junior. I was very active in college plays. He was a simple guy, who would come and watch the plays silently. We did not interact much at that time. We have known each other for so many years and we have always shared a cordial relation.
His versatility came out after Zanjeer, which was my first film with him. Prakashji (Mehra, director) offered me the role of a constable, who worked with Amitabh, also a cop in the film.
One of the reasons I was offered the role was because it was a small but continuous role. In those days, it was very difficult to find someone for a continuous role.
I have lost count of the number of films that we did together. We were very comfortable working with each other. We would discuss scenes and adjust according to each other before the shoot.
I remember we had watched the trial show of Muqqadar Ka Sikandar together. The next day we were shooting for another film. Amitabh came to me and complimented me for my performance in the film. I told him that if there had been any other actor, he wouldn't have allowed me to take up so much screen time.
Soon after Muqaddar Ka Sikandar released, I'd gone to Kolkata to shoot for Yaarana.
Amitabh was shooting at an indoor stadium for the song Saara Zaamana that went on to become very popular. The stadium was filled with thousands of people. When I entered the stadium, people recognised me and started shouting 'Pyarelal!' in chorus.
I was stunned. It was an unbelievable moment in my life. Amitabh told me, "Just be calm. People here give you a lot of love but if you do one thing wrong, they can turn violent."
He is truly one of the biggest actors of all time.
Image: Amitabh Bachchan and Ram Sethi in Namak Haram
'It was the blow from my punch that actually hurt him, not the table'
Puneet Issar worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Coolie, the film where the iconic actor met with a near-fatal accident while filming a fight sequence.
I was an assistant director on two of his films, Mr Natwarlal and Yaarana. He knew my father very well and was happy when he learnt that I had got a role in Coolie. He knew I was interested in martial arts and would always encourage me.
Everyone is aware of the mishap that occured during the shooting of Coolie. We did about seven rehearsals of the fight sequence. But during the rehearsals, Amitji would always stop at the table. During the actual take, Amitji took a leap, somersaulted and fell off the table. That is where the scene pauses in the film, if you remember.
Actually, he did not get hurt because he fell off the table. It was the blow from my punch that actually hurt him. The table was just a gimmick played by the producers.
He was a superstar and the producers had to save his image of a superstar. People wouldn't have been able to digest the fact that he could get hurt by just a punch, that too from a newcomer like me.
I became famous after Coolie.
Initially, there was a lot of backlash. The press called me a real villain. I did not get any work, so I supported support my family by doing C-grade movies.
After the incident, I would regularly visit Amitji at the hospital. His family was very nice to me.
He later gave an interview saying it was an accident. He never put the blame on me. He also narrated an incident where he was supposed to throw a glass at Vinod Khanna and during the actual take, the timing went wrong and the glass hit Vinod Khanna's chin. He had to take about three-four stitches. Amitji would say that nobody does these things deliberately. Even today, I maintain cordial relations with him.
I remember an incident that occured 17 years ago. I was shooting for a south film in Chennai and Amitji was shooting for another film. I went up to him to pay my respects. At that time, there were no vanity vans, and Chennai can be unbearably hot in the summer.
Amitji was in character, wearing a beard and a wollen shawl. I was shocked and asked him if he was feeling the heat. He replied, "It's all in the mind. If you think it is hot, you will feel hot."
He is very dedicated to his work.
Image: Puneet Issar and Amitabh Bachchan in Coolie
'Amitabh told me he came on top because he studied Rajesh Khanna's life'
Character actor Ramesh Deo has worked with Amitabh Bachchan in films like Anand and Khuddar.
Many years ago, I had asked Amitabh Bachchan, 'How did you become such a huge star? How did you work on yourself?'
He answered, "I modulated my voice, took special care of it.'
He was the first Indian actor in India to have worked on his voice.
He also said he would never tell his director what he should do. Instead, he would try and understand what director had to say.
Then he added, 'I came on top because I studied Rajesh Khanna's life. I avoided all the mistakes that he did.'
Amitji is a man of his word. Once he says something, he will definitely do it.
Our home production called Ek Krantiveer Vasudev Balwant Phadke was a Marathi film and needed to be released abroad. We needed a voiceover in English. We contacted Nana Patekar, as I thought he had a good voice. Nana asked me to call him after three days. After three days, I called him again, and then for the next four days but he avoided talking to me.
Then my son Ajinkya suggested Amitji's name. My wife Seema and I went to Mehboob studio, in Mumbai, where he was shooting. He was in his vanity van. As soon he learnt we were made to stand outside, he got upset and immediately called us inside.
I told him about the voiceover for the film. He said he wasn't free as he would start shooting for a Bhojpuri film made by his make-up man. But he said his secretary Rosy would contact me when he got back.
As soon as Amitji arrived from his outdoor shoot the next day, we received a call from Rosy saying that he would come to the dubbing studio the very next morning at 6am.
He arrived sharp at 6am and finished the dubbing in an hour. When he was leaving, Ajinkya gave him a packet of money and said it was just a small token of appreciation.
Amitji looked at him and told him sternly, 'I did not do this for money. I did it for Rameshji and Seemaji.'
Instead, Amitji, who loves pens, took a pen from him.
Image: Amitabh Bachchan and Ramesh Deo in Anand