I just about manage to act... Is Amitabh Bachchan's response when asked if he might ever direct. The 68-year-old spoke to TOI about his latest film and how it feels growing old
Isn't age more of an issue with actors than with other people?
It's an issue with everybody. Finally you reach a certain stage, and there are cut-off dates – as in government services – you know, you can't work beyond a certain age... So they feel that this is an age beyond which you won't get the maximum out of a person, or whatever. I think sportspersons are greatly affected by this. They have limitations because of physicality; beyond a certain age, they will have problems. We have rare examples like Sachin (Tendulkar) or Rahul (Dravid) who're still there, or Martina Navratrilova, who have defied that.
But after a certain point, because of the age factor, you get certain roles according to your age. I can't possibly be playing a college student or romance a young girl. Ok, we made some exceptions in films like "Cheeni Kum" and "Nishabd", but they were more, I would say, about the unusualness of those stories. Otherwise you normally get to play the senior patriarch or the retired judge.
Or you have something unusual like "Paa". But this ("Bbudaah Hoga Terra Baap") was challenging because of someone's fantasy that he wanted to see me doing those kind of things again. It's physically exacting at this age. But because I'd made a commitment, and because there were these moments in the film – the singing, the dance and action – so I said ok, and somehow managed.
Did you ever experience any insecurity about growing older?
No, I'm quite ok with age.
No apprehensions? Did you ever wish you were younger, or experience something like a mid-life or quarter-life crisis?
God and life have been very kind to me. I've had the benefit of my profession, the opportunity to play different characters and roles, and work with some of the finest talent that the industry has had. That in itself is sufficient to last me a lifetime. I'm just fortunate that at this age I'm still getting opportunities to work and play good roles and I thank the filmmakers for that. But I would accept the process of life, the process of aging, and go along with it and say, I'm fortunate with what I have.
Do you have any retirement plans, or does the word 'retirement' even feature in your plans?
No, I'd like to go on working. I'd like to retire if my body gave up, because our profession requires a certain amount of stamina. There are two kinds of philosophies – either you feel that you've had enough and you don't want to do any more. Or, because of your minuses, I'd say, in a physical sense, you are now not acceptable to the audience. The audience says, 'We're not liking the way he's looking, we don't want to see his face anymore', and therefore you're pushed away. Rather than wait for that moment, I think that's a personal decision that one has to take.
Sometimes actors graduate to doing senior roles – I'd happily go into that and so long as I'm accepted, I'd like to keep working. When the day comes that my body can't move or it's so debilitated that it's not acceptable to the audience, then I'll stop.
Do you want to direct or produce – get into a more off-camera role?
I wish I knew direction. I don't. I'm just about managing to act.
That's a colossal understatement.
Well... it's a great temptation, having been in the business for 42 years...
And you've been in the business for so long, you'd understand the movies...
That's not always true. There are many times when I make a suggestion, and later realise how stupid I was because I really didn't know anything about it. I'd rather go with somebody guiding me. I'd like to follow, rather than lead.