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Big B speaks out his heart

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Two of the greatest actors in world cinema met up last week. Ralph Fiennes and Amitabh Bachchan had a meeting at Jalsa.

Says the Big B, "I got a call from Vinod Chopra. He said he was with Ralph Fiennes who had just seen Eklavya and wanted to drop by. I was about to fly off in Delhi. Ralph Fiennes came across and we spoke. Yes, he was appreciative of my performance. He's an astonishing actor. Ralph has a lot of admirers. Abhishek called from Bikaner to grumble why I hadn't told him about Ralph Fiennes. Jaya is also a big fan. But she was unwell and couldn't meet him. She sent him her regards. Ralph is bringing a play Oedipus to India. We spoke about theatre in India."

Ask the Big B if he's tempted to do theatre and he laughs, "I'm not qualified. Being an actor isn't enough. You have to be conversant with the language of theatre. It's a frightening thought to return to stage."

The function to receive the Legion d'Honour has left the Big B with an after-glow. "It was lovely to have my entire family there for this moment ...Jaya, Abhishek Shweta, her husband, my grand-children, my samdhis Rajan and Ritu Nanda, Aishwarya and her parents. I feel privileged. To be able to receive this kind of recognition in front of my entire family. More than for myself I was filled with pride for our film industry. I feel it's more an honour for our cinema and country. It was such a humbling experience. First the film March Of The Penguins where I've done the voice-over, was shown in the outdoors. Then in another section of the Embassy I was given the Legion. The Ambassador representing the French President gave a very moving speech on me. Then the medal was brought on the French flag and pinned to my court. Then the Ambassador's wife and Jaya were called on stage to toast a glass of champagne. "

Since it was Amar Singh's birthday on Saturday morning the entire family had gone to Vindyachal for a holy visit.

Says the Big B. "We've been there several times. Earlier we had taken Amar Singhji's two daughters for their mundan. This year he wanted to celebrate his birthday differently. Instead of a party he wanted to marry off 51 economically challenged couples at the temple. The idea of doing something to help the needy and under-privileged instead of splurging on a party really appeals to me. Why not use the money to help those who really need it? It was so heartening to see these couples being not only married off but also given the provisions set up a home. These couples were short-listed from hundreds. Some of them were physically challenged. I felt truly happy for Amar Singhji."

Bring up the subject of renewed speculation on Abhishek-Aishwarya's marriage at Vindaychal, and the Big B immediately replies, "There were 51 marriages there. But not this one. When a date is decided we'll inform everyone. The media has the right to information. And they're free to speculate as much as they like. But the speculation needn't reflect the truth. As a public figure I'm prone to be scrutinized. If we go to a public place we've no right to stop the speculation."

When I remind him that including Aishwarya and her parents in public functions will further fuel speculation he brushes off my misgivings. "I don't look at it that way. They're part of my family now and I want them to be at events in my life."

Shooting for Ram Gopal Varma's Sholay is almost over. "We just have the Mehbooba song to do, and we're done. It's been an exciting experience to see Ramu's interpretation of Gabbar Singh. Obviously it isn't the same film as the earlier Sholay. We had decided not to worry about what has been made in the past, and just enjoy ourselves. We did just that. We've innovated and I had fun."

About Vinod Chopra's observation on his performance in Eklavya being his career's best the Big B is dismissive. "I think he's just being generous. I don't agree with him. I'm incapable of evaluating my performance. But it was heartening to see Ralph Fiennes speaking so highly about one of our films. What's really gratifying is that the West is waking up to our cinema."

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