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October 15, 2001

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Subhash K Jha

For a long time, I thought his demeanour was too perfect to be real.

"Amitabh Bachchan must be constantly on his guard", Iíd argue with his wife Jaya, at a time when his name was a legend. She would chide me, "Donít judge him without meeting him".

Today, I say this without a momentís hesitation that thereís no one as soft-spoken and well mannered as Mr Bachchan in the film industry. Such are his gentlemanly qualities that an outsider can never know the 'real' AB. He, therefore, presumes the immaculate personality to be a facade, the distracting humility to be put-on and the utterly unassuming disposition to be a sham.

As a matter of fact, the Big B is as real as it gets in showbiz. He knows himself too well and he knows the shindig of the show world even better. Since he can't really do much to change the world he inhabits, he keeps a tight control over his own sense of selfhood.

When AB says "I really donít think Iím much of an actor when compared with the genuine greats like Motilal, Ashok Kumar, Balraj Sahni and Dilip Kumar", he isnít being overly modest. A cynical young star said to me the other day, "Mr Bachchan can afford to be humble. The world has iconised him. In his position, humility can only help".

I disagree with this view. Iíve known this gentleman actor for some time now. And I can confidently say he genuinely feels he isnít much of an actor when compared with the other greats.

Let me give you an example. Just before he left for Los Angeles to shoot for Sanjay Guptaís Kaante, Amitji and I were discussing the possibility of his leaving Kaun Banega Crorepati.

"So will they get Shekhar Suman in your place?" I asked sarcastically. "Yes, why not?" Amitji answered.

I was only trying to draw attention to the sheer temerity of anyone trying to fit into the Big Bís Size 12 shoes. But for him being replaced by Shekhar Suman isnít a chapter from Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Itís a possibility. A reality. Because to Amitji, no actor is too small to be dismissed as inconsequential, no human being too trivial to be taken for granted.

I know of only one other human being who has achieved a superhuman level of excellence and still remains humbly 'yore' -- Lata Mangeshkar.

Recently, I was talking to Karan Johar about Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham when he suddenly said, "I've worked with both the legends of the film industry in my film. Where do I go from here?"

No points for guessing who the legends are.

Interestingly, both the super-achievers of Bombay's show world are Librans. I have had the privilege of observing them from close quarters. Both are shy and extremely uncomfortable with their stardom. But thereís a radiance that comes from a genuine love and appreciation of their fans' adulation. Every time Amitji speaks about the love and prayers that fans showered on him during his battle with death after the accident on the sets of Coolie, his voice fills up with genuine emotion.

As they ascended higher and higher on the ladder of success, neither Amitabh nor Lata lost sight of the ground beneath their feet. And thatís what made them special.

When other much lesser stars ridicule Amitji in public, I feel like laughing at them. There is this self-styled orator and politician who has been Amitabh's arch rival since their early days. Recently at a function in Madras to honour Shivaji Ganesan, this orator-politician made digs at Amitji by calling Shivaji the true star of the millennium and not the one chosen on the internet.

Well, excuse me! But BBCís internet poll didnít prove anything we didnít know already. How can we compare any other film actor, no matter how brilliant, with Amitabh Bachchan? Can one compare Lata Mangeshkar to Anuradha Paudwal or Alka Yagnik?

As always, this year too, Amitji's fans gathered at his residence in Juhu , Mansa, to greet him on his birthday. But they were in for a disappointment. The man they love to adore was across the seven seas, shooting for a film. The phones never stopped ringing at the house. And the bouquets and gifts kept pouring in.

Amitabh Bachchan is probably the most popular star in the world. Jealous sections of the film industry have tried to write him off. Theyíve laughed at his business sense, scoffed at his selection of roles and even made fun of his beard.

But he never reacts, never hits back, never makes an issue out of ugly situations. The satin smokesreen of stoicism irks the lesser stars. But it makes Amitabh Bachchan who he is. A star. An icon.

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