Portrait of a superstar as a modest young amateur
It happened many years ago, in what was then called Calcutta, where I lived. The city had a vibrant theatre culture, with groups of actors, both professional and amateur, staging plays in Bengali, Hindi and English.
An English-language group called, ‘The Amateurs was very prominent on the theatre circuit. I went to a number of performances put up by them. One, in particular, turned out to be especially memorable, thanks to later events. The play written by British playwright, James Saunders, was called, ‘Next Time I’ll Sing to You.’
It was a compelling play an existential narrative open to many interpretations. Where, all the characters gave forceful performances, but I was struck by one particular actor, a very tall young man, with striking features and a lean athletic build. He exuded what drama critics would call ‘stage presence’, dominating the space around him by the sheer force of a personal magnetism, and exclamation mark in human form.
A few days later, at a small dinner party, I was introduced to him. He was a junior executive in a mercantile house who’d taken up acting as a hobby. I told him I’d seen the play he’d acted in and had been very impressed by his performance.
He accepted the compliment with genuine, disarming modesty. I said that the play he’d acted in had caused quite a lot of debate and conjecture in theatre-going circles as to what exactly was its central message. I had my own interpretation as to what it was, which I outlined, and asked him if he agreed with me.
With charming candour, he replied that he didn’t have a clue what the play was all about. In fact he didn’t even read the whole thing, on the contrary just crammed or learnt the lines he had to say. “I don’t understand all that stuff,” he confided. “I just do what the director of the play tells me to do: look angry, look sad, look happy.”
He didn’t put it in those words, but he was like a slate on which anything could be written. In short, a great natural-born actor. Which is what he went on to prove himself to be. That was the first, and the only, time I met Amitabh Bachchan.
This short story is inspired by a column written by Jug Suraiya.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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