There are millions of questions one would want to ask Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan, a name that brings to mind the image of a quintessential Bangali woman, clad in a sari, wearing her hair in a long plait and playing the role of a young wife in Abhiman (1973). It might also take one back to the days in the early 70s when the movie Guddi (1971) portrayed a young Jaya playing the role of a school girl infatuated with an actor played by Dharmendra. In person, however, this award-winning actor of Mumbai, India and also a politician is far from being the naive persona of many of her acting roles. The thousands of ideas waiting to burst out of her head and shared with those around her deceives the silent serenity and composure on her face in front of strangers. Once triggered, however, Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan (born in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, in April 9, 1948) is full of stories, ideas, theories and little quips about her family members, friends and the people she works with.
Jaya Bachchan was shooting for a film, Meherjaan, from October 23 to October 29, in Dhaka, a film based on the liberation war of 1971. Written and directed by Rubaiyat Hossain, a young woman filmmaker, it has an international amalgamation of cast and crew, including Victor Bannerjee, Omar Rahim, Humayan Faridi, Sharmili Ahmed, Neil Mukherjee (music) and many other well known names.
While waiting to deal with the last minute insert shots, Jaya Bachchan looked fresh after six long days of shooting. “I am playing the title role, Meherjaan, and I don't really want to give out the story just as yet,” she says. “In a nutshell, it is about a woman Meherjaan who has been through the war in 1971. She is an artist. Instead of being bitter, she overcomes her bitterness and cynicism of war and talks about living, surviving and loving. The experience of working here with a young team was very nice. I have, however, worked with young people in India as well.”
Her first time in Bangladesh, Jaya stops to check herself and then continues with an infectious smile. “It is so difficult for me to say India! It feels like I am in another city. Everything is so similar to home,” she exclaims. “It is very strange that I didn't feel the desire to go out and check out the museums like normal tourists, because I have come to work and do not like to go out of the zone. I have just been moving from the hotel to the location and back to the hotel. I have no time to visit places like Old Dhaka even though I would really like to. I really have to get back home to work after I am done here.”
It takes Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan a little time to open up and let her guard down. Once she does, however, she is quite exuberant and candid about her views. “At the moment, I am working on a movie, which is being directed by Meghna Gulzar, of Filhaal (2002) fame. This will be her third movie. It is an all-woman unit, other than the cameraperson! It is a Hindi film called Tumhare Liye Hum. I also have a few scripts that I have to finish reading.”
People began to see her again on screen from the late 90s, after she had gone on a sabbatical for 16 long years. Her role in the movie Fiza (2000) as Karisma Kapoor and Hritik Roshan's mother was highly praised, for which she had also won an award. Does she have a soft corner for stories revolving around female-based issues and/or made by women? “It is not necessarily at all!” she exclaims. “It is not that I am inclined towards movies with a woman-based issue. I just feel that I would like to do different kinds of roles. But what happens is that when an artist comes to a certain age, roles become limited. And obviously physical limitations do matter. They cannot make me 20 years younger! Because I am a woman, I end up doing female-oriented roles at times. However, I believe that roles can be made for women our age in the industry. But this problem is everywhere, not only in our subcontinent. For instance, take Meryl Streep, who is around the same age as I am. What kind of roles is she getting? In Mamma Mia, she played an older woman like Sophia Loren, just a modernised version. However, for her to have played the role in Devil Wears Prada is great. I guess she had a really good agent!” Jaya quips. “Women are very important in our literature,” adds Jaya on a serious note. “What happens is that instead of emphasising on the women characters in literature, we end up borrowing them from fiction. I think that if we referred to our literature, women would get powerful and meaningful roles in our films.”
|Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan in Meherjaan.
Jaya goes on to speak about cinema losing its artistic value, and becoming a commodity instead. “Cinema was always a creative job, but now unfortunately it has become a business, a money making work,” she says. “Of course you need both. Once the producer makes money, only then can one think of making the next movie. But we have to keep the level in mind. People today still speak of filmmakers from the yesteryears; such was the superior quality of their creativity. How many speak in such glorious terms when it comes to the younger filmmakers? Way back, the New Theatre and Bombay Talkies producers were so creative. Now that the corporate world is coming in, working in this field has become something like wearing a tie, going to office, finishing off at 5 pm and coming back home.” With a pause, she contemplates on her thoughts and adds, “Which is, in a way, nice, I guess -- keeping with modern times.”
“Sometimes when I see my son's (Abhishek Bachchan) or daughter-in-law's (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan) contracts, I get shocked,” she says. “The terms and conditions are so strict -- whether it is your remuneration, look, publicity -- they have a say in everything. There are some producers, like in Hollywood, who sign you for a movie, will tell you when the shooting will be completed and will ask you not to work anywhere else till then. This is happening in India as well. For instance, Mani Ratnam does not want Abhishek's look to be seen anywhere. Since my son started shooting for Mani's film Raavan, he could not shoot for anyone else, as per the contract. But he had other commitments like ad films, which he had to shoot for. Hence, Abhishek's look got exposed. Mani was not very happy. So you see, contracts are going to get tougher. Things are going to get more and more professional, which is good. But along with this, the creative side should not be lost completely. Now that the technicalities are so updated and superior, people can make masterpieces.”
At this point, Jaya Bachchan apologises for going on and on without giving it a rest and blames it all on her age, even when it comes to her dream roles. “See, at this age, it is very difficult to speak about dream roles,” she says. “But I would like to do some historic or period films. I would love to have played a role during the time when the British were coming in and invading. You see, most of our nations, all around the world, are very male dominated. But our women are very strong. Whenever I let my imagination run, I think of women who are passive, but not active, bringing about a change writing letters, articles, slowly brain washing the public, making a difference and bringing about a change with a movement.”
Jaya Bachchan is such a good storyteller. Has she ever thought of writing scripts or stories for films? “No!” she exclaims. “My mind works faster than my hands actually.”
Jaya Bachchan speaks a lot of Bangla, something that is not seen nowadays. “I grew up in the northern part of India where we had to study English and Hindi in our schools. My father, Taroon Kumar Bhaduri, was a journalist and a writer who wrote in both Bangla and English. Because ours was a Bangali family, we spoke Bangla at home. We also spoke a lot of Urdu since we lived in a Muslim-dominated Bhopal. So, I speak many languages!” She says. “I don't get to speak Bangla all that much now. My husband (Amitabh Bachchan) spoke Bangla with me for a while, but then he forgot the language since he has been so out of practice. He learnt Bangla when he worked in Kolkata for a few years.”
|Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan with Nasima Selim while shooting for Meherjaan.
She speaks about how important learning your own mother tongue is. Even though Hindi is in the forefront when it comes to movies, according to Jaya, the regional film industries in India are doing way better when it comes to box office hits and good cinema. “The South Indian film industry is much larger than the Hindi film industry. Films do much better in Andhra Pradesh, Kerela and Tamil Nadu. Places like Kerela and Bengal have actually stuck to their roots, which I am proud of. They make good cinema and, yes, they also experiment with some so-called formula cinema. But regional film is doing much better.”
A member of the parliament representing the Rajya Sabha, she says jokingly that the leader of her party, the Samajwadi Party, had said that if it were up to him, he would ban all English Medium schools in India. “That makes me slightly nervous since I am from an English Medium education!” she laughs. “English is definitely important. It is an international language. But we cannot learn and use it at the cost of our mother tongue. I am not perfect in English or Hindi or in Bangla. I speak a mixture of all the languages that I know. I think in the next hundred years, there will come a language, which will be a mixture of a number of languages. That is how Urdu came about.”
After a pause of yet another moment of self-contemplation, Jaya asks herself the question. “But why should we be ashamed of our own language? We should be proud of it.” She says. “When you don't learn your mother tongue, you lose a bit of your culture and a bit of yourself. My children, Shweta (Bachchan-Nanda) and Abhishek, have studied abroad. My son Abhishek is fed up of us telling him to speak in Hindi, since he speaks in a mixture of Hindi and English and has a heavy accent as well. Right in the beginning, he had slight problems even while shooting for his movies. But now he has worked hard and has an excellent command over Hindi.”
Jaya believes that there will come a time when movies and art will also be understood by one and all in the world. “Films will be made in such a way that people of any country will be able to understand it, no matter which language the dialogues are spoken in. This will be a common language in cinema, based on art, expressions and music. An international language is possible only through art.”
“In Meherjaan,” she continues, “we have used a lot of English dialogues and also Bangla. But it is wonderful. Rubaiyat has cleverly worked out the script. Through her film, she is not talking with just one nation. She is actually talking with the world. It is truly an international film. And a film like this coming from Bangladesh is fantastic.”
Growing up in a household where her father was a writer and her mother Indira Bhaduri, an avid reader, Jaya and her siblings grew up with plenty of books and literature around them. “I don't get to read now at all,” she says. “I have no time. I read a lot of scripts, that's all. I also read a lot of media, which is in a way my job.” A free day is basically a day of catching up with life when it comes to Jaya Bachchan. “I have an office and I go there to do some little work. We work on small films, mostly regional films, including Bangla films. I do a lot of research before I go to the parliament. And then I go to the gym.”
Where had Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan disappeared to in the middle of her film career? “You know it often strikes me, why isn't this question asked to writers or artists?” asks Jaya with a stern look and questioning eyes. “Why are actors always asked this question? I had never gone anywhere, really. I was actually doing a lot of research while bringing up my children and living the life of a wife of a well-known person. It was a great learning and observation period for me, which is working out so well for me now. When my children grew up a little, I started working with people with special abilities, which I still do. I did a film called Koshish (1972) where I played a girl with hearing disabilities. I even learned sign language and now I would love to learn lip reading.”
Jaya Bachchan puts a lot of emphasis on learning and training for young people who want to get into films. “I remember when I was in the Pune Institute of Films, the first question that our professor asked was why we wanted to be actors. Everybody had different answers. He then said that if you have come here to be an actor to buy a new car and a new fridge, you should leave right now,” she says. “You have to study and do your homework. If you can afford it, get into a school. Watch a lot of movies. You must get trained, in any field. This has become a very expensive field. One does not have much time for experiments.”
While shooting for Meherjaan, Jaya remembers the moments while a new nation called Bangladesh was being built. “I still remember. We were at a party at Ramesh Sippy's house, the gentleman who made Sholay. That's when we learned that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed. Immediately we stopped the party. Everyone was very aware of what was happening in our neighbouring country and we supported the nation. While coming back home, I remember my husband was very disturbed and was going on about this untimely death and such a waste of life. We were shooting for Sholay in those days.” As she finishes off and gets ready to go back to her shooting, she adds. “My husband is not a very violent person, you know. I am the militant in the family!” she laughs.
Talking to Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan makes one believe, that keeping a positive attitude in life, giving priority to honesty and hard work and of course having fun while working, takes one a long way ahead. Maybe, these attributes helped in the making of this living legend.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009