Bhawana Somaaya’s latest book is a collection of interviews conducted during her long tenure as a Hindi film journalist, which includes stints at the magazine g and the newsweekly Screen. On Camera Off Camera contains often revealing facets of movie stars that range from Rajesh Khanna and Sridevi to Rekha and Salman Khan.

Among Somaaya’s books is Bachchanalia: The Films and Memorabilia of Amitabh Bachchan. In 1999, Somaaya spoke to Abhishek Bachchan before he followed in his father’s footsteps and made his debut with Refugee the following year. Here are edited excerpts from the archival interview.

‘Our household was like everybody else’s’

How did your friends in school react to your parents, were they curious?
I don’t know, I never really paid any attention. I’m definite there was but I don’t remember being conscious or being questioned about it. I didn’t sense any difference in their life and mine, nor did my sister. Nobody talked about these things.

Our growing up was normal, our household was like everybody else’s. Paa made it a point to never bring work home. He never discussed it. I read my first film magazine; rather saw it when your publication `g’ magazine featured the family on the cover in 1992.

The first time I remember my dad coming home with makeup was as late as 1989 while shooting for Akayla, he was shooting close by and had stopped by home for lunch to surprise us.

When did you consciously start connecting with his workplace?
Well, definitely not when we were growing up. I think both Shweta and I started connecting to his workplace much later. The first time I came up close with the film business was when I began to assist him in the production of our banner film Major Saab.

Now that you are an actor, do you feel that you are rediscovering your father?
Oh, yes, I feel there is a radical change in the way I view my father now. Ever since I started working, I have understood the hard work that goes into this profession. Earlier, I was filled with wonderment and viewed his performances only emotionally. As a child, I would get so charged after watching him on screen that I would run to the garden and enact the climax holding a stick in my hand and shouting dialogues. Today, when I watch his films, I’m studying the mechanics – like how he memorized the long lines or what he was thinking when he came up with that expression.

How critical are you of his performances?
I’m not, for there’s nothing to criticize. He’s not brilliant, he’s perfect. You cannot fault him even in his worst films.

A family man

He often talks about missing out on your growing up years; did you ever feel deprived of his time?
Never, because my mother never let us feel deprived. She always made his presence felt in whatever she did. I think as children we are too wrapped up in our world, and which is why we value our parents only as we get older. So very frankly at that point and time, I never felt deprived, but yes, I would have liked him to spend more time with me.

Was he disappointed when you gave up your studies to join films?
Strangely no… It was a joint decision between him and me. I told him I wanted to be with him in the crisis and was prepared to work hard. He valued my support, although I suspect he felt a trifle guilty about the decision. He shouldn’t have, because this is what I wanted to do. He loves teamwork, he loves it when everyone gets together and solves the problem.

Would you say he’s anxious about your career?
Yes, he is, he’s aware of all my projects and participates actively. When I’m shooting, he likes to be filled in with details. I like telling him too but when he asks specific questions about how I did what I did, I tend to get a bit shy because I know I might be discredited. He means it as guidance, which as a child, I perceived as correction. But these self-doubts were more in the initial stages, not any longer.

In the initial stages you were all the time compared to your dad: did that weigh you down?
I’d be lying if I deny that. I have accepted there will be comparisons forever and I’m not going to be weighed down by that. I don’t plan to outdo my father or step out of his shadow, for it will be fighting a losing battle. If I achieve even half a per cent of what he has, I will feel more than satisfied.

The world makes him out to be an enigma, is he?
I don’t know what he is to the world, but to me, especially me, he has been completely open. I think ever since he accepted that he could share his responsibilities with me, he dropped his guard.

Have you sometimes wished that he wasn’t an icon, that he was just an ordinary father?
Never…That’s one thing I’ve never wished for because I love him as the icon. He’s my idol and also my hero. I feel I would have lost out on all the joys like going to his set or playing with the dummy sword, or just touching his outlandish costumes if he was not an actor. I just love all that he does, for he not only does it extremely well but in being who he is he has provided me with an opportunity to do the same.

And the mobs outside your home and everywhere you travelled, did that bother you?
I have always been frightened of crowds but when he was around, I felt secure. From childhood, whenever amidst a crowd, we have been trained to hold hands. Those days, I would come up to his waist, but he had his one hand clutching my palm and the other, signing autographs. No matter how big the crowd got I knew I was safe with him.

What makes your father happy?
He is the only person I know in this whole wide world who is completely self-contained. It’s very easy to make him happy. Little things like the family going for a drive, eating a bhutta (corn) by the sea or just the family watching a film together makes him happy. It does not matter that he will fall asleep within the first half-hour of the film but he just loves the idea of the family being together.

Excerpted with permission from On Camera Off Camera, Bhawana Somaaya, Notion Press.