MOVIES | AMITABH, 60FEEDBACK
'My bhaiyya is a star!'
My sister and I met Amit bhaiyya in 1969 when he came to stay with us at our house in Marine Drive [in south Mumbai].
His father Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan rang my mother, saying Amit would stay with us since he wanted to work in Hindi films. We sisters were not told why he was in Mumbai. We were shifted to mum's room and he got our room.
Our books would be in his room, and he would say, 'Babies, have you taken your books? You'll come and disturb me in the morning again.'
We were in school at the time. If the driver was not around, my mother would send bhaiyya to fetch us from school. He lived with us for a year-and-a-half. He was mercurial even then, very mast (happy) in his own world. Like a true Libran, he needs a lot of space for himself. He can spend hours on his own.
He is unbelievably disciplined except about food. The food would be served and mum would be yelling, 'Amit khana thanda ho raha hai [the food is getting cold],' and he would keep saying, 'Haan bhai main khata hoon, haan bhai main khata hoon [yes, I will eat].'
Ultimately, it would go back to the kitchen to be reheated and brought back. He would be pottering around, playing my mother's sitar (there was always some instrument in the house), looking at pictures. He would listen to music for hours.
He would just sit in front of my mother and look at her. Mum would say, 'Amit kuch bolo [say something],' and he would say, 'Mujhe kuch nahin bolna hai [I don't want to say anything].' And she would say, 'To tum aise hi chup chap baithoge [So will you just sit there quietly]?'
He would say, 'I have just come to look at you.' He would just sit there and look at her and go away.
He could sit quiet for hours. Sometimes, he could talk for hours, and everything he said would be hilarious. He has an incredible sense of humour. He would tell mum the stories of his struggles. We were told, 'Babies, go into your corners.'
There were days when there would be gaana-bajaana, mehfils through the night. One person would sit with a dholak, another with a harmonium --- Jalal Agha, Anu bhaiyya [producer Anwar Ali] and Amit. These guys would play music all night and people in our building would complain.
I was learning to sing then and Amit bhaiyya would tell me, 'Please, baby, don't sing.'
I used to have this transistor radio which refused to work when my favourite songs would play. I used to keep hitting it to make it work. One day, Amit bought me two LP records, saying, 'Please don't beat the hell out of your radio. Here are the songs. Play them as many times as you want.' I still have those LPs. It was very sweet of him.
After seven months or so, I asked mum, 'What is he doing here? Has he come here to work or what?' Mum had told him not to tell us that he was here to join films because we would get 'ideas'. We were not allowed to watch films.
He looked at my mother and said, 'Bai, am I supposed to tell them?' She said, 'Yes, tell them. Get it over with.'
He said, 'Ladies, I have come here to join Hindi movies.'
My sister and I looked at him and said, 'What? You?' He said, 'Yes. Why? Don't you think I will make it?'
We said, 'You don't look like Shashi Kapoor; you don't look like Rajesh Khanna. How are you going to do this?' We were worried for him.
He looked at my mother and said, 'Bai, mere ghar ka fan club nahin hoga to bahar kaise milega mujhe fan club [I don't have a fan club at home, how will I have one outside] ?'
He reminded me of this many years later in 1983. He said, 'Baby, do you remember that comment of yours? Dekho kya se kya ho gaya [Look what has happened since].'
My filmography starts with Amitabh. I remember Saat Hindustani and Reshma Aur Shera were made around the time he was staying with us. By the time Anand was made, he had moved out. I remember him coming to fetch us one morning because we wanted to meet Rajesh Khanna.
On the sets, we just would not talk to Rajesh Khanna. Amit said, 'You guys have been plaguing me for the last three months that you wanted to meet Rajesh Khanna, now you won't talk to him.'
I said, 'Just look at him. He doesn't even want to say hello to us.'
From his first earnings, he bought his mother, my mother, my sister and me beautiful, heavy Kanjeevaram saris.
I remember feeling awkward the first time we saw him on screen romancing. I think it was in the film Parwana. He would practise all his lines at home. Once in a while, he would say, 'Okay, you stand in front now and I will say these lines.' We would giggle away. It was quite hilarious. He could make us laugh and laugh and laugh. But there were days you would have to walk on eggshells around the house.
The first time we went out after Anand released, it was amazing. People started shouting, 'Babu moshai, babu moshai [Rajesh Khanna's affectionate name for Amitabh in the film]!' He said, 'I'm a star, baby!'
When the media writes about him sleeping on the footpath, I smile to myself and think, 'Ah, you must have come home drunk or too late to disturb us. So you must have sat outside.'
He stood in as my brother at my wedding. He has always been there at family dos. Initially, I was in and out of his house all the time. But now, life has changed. There is the knowledge that he is around. It is not important whether we meet or not. He is one of those people who are out of sight, out of mind. But when you meet, you don't feel the time lapse at all.
Neerja Shah, former editor of Elle magazine, spoke to Lata Khubchandani
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