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May 17, 2000


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'Why is the man such a grump?'

Vivek Fernandes, Priyanka Bhattacharya

Pooja Bedi Ebrahim When the producers of the Amul India Show decided to rope in Pooja Bedi Ebrahim to interview the Big B, they knew they would create a sensation. Only, it wasn't the kind they wanted!

This interview was to be telecast on Sunday, May 14, 2000. Instead, viewers saw the rerun of the Sanjay Dutt interview that was aired the previous Sunday. The next day, media reports claimed Amitabh Bachchan was not pleased with the interview and had asked STAR TV to scrap it. The accusations came from Pooja, with reports further stating that Bachchan had threatened to walk out of the Kaun Banega Crorepati? show if the interview was aired.

Pooja says, "My perception is that Mr Bachchan is very controlled about his image. He was afraid he didn't come across too well in the interview and that's why he decided to squash it at 11 pm, half an hour after it was completed. We were at The Holiday Inn coffee shop laughing over the interview when, at around 11.45 pm, we received a message saying it would not be aired. I would have believed that to be true and given Mr Bachchan the benefit of the doubt. But to have the interview scrapped even before it reached the post-production studios definitely says he was upset about something."

Repeated attempts, both by fax and phone, to contact Bachchan proved fruitless. But Sameer Nair, senior-vice president and head of programming, Star TV India, angrily discarded what Pooja had to say. "I decided to scrap the interview the next morning. That was when I saw it for the first time, not 45 minutes after it was shot. Mr Bachchan had nothing to do with my decision -- he never called or threatened to ever walk out of his show."

Vandana Malik, Bombay bureau chief for TV 18, the television company which produces The Amul India Show, supported Nair. "The accusation that Mr Bachchan forced the channel to scrap the show is completely false. He has given so many interviews. There is no reason for him to feel insecure because of this one. But Pooja kept trying to upstage him through the interview. The Amul India Show has a certain class and credibility and Pooja's attitude was not in keeping with the show. Our anchors have been people like Sanjana Kapoor and Meghna Gulzar and Pooja was not at all in that class. Pooja has to learn the art of interviewing."

Pooja, however, begged to differ. "It was supposed to be one of those fun kinda one on one's. The producers had given me a list of questions I had to ask him. Mr Bachchan had a copy as well. But I could not play the jaded journalist or the regular interviewer, so I just re-worded them a little... to make the interview more informal, more humorous. They were regular questions -- nothing inappropriate. I never asked him about the scandals he was involved in or the rumours of his alleged affairs.

"The only question that wasn't in the list was the one I asked him about his dyeing his hair -- I was dying to know the answer to that. He could have been humorous and said, "I'm setting a trend" or "I'm regressing," but he was so defensive. I feel sorry for the man. After years of being in the spotlight, he's turned out to be a big grump. He was there of his own accord, no one had tortured him to speak. Why couldn't he just smile and relax? After travelling all over the world, tasting the best of cuisines and interacting with the best of minds, he had no grace. It was just too bad!"

Amitabh Bachchan Once again, the producers back Bachchan. "Of course not," says Malik. "When asked the question about his black hair and white beard, he chuckled while answering and saw it in a humorous light."

Pooja definitely thought otherwise. "And then," she says, "when I asked him why he chose to do Kaun Banega Crorepati? on Star Plus, he said, 'Because they asked me to.' When I remarked how wonderful it was to have him and Jayaji working together on screen again after so many years for Karan Johar's film, he said something equally inarticulate. His expressions were priceless! Perhaps he isn't used to dealing with fun people. Why is the man such a grump? He's not the richer for it surely -- spiritually or emotionally."

Pooja has now received a letter from Star TV. It describes the interview as a piece of amateur programming that was not up to their standards.

Nair explains, "Meghna, our regular anchor for the show, which is six years old now, was unavailable. We were on the lookout for a replacement. TV 18 decided to use Pooja but, when we saw the interview, we knew she couldn't fit into Meghna's shoes. She couldn't hold her own. We thought she was pretty ridiculous."

Pooja is unperturbed by these accusations. "The final decision to cancel the show was probably taken the next morning. But I was told by very reliable sources that decision was first taken on the day of the shoot itself. These comments are very natural considering the money riding on both fronts, especially since Kaun Banega Crorepati? is in the picture."

Malik trashes this as "completely baseless and untrue. Besides, Star TV is not committed to air the episode on Sunday. They can air it whenever they like. Once a programme is given to a channel, the rights are completely with the channel. Personally speaking, as a producer I would never air this because Pooja was completely out of line."

Pooja, meanwhile, is thrilled at the response her angry letter to Bachchan has evoked. "I have been inundated with calls today and each caller has commented on my letter, especially the last sentence -- it is nice to be important but it is so much more important to be nice. How true that is! All the callers have thanked me for having the guts to stand up to the Big B. So I'm not the only one who feels this way. This was one aspect of his personality I was completely unaware of. Mr Bachchan is too used to getting things done his way. I had always thought of him as an elegant, articulate, sophisticated, refined gentleman. What a let-down he was! What a shame!

"I thought the show made for great television and am surprised that Star TV gave in to the blackmail. I'm sure TV 18 regrets their decision to have me play interviewer for now obvious reasons. I've also apologised to them for making their lives more precarious. It's not very often that one finds people like Mr Bachchan absolutely stumped on television, but that's the truth... and it should have been told."

Read Pooja's letter

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