“We’re here to meet Mr. Amitabh Bachchan,” I say to the security guard at the entrance of Film City in the northern part of Mumbai. “My name is Anouk and I’m from CoolBrands.”
The man silently scans the “Expected Visitor List’. “We have a meeting at eleven,” I add.
The man makes the typical Indian head movement, which looks like a cross between a nod and a shake and continues to study the list.
“Was that a yes or a no?” I ask myself.
Suddenly he seems to have found my name and a smile appears on his face.
“Welcome to Film City,” he says, “you are cleared to enter.”
I get back into the car and follow the road to the set where Mr. Bachchan is filming. We pass different locations where scenes are being filmed.
“Did you know he started his career in the early 1970s and has appeared in over 180 films?” says Maarten, consulting his notes on the iPad. “He’s considered to be one of the greatest and most influential actors in the history of Indian cinema.”
“I did know that,” I say, “even though I haven’t seen many Bollywood movies. But I saw him recently in The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. He was playing a Jewish Mafia boss in 1920s New York.”
“I really liked that performance,” says Maarten. “He’s won many Best Actor awards over the years. And on top of that he’s also a singer, film producer, television presenter… the list is long.”
On set we are directed to Mr. Bachchan’s trailer. A couple of chairs are arranged outside the trailer and a man who is quietly drinking a cup of tea occupies one of them. He gets up as he sees us approaching. “You must be the people from CoolBrands. I am Wing-Commander Pulapaka. But you can call me Wing-Commander,” he says with a smile.
“I think your concept of storytelling is really interesting,” he continues. “Let me see if Mr. Bachchan is ready to receive you.”
He walks up to the trailer, gently knocks on the door and carefully opens the door ajar. After a brief exchange of words, he turns back to us. “Please enter,” he says as he opens the door fully. After the bright sunlight outdoors, my eyes have to adjust to the dimmed lighting inside.
Dressed all in white, Mr. Bachchan is sitting in a semi-lotus position on a sofa bed, with a white scarf draped over his shoulders. It feels like we’ve just entered into one of his movie scenes. “Please sit down,” he says as he points at two chairs arranged in front of him.
I imagine an invisible film director saying: “Quiet on the set… Speed… Action!” but instead Mr. Bachchan says: “Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please,” I reply.
“I understand you are on a storytelling expedition around the world,” he says. “I am, as an actor and film producer, a firm believer in the power of storytelling. Now, what would you like to discuss?”
“Well, what I would really like to ask is: what’s next? You’ve achieved so much. You’re on top of your game. Are there any challenges left?”
Mr. Bachchan sips at his tea and answers. “I personally do not believe that I achieved so much. When I think about my father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, and his poetry, I feel very humble. If you’re talking about the film business, I might say I had a successful career. But there is something I would like to do which was not possible till recently. This story starts more than 30 years ago, in 1982.”
Instinctively I lean forward, making sure I do not miss anything.
“I played in the film Coolie in which I did my own stunts. In one scene I had to fall onto a table and then onto the ground. But as I jumped, I hit the corner of the table.”
At the same moment Mr. Bachchan claps his hands, to create a shock effect, which makes me fall back in my chair.
“I hit the corner of the table with my abdomen, which caused a splenic rupture and a lot of blood loss. I was transported to the hospital and the filming was stopped.”
He pauses to let his words sink in, before continuing the story with a tragic tone in his voice.
“This man knows what storytelling is,” I think to myself.
“I was critically ill in hospital for many months, at times close to death. Millions of people started praying in temples around the country and there were long queues of thousands of well-wishing fans outside the hospital, hoping and praying for me like I was part of their family.”
He pauses again and takes another sip of tea. “After a long revalidation period, I made a full recovery and I finished the film. But the director changed the ending: my character was originally meant to be killed off, but now he was left to live.”
“I’m telling you this story because to me it shows the extent of support I get from my audience. They’ve always been there for me. I’ve had quite some lows in over the years, but my fans always stayed by my side.”
“And so now, to come back to your question, I feel it is time for me to give back: thanks to social media I can connect with my audience. Through Twitter and Facebook, I interact and answer every comment or message.
Among all who follow me on my blog, there is a number of people with whom I’m in touch on a regular basis. I keep them informed of my travels, so we can meet in real life. I call them my Extended Family.”
“I love this idea of giving back and connecting,” I say. “I’ll start following you on Facebook too! So whenever we’re in the same place, whether it’s New York or Paris, I can come and witness the connection with your fans.”
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