MOVIES | AMITABH, 60FEEDBACK
'He was like an obedient student'
It was the eighties. Several of my stories and screenplays were made into Hindi films, and Hindi filmgoers were familiar with the name K Bhagyaraj.
Producer Poorna Chandra had been asking me to direct a Hindi film, but somehow, nothing was moving properly. That was the time action ruled the roost in Hindi films. My forte was family oriented subjects. So I told him we would wait for the appropriate time.
When he persisted, I gave an outline first. Poorna Chandra liked the story so much that he wanted me to write a screenplay and give it to him. First, the story was made into a Tamil film by Bharatiraja based on my script, with Kamal Haasan. (Oru Kaithiyin Diary).
Poorna Chandra wanted to make the film in Hindi with Amitabh Bachchan. So he was brought to Chennai for the story narration. He liked it. It was the first time I met him. But he was a little doubtful about my ability to direct an action film, as I had done only family oriented subjects with a little bit of comedy splashed in-between till then.
When Amitabh expressed his apprehension to the producer, he said, 'Sir, it was he [Bhagyaraj] who conceived the subject. If he was incapable, he would not have written such a script. So have confidence in him.'
The moment the Tamil version with Kamal Haasan was over, we started the Hindi version Aakhri Raasta. On the first day, although Amitabh Bachchan had the full script with him, he asked me, 'If you can tell me how the whole scene will be taken, it will be good for me to prepare everything mentally.'
I understood why he asked that question. He wanted to check whether I was prepared or not. Even before I finished narrating the whole scene, he said, 'I understand. I think I can manage now.'
Once we started shooting, he was like an obedient student. I wrote the Tamil screenplay which was translated into Hindi. I didn't know Hindi. So, every morning, Amitabh Bachchan would go through the script and ask me to deliver the dialogues in Tamil so that he would understand whether the emotion had been conveyed properly in Hindi.
I used to emote all the scenes for the benefit of the others, and it was easier for me to do so as I am also an artiste. If the scene involved an actress, he would jokingly say, 'See how eager the director is. He is waiting for a chance to touch the heroine!'
One scene he appreciated a lot was the one in the graveyard. We had an argument about it. I wanted the father and son to have a heated argument in English in the graveyard. He disagreed with me totally. He said viewers would not be able to understand so much in English. I refused to budge.
He said, 'No, no. How can you have the whole scene in English? Nobody will understand a word.' I told him what he was saying was not important, the language was important.
There is a background to that scene. The father, who is illiterate, marries an educated woman. She teaches him everything, including English. She tells him one day, 'If you had studied, you would have been a master of English. Now, you will not be able to retaliate if my son fights with you.' He challenges that he can.
Now, both the father and son were in the graveyard where the mother was cremated. He wanted his dead wife to hear him fighting with his son in English. I felt what he said was immaterial, only the language mattered.
Amitabh Bachchan refused. I did not relent. When we started a heated argument, the producer asked the unit to go out so that we could fight it out!
Finally, I told him, ‘You just see. Once you start in English, people will start clapping. Anyway, I will shoot in both languages. I want you to show my version to somebody and watch their reaction. If you are not satisfied, we will have the Hindi version.'
He thought for a while and said, 'Sir, you are the captain. If you feel so strongly about it, let us have it the way you want it. We need not waste any film and time.'
We shot the scene in English.
He called me at midnight one day and said, 'Sir, I watched how the audience reacted to that particular scene. When I started talking in English, it was from the front bench that the first clap started. It was only after that the educated class clapped. You are right. You judged the pulse of the audience so well.'
He added that according to his wife Jaya, the film was not an Amitabh Bachchan film, but a Bhagyaraj film. 'I am jealous of you,' he said and laughed.
K Bhagyaraj spoke to Shobha Warrier
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