Image: BAFTA/Ed Miller
Humble, honest but assertive, on 5th March Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan took to the stage at BAFTA to discuss his highly successful career and to launch the Tongues on Fire Asian Film Festival. Unexpectedly, he also brought wife Aishwarya Rai, plus his Ma and Pa, Jaya Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood acting legends in their own right. There were audible gasps of astonishment when the family walked without fanfare into the theatre, and if the largely Brit-Indian audience weren't so occupied cheering and whistling, their jaws would surely have hit the floor. It's not often you sit two rows behind an acting dynasty. With a few extra family members in tow there was a sudden and visible shortage of seating in the front row, but Abhishek did the honours by perching on the armrest next to his mother. You can tell he was brought up right. In 2000, Bachchan, 33, appeared in his first film Refugee, for which he was nominated for the Filmfare Best Male Debut Award. However, success wasn't so easy for the son of one of India's legendary leading men as his first films did not sell at the box office, leading to some introspection. Bachchan commented, "In your early twenties you are slightly arrogant. When your film does not do well, you think, 'They [the critics] did not understand it'. When the next film does just as badly you think, 'They didn't get it again' but, the next time millions of people don't like your film, you begin to think, 'Hang on, maybe something's wrong?'". "After three films that kind of criticism starts to eat away at you. It's like quicksand. I went to my father and said, 'Look, I've made a mistake. I've worked with directors who have only seen success, and I've introduced them to failure.'" He recounted how his father had told him that he had not brought him up to be a quitter (a cue for more applause from part of the audience), and was told to get back out there to hone his craft. Bachchan has worked with his father on several occasions, most recently in the highly successful Paa, in which Amitabh plays Auro, the sick and previously abandoned child of Abhishek's young father, Amol. Abhishek said that while it was a great honour to appear next to his father on screen, it was also daunting standing in his shadow: "On a normal film, you do your work for the day and then you and your co-star are both in the car going home, it is largely silent. When that co-star is your father, he quickly stops being the co-star and becomes your father, telling you what he thinks you did wrong, and what you can improve on." It was his performance in Yuva that really brought him to light as a serious contender, and three films later he stole the show with his supporting role in Dhoom, reprising the role later in 2006 for Dhoom 2. It was 2007's Guru that was to be the key point in his career. Not only did Bachchan receive much acclaim for his performance but it was significant in proving he could successfully open a movie. However, the box office can be fickle and two films later, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom met with critical, but not box office acclaim in India, faring better overseas. In Dostana (2008), he played opposite John Abraham and Priyana Chopra in a comedy about two straight guys in Miami, who pretend to be gay to get accommodation in a luxury apartment, both in pursuit of the beautiful girl who rents the other room. The film was a box-office success and he was awarded Best Comic Actor at the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards. Bachchan said, "it was never our intention to make fun of the gay community, and although we had enormous fun making the film, at no time did we think we were making fun of being gay". When asked if he would play a gay character in a drama, he responded, "In principle, I have no objection to playing a gay man, but in India we area a very conservative country and I'm not sure if Indian cinema is ready for that yet." He later retired to the shadows of the stage to allow his mother, Jaya Bachchan, to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tongues of Fire festival organisers, in recognition of her contribution to cinema over three decades. It was a grand, yet family-orientated evening, as first the son then the mother spoke of what are now established careers in the annals of Bollywood history. The opening gala of the film festival continued with a dinner at the Park Lane Sheraton Hotel, which alas, I did not see, but I imagine was a grand, royal Indian knees-up. On a similar note, I would like to thank brother and sister Raj and 'Mango' for the conversation and food in the BAFTA bar beforehand. So long, and thanks for all the chips.