MUMBAI Amitabh Bachchan has exchanged his psychedelic shirts and colourful scarves from “Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap” for a shawl and kurta in Prakash Jha’s “Aarakshan”, a film that sees him portraying an upright school principal.
Bachchan spoke to Reuters about the film, his own school and college years, and what he thinks of India’s education system.
Q: From a flamboyant character in “Bbuddah” to a completely different role in “Aarakshan”, is there a particular preference for a particular kind of role?
A: “As an actor you enjoy doing everything that comes your way. So it was enjoyable doing ‘Bbuddah’ and it was equally enjoyable doing ‘Aarakshan’. As actors, particularly at this age, it is interesting to get a variety of roles. This was not possible earlier on. When you were younger, you played the leading man which is more or less stereotyped, but with age and character roles coming your way, you get an opportunity to do different kinds of roles.”
Q: Would you say you’ve widened your range of roles with age?
A: “No, I think this is a phase, in which as an actor you do different kinds of things. So yes, it has been challenging. When I first joined movies, I thought I wouldn’t last a couple of months, but fate has been kind and the love of the people has been good.”
Q: This is your first time working with Prakash Jha. How was that?
A: “Very nice. I’ve always admired his work and have been very keen to work with him for some time now. Every time we’ve met, we’ve expressed this desire but we never had an opportunity until this film, when he narrated the story to me and here we are.”
Q: You play an upright school principal in “Aarakshan”. What is your reading of the education system in India?
A: “The character that I play is called Prabhakar Anand. He teaches mathematics but he is head of an institute which is run by a private trust and therefore the question of reservation doesn’t come in there. But because he has such idealistic thoughts and cares about other sections of society that are underprivileged, even though he teaches in this private institute, he holds classes in his own backyard every day where he teaches students from lesser privileged homes. These children never get an opportunity, and were they to get that opportunity, they would excel.
“He is not somebody that propagates reservation. Reservation is something that nobody can propagate. It is something that is part of our system. It has been accepted and documented in our parliamentary system, our legal system. You can’t get away from it. It is something we have inherited, a kind of social order that has prevailed in our society, and whatever has been designed as a result of that, is there through proper democratic representation. But there are many other sub-texts that come up off the whole process of reservation.
“‘Aarakshan’ is a film not based entirely on this one subject. It deals with the issue of commercialisation of the educational system and how as a result of the process of reservation there are several tributaries that have come out of this process which are making it look as though. if you have the money then you can get educated. Or, if you belong to a certain caste, you will be given a privileged position. But there are those who are deprived of means, that are alienated because of their caste and creed. What of them? That is what the film deals with.”
Q: What were the kind of hurdles you faced as a student?
A: “I was very fortunate I went to a college where this consideration wasn’t there. I know that there are many who suffer on that count, so I was lucky.”
Q: Were there any apprehensions on doing a political film?
A: “This is not a political film. Yes, if someone wants to read into something, they can read into a ‘Bbuddah’ also. That is a separate issue. Nobody wants to challenge the political system, or do whatever it is. This is not one of those films. There were no apprehensions. You look at the role, you look at the film.”
Q: Who were your heroes or mentors when you were studying?
A: “I have always been closely associated with my parents. Whatever I have gained, I have gained from my father. I didn’t need to go anywhere else, because I found the biggest source of inspiration in them.”
Q: Any piece of advice that your parents gave you while you were studying?
A: “The usual. Study hard, play harder. My mother was more keen … my father was not such a keen sports enthusiast. Honesty, hard work, that’s it.”
Q: Were you a keen student?
A: “I was OK till school. But college was not so … I chose the wrong subject. I chose science, which wasn’t going to be very useful. Had I known that I was going to become an actor, I would have joined an acting institute and gained more knowledge. But I don’t regret those years of college. They were marvellous, you discover so many things. Very valuable period of life.”
Q: You started a school a while back. What is your vision for that school?
A: “We are working at it. Yes, there is another school also that has been started. The one that we wanted to start has unfortunately run into some government red tape. We wanted to start a school for girls who had to walk many miles to get to a school. We are still working at it, let’s see what happens. There are other institutions that we promote and support. Obviously you look to educate people, and more so the girl child, because at that conservative level, they are denied this facility. And I have believed in gender equality, not just in my family, but everywhere.”