As he completes 50 years in cinema on Nov 7th 2019, I share here why I am no longer Amitabh Bachchan’s fan, but his devotee!!!
My dentist, whose name I don’t recollect, unwittingly, introduced me to Amitabh Bachchan.
We lived in Jaipur then. The year was 1973. I was around 6 years old. My dad had taken me for a dental procedure after which I was advised not to eat anything for at least a couple of hours. As we stepped out of the dentist’s clinic, my dad, looking at the cut-out of a tall man in the theatre across the road, suggested that we go for that movie. The idea was to keep me away from craving for food. The movie we went to was playing at Jaipur’s iconic Prem Prakash theatre (now it is, I understand, called Golcha and has three screens). The movie was Zanjeer and the tall man was Amitabh Bachchan. This was my first time in a cinema hall, it was my first movie experience. I had perhaps not heard the name Amitabh Bachchan until then, nor did I recall the name of that movie until when I watched it again in my teens, many years later! Yet that day at the theatre, that man’s screen presence and that scene are still etched in my memory. That scene – which Bollywood researcher and author Diptakirti Chaudhuri, in his book Written by Salim-Javed, describes as the precise moment that marks the arrival of the Angry Young Man in Indian cinema – where Amitabh Bachchan, as Inspector Vijay, thunders at Sher Khan (Pran): “…jab tak baitheney ko na kaha jaaye, sharafat se khade raho! yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahi!…”
I still recall being mesmerized by the intensity of that moment. I was just a kid. He was 31. A struggling actor, who, after a string of flops, had miraculously landed this role in Zanjeer because a. the film’s director Prakash Mehra’s preferred hero Raaj Kumar had turned down the role – apparently he didn’t like the smell of Mehra’s hair oil; casting Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra and Dev Anand too had not worked out for various reasons and b. Salim-Javed had strongly recommended to Mehra that Amitabh best suited the character of Vijay Khanna that they had written so passionately. So, as I was to realize much later, Amitabh gave it his all, more than his best! Perhaps it was that intensity in him, or perhaps because I had never been to a movie before, or perhaps I was an innocent kid who had still not been distracted by other influences and opportunities in Life yet, I am not sure what it exactly was, I just felt I wanted to be like that man, like Amitabh Bachchan!
Yes. It is weird. I don’t remember the name of the dentist who we visited. I don’t remember the name of my class teacher at St. Xavier’s, Jaipur, where I studied in those few years we lived there. But I remember me watching that scene in the dark in Prem Prakash, I remember wanting to grow up and be like Amitabh Bachchan.
As Vijay Khanna in Zanjeer – 1973; Image Copyright with original creator Was that my original fanboy moment? It surely was. But as I was to realize later on in Life, that moment was much, much more.
Over the next several years, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Sholay, Faraar, Kabhie Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Trishul, Don, Muqqadar Ka Sikandar, Suhaag, Shaan, Naseeb, Silsila and so many more of his movies, classics most of them, were seen by me in theatres. Each one left me more starstruck than before.
I remember, after watching Naseeb, at Santosh theatre in Gulbarga (Karnataka), I resolved to be an actor drawing inspiration from Anand Bakshi’s line in the song, John Jaani Janardhan (Mohd. Rafi, Laxmikant-Pyarelal): “…har picture dekh ke socha, main bhi actor ban jaaun…”! Although I am very driven and ambitious, I still can’t explain though why I never followed through with that resolution. Maybe just the resolution of wanting to be like him, was fulfilling enough? Much later, thanks to Dubsmash, I did dub a couple of my favorite Amitabh scenes much to the dismay of my family (who implored me to stop forthwith)!!!
I was 14 when Silsila released. And although Kabhie Kabhie had already seeded romance in me with its immortal gems, Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon and Kabhie Kabhie Mere Dil Mein Khayaal Aata Hai, I felt the incurable romantic in me stir awake with Amitabh’s deep, soulful, rendering of Javed Akhtar’s (his first film as lyricist) classic Main Aur Meri Tanhayee…!!!
Over the next six years, through my teens, I dreamt of meeting that lover who would be my soulmate, often imagining the romance I would have with her – and almost every time, the feeling, that imagination would be complete only when I would recite this poem to myself:
Main aur meri tanhayee, aksar yeh baate karte hain
Tum hoti to kaisa hota
Tum yeh kehti, tum woh kehti
Tum is baat pe hairaan hoti
Tum us baat pe kitana hansti
Tum hoti to aisa hota, tum hoti to waisa hota
And, of course, she arrived. As Vaani. And, hold your breath, she arrived in my Life, singing the Amitabh-Jaya classic Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina (Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D.Burman, Majrooh Sultanpuri) from Abhimaan at a college cultural event in Madras (Chennai) in November 1987 – I was barely 20, and she was 21!! Read the full story in my book Fall Like A Rose Petal or watch me tell it here, in this documentary Rise In Love.
The coaster on our front door!
So, in a very serendipitous way, Amitabh and Jaya, have inspired the companionship, the loving (in the present continuous) and the resilience (to face Life) in Vaani and me. But it all began with Vaani singing that song on stage – even today, the front door to the apartment we live in sports a coaster with the line Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina celebrating that magical moment when I fell in love with Vaani! And we have named our daughter Aanchal, inspired by a beautiful line from the same song – “…jaise kheley chanda baadal mein, khelega woh tere aanchal mein…”!
Strangely, I have no recollection of praying for him when the Coolie accident happened on 26th July 1982. I was around 15 then and I had too many questions on God, religion, prayer and such. Maybe that’s why there’s no memory of any prayer for him then! But I do remember reading The Hindu daily at home in Kollam (Kerala), tracking its coverage of the accident, and his miraculous progress and recovery over the next several weeks. I must also confess that the fanboy in me died in the late 80s and in the decade of the 90s when he made some very forgettable movie choices.
During the turbulent weeks of the furore over the Miss World Pageant in 1996, which Amitabh’s company ABCL had brought to India, I reached out to him. Vaani and I ran a Reputation Management Firm then. And we offered to manage the crisis for his company. His secretary Rosy Singh got back to us saying that “Mr.Bachchan isn’t interested in the strategy or the service” which we were offering.
ABCL eventually went bankrupt and for the next few years it was so heart-rending to see the media trash him and Jaya for their financial mess. I recall being traumatized reading reports of his house being attached by his bankers to recover their dues. Little did I know then that this experience of the Bachchans would be pivotal to Vaani and me dealing with our own Life-changing upheaval in some years.
Sometime in 2002, I remember watching an interview that Amitabh gave Vir Sanghvi on Star World. And intuitively I had it recorded and saved on a CD when a re-telecast of the interview was announced. I can’t stop thanking myself for that decision. A segment of this interview, available here on my YouTube channel, has been the reason why I am even around today sharing a part of my Life’s journey and celebrating a man who now means so much more than just an actor to me.
Let me quickly explain. It is common knowledge now that the Firm that Vaani and I ran went bankrupt in end-2007. It is a phase in Life that we still endure, 12 years on. This phase has been peppered consistently with several long spells of worklessness and pennilessness. In the initial months of knowing that we were dealing with a bankruptcy, through all of 2008, we grappled with the darkness that engulfed us, cowering in fear. We did not know what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? That’s when, fortuitously, while searching for a particular document in my office, I stumbled on the CD containing the Amitabh Bachchan-Vir Sanghvi Star World interview recording. The CD was not even labeled. So I played it on my laptop to check what it contained. I watched the interview. Then I invited Vaani to watch it with me.
We watched it again. And again. And again. We watched it several times that evening.
Here was a bankrupt superstar who was telling Vaani and me how he and Jaya dealt with their darkness, their loss – of money, of reputation – and their crisis and how they clawed their way back. He was brutally honest, authentic and profound, all at the same time. His debt was Rs.90 crore. Our is Rs.5 crore. In the last 12 years, we have watched this video so many, many, many times. Every time we feel low, we feel like we can’t go on any further, we have watched this interview. Through sharing his experience, Amitabh has inspired us both to be resilient, to hang in there, to last one more day. “If he and Jaya could do it, we too can do it,” we have told ourselves, every single time that we watched the video.
Besides resilience, we have learnt the art of reinvention and relevance from him. His choice to do TV – through Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) – 19 years ago was the virtually the first move ever by a movie superstar to embrace the small screen. That is the truest, most visible, practical and inspiring example of going with the flow that you can ever get. As he shares with Vir Sanghvi in the interview, he was out of work. But he had the humility to not just go ask Yash Chopra for work (which led to his role in Mohabbatein), he was willing to “climb down” and embrace the opportunity to host KBC, which has now become synonymous with him. Though he believes otherwise, I guess everyone knows that the show continues to thrive, – it is now in its 11th Season – only because of him. Now, this was no upstart, struggling actor asking Yash Chopra for work, this was no also-ran movie actor agreeing to do TV because he needed the money. This was the Shahenshah of Bollywood, out of work, out of money, deep in debt, who decided to do what he loved doing and what he was best at – acting – choosing to reinvent himself at 58, an age when most people retire. Not just reinvention, he has taught the world how to stay relevant. If you watch KBC, you will see how compassionately he engages with people and their stories. He’s no ordinary game show host. He makes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary as he explores the Life journeys of his ordinary guests, the contestants. His choosing to do remarkably different character roles over the last several years – Ekalavya, Nishabd, Black, Cheeni Kum, Paa, Piku, Teen, Pink, Badla – is also a pointer to the consummate actor in him, who is willing to experiment, willing to break free from the trappings of the image of the hero, the superstar. Yet scripts continue to be written with him in mind and brands believe he can still sell them better than other ambassadors can – clear signs of his continued relevance not just to my generation, or to my father’s, but to at least three generations that follow mine!
Life is not only about going after name, money, success, fame and fortune and getting all of them. It is also about how you live with humility, dignity, and discipline when all of what you attained and acquired are taken away from you. Resilience and equanimity cannot be developed and deployed in simulated environments. They are always discovered within you, when you stand in the middle of the battle of Life, in the chaos, in the eye of the storm. It is by facing Life and learning to be happy, to be useful, despite your circumstances, that you become stronger. That’s how you repair, rebuild and revive – after a crisis. This is the message of Amitabh Bachchan’s Life – whether it was his choice to do Silsila with Jaya and Rekha when he was rumored to be having an affair with Rekha or his coming back from the jaws of death after the Coolie accident or his decision to fight and win a protracted court battle to clear his name in the Bofors scandal or face and overcome the bankruptcy that he and Jaya encountered.
Clearly, I am no longer the fanboy who saw him first on screen at Prem Prakash theatre in 1973. In fact, I am not even his most ardent fan – I don’t claim to know every little trivia about every film, every role, of his. As I confessed earlier, I even exercised the choice to stop following him as a fan when the films he chose failed to interest me. I still disagree with his choice of wardrobe and style sense on KBC and I believe his ‘wife jokes’ are sexist – I definitely intend sharing these views with him when I do get a chance.
Even so, I am comfortable in my skin as his devotee. His presence and influence in my Life cannot be measured – it was through him that I was introduced to cinema, it was from him that I learnt romance, it was again through something that he and Jaya were part of that I found Vaani and found love, it was through him sharing his learnings from Life that we found the ability to survive and endure this prolonged bankruptcy that we are still dealing with. It is again through him that I realize that being world-class with your craft and being celebrated by the world is not as great as it is to be human, be humble and make the other person feel comfortable in your presence. This is what he does repeatedly, episode after episode on KBC and on post after post on social media.
It will be 50 years on November 7, 2019, since he appeared on screen in Saat Hindustani. I wish I could do a lot more than write a Blogpost in celebration of this rare milestone. But, given our bankruptcy, this is all I can do presently. As a devotee, I will, however, use two simple words, which the wise say is the best prayer: Thank You!
Thank you Amitabh Bachchan, for being who you are. Your Life, clearly, is your message!
To feel the grace in you, around you – just soak in gratitude!
A young friend I met last evening wanted to understand how we can know that there is divine grace in our Life. “I don’t get it. There is so much suffering in us, around us; how does one even believe that there is grace,” he asked.
I remember asking this question to Swami Sathya Sai Baba some years back. I must confess that I have never met Swami personally. But I have experienced him, I have learnt from him, through a young messenger, through whom Swami speaks. So, when I asked the young messenger this question about why we should believe there is divine grace, when we are in the throes of suffering, he replied: “Swami says if you believe you are in control of your Life you will never see the grace in it. When you flow with Life, when you see the beauty of your human creation, and understand the context of your Life’s challenges, and realize how you are still able to navigate through all of it, and are grateful for what you still have, you will feel the grace in you, around you.”
I never quite understood the import of Swami’s reply and the Life lesson it contained immediately though.
But over the years, I have learnt that, indeed, the choice to experience the grace in your Life is purely a personal one. Much as it is a personal choice to be happy despite your circumstances.
When Swami answered my question, it was still the early days of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We were steeped in fear and insecurity. There was so much pain. I hated my Life then. Every day was a constant battle to try and control the situation. Every day I would set out thinking I was going to fix the problems we were faced with. And every evening I would come back home – beaten, deflated. And I would cry in Vaani’s arms. I was suffering a lot because I saw myself as a failure – unable to control the raging crisis.
But, thanks to Swami’s coaching, and my practice of mouna (daily period of silence), when I learnt the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, I stopped suffering. The pain was intense. But I did not resist the pain. I just let it be. And the suffering stopped.
You see, you suffer only when you resist what is. But when you accept what is, and go to work on changing it, diligently, without any expectation of result or reward, you don’t suffer. You are despondent when you are only wishing that things were different and you are not doing anything or enough about changing your current reality. But when you know you have tried your best, and the results are still not adding up, you can only be calm, content, and interestingly, happy! This awakening, this ability to see Life this way, is possible only because I am soaked in grace.
To be sure, our bankruptcy still endures. The pain is still intense. We are far, far, far away from normalcy. Even our living expenses are still not completely covered. We survive each day fervently, working hard to put things back on track, praying for an opportunity that will conclusively turn around our story. But we do all of this with great equanimity, without suffering! And while we are doing this, we invest every waking hour in being useful – sharing our learnings with whoever cares to pause and reflect – Inspiring ‘Happyness’. This, we believe, is our Life’s Purpose!
When I look back at all the treacherous times that Vaani and I have been through over the last 11 years, I bow my head in gratitude for the grace in our Life, for the compassion of the countless people who have helped us along the way.
Take for instance, young Kumar, Swami’s messenger. He’s an amazingly talented musician and graphic designer. He may well have walked in the direction of his own dreams. But for over two decades now, his first priority is to be available as Swami’s messenger to help people (who are battered by Life’s upheavals and are clueless about what to do) by sharing perspectives and advice that Swami has for them. And Kumar does all this selflessly. There have been months when we have had to be with him every day, for long spells, just to understand what Swami is teaching us. In these times, I have argued with Swami, through Kumar, brazenly. I have yelled and thrown things around, unable to handle my cluelessness, my lack of control of our situation. But Kumar has been patient and available every step of the way. To me, now, that is grace – the very fact that we had a Kumar to reach out to in the first place!
And just look at the beauty of what is happening today. It is close to 6 AM in India as I write this Blogpost. It is the 23rd of November. It is Swami’s birthday. It is Thanksgiving. It is Guru Nanak Jayanti too today. And here I am sharing a Life learning. Isn’t this grace? That Vaani and I are still around to tell our story, to share our learning, that I can express myself through the written word, that you can read it and perhaps connect a dot with your Life, somewhere…isn’t this indeed grace…?
Thanks to my lived experience, I realize now that grace is like a Wi-Fi signal. It is always available, 24 x 7, to anyone who seeks it. And the password to access that signal, well, you may have guessed it by now, is gratitude!
Why is there so much suffering in, and around, us – despite so much emphasis on religion and rituals?
We were with some friends yesterday. And the conversation slowly wound its way to us sharing notes on the inscrutability of Life and the power of prayer and surrender.
A friend threw up these questions: “Is ritual an enabler for prayer? Is it necessary to be ritualistic to realize God – and happiness and equanimity? And does any ritual aid the process of surrender?”
Now, those are important questions. And I believe the answers, as I have gleaned from learnings from my lived experiences, lead us to a deeper, better, understanding of Life.
We must realize that we have all been created without our asking to be born. This is a choiceless birth for each of us. So, we must recognize that there is a Higher Energy, Creation, that has given us this human form and has given us this opportunity to experience this lifetime the way we are experiencing it presently.
I see this Higher Energy as Life itself. And I humbly submit to its intelligence, to its might and to its grace.
Some look upon this Higher Energy as ‘God’ – and their religious conditioning gives this ‘God’ a name, shape or form. But clearly, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Energy that powers this Universe, that has designed, and is administering, the cosmic Master Plan. Otherwise, why would you and I be human? We may well have been created as a less endowed species in the animal or plant world or even be an inanimate object – after all, they were all created too, without any of them asking to be!
So, to me, there are only two states to be in – eternal gratitude and total surrender. In fact, it is when these two states are maintained in unison, it is when they confluence, in us, in our view of our world, that true happiness and equanimity can be experienced and sustained.
Prayer is nothing but a way of expressing gratitude – Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’! And prayer itself denotes surrender – I don’t know, I don’t understand, so I give myself up to ‘you’. The ‘you’ here is the Higher Energy, Creation.
This is all there is to Life. It is simple, easy to understand and easy to practise. The truth is you can never understand the mind of Creation. You simply cannot understand Life. At best, you can be forever grateful for who you are and what you have, and in complete surrender, flowing with Life for what it is.
We however complicate this process of flowing by resisting what is, by bringing in our logic, desire and expectations. Much of all human distress stems from our wanting our Life to be a certain way – to be different from what it is. As long as we want something, in a certain fashion, we will suffer. And that is what is happening to – and in – all of us.
The human mind, when it is suffering, is like a smoldering cauldron of myriad, uncontrolled, often wasteful and debilitating, thoughts. And religion, as a means of suggesting a method to calm the mind, to weed out debilitating thoughts and emotions, recommends rituals. The larger idea is that the rigor of ritual – in spirit and activity – will help you learn the value of gratitude and surrender. Deep at the core of all rituals, across religions, is this idea of complete, total, surrender. But what have we been conditioned to believe? Practise rituals to cleanse your sins; be ritualistic or you will be punished by ‘God’; if you want your prayers answered, your wants fulfilled, follow this ritual or that; rituals can banish your ‘bad’ phases and so on and on. Bottomline – we have been fed loads and loads of garbage in the name of religion and rituals. Which is why, despite all the rituals, despite all the religiosity in us, many of us are still unhappy, fearful, worried and are suffering endlessly!
So, my answer to my friend’s questions was this: “Do you normally need any apparatus to help you breathe? Not really. But, if your body systems are weak, well, you do need a ventilator. Similarly, do you need a method to practise gratitude and be in total surrender? Surely not. For, if you understand that being created in this human form is a blessing, you can only be grateful, you can only be in surrender. But if you don’t realize – or reflect on – this blessing, well, you then need a method, a device – a.k.a ritual and/or religion – to help you along. But, clearly, no method can help you live happily – in gratitude and surrender – unless you are willing to flow with Life’s Master Plan, for you, the way it is.”
Those are perfectly rational, logical, unavoidable questions. But do we even need to be asking them in the first place?
A reader asked me those questions the other day. And I responded saying that the question we really need to ask ourselves is this: Of what use is your faith if it can’t help you live your Life without fear, anxiety, insecurity and worry? Look around you, and perhaps even at yourself, I told the reader. Are all the religious rituals that we conduct monotonously and mindlessly, in the name of faith and prayer, of any use when we are not mindful of Life’s gifts__the grace, abundance, blessings in our lives__ and instead we continue to still worry, fear and agonize over what the (unknown) future holds for us?
Let me share here a conversation that I had with our family priest a few years ago. A self-proclaimed champion of piety, who called himself a ‘strict Brahmin’, he came to me asking for career advice for his son who was looking to join an IT services company after completing his undergraduate studies in software engineering. He explained that his son had been selected by a leading software company through campus interviews. Yet he claimed he was worried. Our conversation went somewhat like this:
Me: Why are you worried Sir?
Him: I don’t know if IT companies can offer job security the way the government can!
Me: Why would you, a faithful servant of the Lord, for years now, be insecure __ and want to seek security in a government job?
Him: Sir, how can God guarantee job security?
Me: What is God there for then if HE/SHE can’t guarantee you security?
Him: Sir, velayadathengo! Don’t pull my leg, Sir! God can’t come and tell me that my son’s future is assured!
Me: If God can’t tell you that, the one who has direct access to HIM/HER, who else can reach God? Why do you pray then?
Him: Sir, praying to God is my profession. I still need ‘something else’ to tell me that my Life is on track and that my family and I will be secure!
With due apologies, and respect, to my family priest, I must confess that this is the problem with praying mindlessly. The truth is faith and fear cannot co-exist. If you claim you have faith and you are still fearful of your Life, then, clearly, no matter how hard or long you pray, you don’t have faith. Period. Besides, that ‘something else’ which my priest was looking for__and I hope he found it in his own way subsequently__is ‘mindfulness’. When you are mindful of the present moment, and are grateful for it, that would be prayer enough to make you realize your God!
You will then find your God in everyone and everything around you. Just consider all your blessings starting with the fact that you have a computer or a smartphone, you have access to the internet and are able to read this post. There are many, many, many people out there who don’t have this privilege. Pause and reflect on your Life, and celebrate the abundance in it! Don’t you recognize your God’s presence when you feel the air in your lungs? Don’t you see your God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail? Don’t you see your God in a child’s smile, in leaves rustling in the night breeze, in a cow mooing and in a dew drop? When you view your Life from this angle, you will find your God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will find your God in each moment. And then you will understand and value what faith and prayer are really all about. You will realize that true prayer is living, with gratitude, in the moment and faith is believing that, no matter what the circumstances are, you will be taken care of, provided for and looked after!