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Not a very happy birthday for Amitji

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
64 will remain the saddest birthday of Mr Bachchan's life... or probably so. Because when it comes to India's super-icon there's no telling how deep his happiness or sorrow runs. No one knows the real Amitabh Bachchan.

As one of his closest friends once told me, "Amitji keeps it all pent-up inside. He makes friends for life. And unless his trust is badly betrayed he doesn't turn away from a friend. Friendship is a very serious matter for him."

Today as he celebrates his birthday I'm reminded of all his largesse. Always loath to ask for any favour, I've once made bold to ask him for a favour. A very close friend needed him to make a cameo appearance in a regional film. Amitji who had never appeared in a South Indian film happily allotted a whole day for the cameo appearance, and didn't charge a single penny for his generosity. We never talk about that gesture of utmost kindness. But it's something I find hard to put out of my mind.

In an industry motivated only by self -interest where I've seen the biggest of stars behave with the pettiness and petulance of the most embarrassing quality, Amitji stands tall...without ever letting his indomitable height bother or daunt those around him. Amitji gives generously and takes great pride in being a friend. There's never any reluctance to do an interview, no matter how busy he is. And when I'm in town he always makes time for me.

The only time I saw him in no mood to give an interview was for this birthday. A few days before D day when I suggested to him that time of the year was here again he had brushed off my enthusiasm. "Arrey , what birthday? There's hardly anything to celebrate. I'm totally against all celebration, most of all this year when my mother is so unwell. I can't think of anything else right now ."

Mr Bachchan had been away from the country for more than a month . His mind was back home, in that room in the hospital where his mother lies critically ill. Normally Abhishek looks after his grandmother in his father's absence. But this time they were both out of the country. Jaya held fort with great efficiency. She had her own ailing mother and her mother-in-law to look after. But she managed, as she always does.

Amitji, however, was mentally with his mother all the time. No one in London where he was shooting, could tell. No matter how high the anxiety level it never shows, never spills over into his work.

This isn't a normal professional we're talking about. This is a man who thinks work is not just worship, it's a war-ship. He moves through the battle-field of his professional existence with militant professionalism.

His gusto for challenging roles remains undiminished. After Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black I saw that twinkle in his eye which comes on only in times of the greatest joy. I know Amitji wants to do another film with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. But he won't ask. He has never asked for anything. Not for happiness, not for the sorrow that came to him in surge in the last one year...illness, hospital, tax problems.

"It's okay," he whispered when I spoke to him about the unbroken string of catastrophes in the last one year. "I can't complain. It's life. You've take as it comes," he shrugged, and smiled, forcing me to quickly move to an impersonal topic.

Today he wants to try it all before he reaches 70. "I guess I'm the luckiest actor in the world. And I've been in right place to get the right opportunities," he told me enthusiastically a little before his birthday as we sat in his stunningly tasteful pad.

At the turn of this millennium things looked rather bleak for the master-icon's career. All his films in the second-half of the 1990s fell to the dust. Then came Kaun Banega Crorepati on television. The game show proved to be the biggest boon for Amitji. His greatest critic and most unsparing ally Jaya warned him against doing television.

But Amitji followed his instinct...KBC changed the course of his life and career. As a movie star no one has not seen such adulation. "I've just been lucky. I'm just so so so thankful to the movie-goers for bearing with me for so long," he says and you search that impassive face for traces of irony. There's none. Amitji's mythic modesty is no mask. He truly believes that stardom of his kind comes to those who luck out.

What about sitting for hours in the sweltering heat of a studio waiting for one shot? What about shooting for a furious song and dance a day after getting up from a massive stomach infection? What about shooting for Kaante in LA through the most excruciating toothache?

That was Mr Bachchan's birthday three years ago. The toothache during that birthday is nothing compared with the acute discomfort this birthday.

As though over-exertion and an acutely ailing mother weren't enough the dampen the birthday spirit, just a day before his birthday Amitji lost a very dear friend , entrepreneur Lalit Suri.

"It's ok," he whispered . He coping....as he always does. But today when the nation celebrates his 64th birthday, Amitji may not smile from his heart. But no one will know the difference. They never have.



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