A night after the National Award for his performance is announced, Amitabh Bachchan has hardly slept. His phone is jammed with enthusiastic greetings from well-wishers and fans. "I'm trying to delete the messages on my phone. I didn't know the National Awards were going to be announced on Wednesday. My office had put in the applications for the awards. They were keeping an eye. I was resting at home. Abhishek called me in the afternoon. He was shooting far away. He said, 'You've done it.' I heard him and went back to sleep."
It was only when wife Jaya came with the news that it sank in properly. "She was very excited. Far more so than me. She told me Paa had got four National Awards. That was what got me up in a hurry. She was more excited for Abhishek for having won his first National Award and that too as a producer. Abhishek took us through the film's course, supervising every detail. And then he also acted in Paa. I thought he performed very well."
What was Big B's reaction to his award? "One just hopes there will be directors who will continue to make films. One doesn't work for awards. If my tally of National Awards has gone up to 4, I consider myself lucky. The main charm is to find projects that challenge me."
Looking back a day after the triumph, Big B can't get over the audacity of playing his own son's son. "When Balki came to me with the idea I laughed out aloud. But as an actor, I'm always attracted to something challenging. Once I accepted the challenge of playing Abhishek's son, my problem was, now what? Once the makeup happened I was convinced I could do it."
Post the National Awards for Paa, there is a clamour to bring the progerian hero back to life. However, the Big B will hear none of it. No matter how popular Big B's Auro might be, he is not inclined to carry the progerian legacy forward. The danger of exploiting physical challenges looms large over the aura of Auro.
Says the Big B, "First of all Auro died in Paa. So I don't think it's logical to revive him. Secondly-and this is my personal opinion- it does not seem very ethical to commercially extend the reach of a physically challenged character. I think any further commercial exploitation of the theme would be unethical and insensitive."
This is the Big B's second National Award for Best Actor in a film about a physically challenged child. Apparently, the script that Balki came to the Big B with was very different from what was shot in Paa.
Concedes the Big B, "Jaya and I have been working for years with physically challenged children. We support their cause emotionally and financially. Whenever we interact with such children, we are constantly reminded by their teachers and trainers not to sympathize with them. Even the use of the word 'handicapped' is objectionable. Both Balki and I felt we must keep Auro away from being seen as handicapped because that word is like an abuse."
The original script was radically different from what was shot.
Reveals the Big B, "When Balki first narrated the story to me, he had a completely different take on it. I thought it could be taken to another level. I thought it was the easiest thing in the world to milk the plight of a physically challenged child and make him sympathetic. He scrapped his first version completely. The greatness of Balki's final script was that it did not exploit the child's illness. I was keen to show Auro as a happy normal person."
There were arguments between the Big B and his director on how to end Paa.
Says the Big B, "I wanted Balki to end the film when Auro smiles at his father from his deathbed and dies. But Balki wanted to continue the story. He wanted Auro smiling, laughing and dancing at the end."
Even as the fourth National Award rolled into the Big B's life, he gets ready to spend the next few months on the Hot Seat for Kaun Banega Crorepati. It's a melee of excited guest, phone calls messages at the Bachchan residence Jalsa.
You tell him that the National Awards committee decided on him for Best Actor without any dispute and the Big B brushes away the comment, "I don't know about that. I don't work for awards. I think I am driven by the desire to get more and more opportunities. We've very intelligent young filmmakers. I hope they continue to pose challenges for me. At this age it is a little tough. Balki is working on something that will again take me to another level."
For now, Big B gets busy with Kaun Banega Crorepati. "We've started recording episodes. Telecast starts in October. Then it goes on to November. While doing KBC, I'll start a film, Rajkumar Santoshi's Power."