It was exactly on the 20th of December 1990 that I got an invitation from Amitabh Bachchan to be his house guest at Prateeksha in Mumbai. The invitation came through a call from Mumbai, then still Bombay in my landlord’s telephone because I as yet did not have my own connection. It seems that he called earlier in the day while I was at office, wanted to know when I would be available “directly” to take his call and there I was at 10 minutes past 6 pm to talk to him. I told him that trains were full in the last week of December and that I might like to postpone my visit until later into the New Year but he said that he was to visit South Africa and then again get very busy so here he was in a lean period when breaks were manageable. He would send me plane tickets both ways, the return being an open ticket and I was not to worry because I would be very well taken care of at his house by his family and him. But the nights, I said I would want to be in my office guest house, fairly close to his house in Juhu because I was not too comfortable living in with families which included even my own relatives. I was duly booked for the nights at the airport Hotel, fully paid for by Amitabh Bachchan. The reason for the invitation was that I had posted him, albeit rather late, copies of my MPhil dissertation from JNU titled the Social Construction of a Hero –Images By Amitabh Bachchan. The stuff I wrote, he said were exactly presented just in the way he thought of himself in his mind. How could I ever know his mind so well was the curiosity he wished to satiate through my visit to his home.
When this happened I was 29 years old and from the age of 17 I was a fan of Amitabh Bachchan having seen him for the first time on screen in Sholay and Sholay was not even exclusively his film. I, being born and bred in a renascent Bengali family, supposed to know nothing beyond Tagore suddenly became enamoured by a guy playing a pedestrian role in a multistarrer apparently violent. Thereafter, I tracked Amitabh through both the new releases as well as the rereleases of older movies. I decided that I was Amitabh Bachchan, in my mind every separation between his entity and mine was to vanish. I had to think with his thoughts, move with his body language and work through my everyday life as if, within my own precincts I was he. I was not romantically nor erotically attracted to him; my attraction towards him was philosophical. In my mind I already was speaking to him all the time and when I finally blurted all that out in my academic work, I, had attained silence because dialogue ceases in complete agreement. So, frankly, I no longer needed to meet Amitabh. But I would get a chance to see Jaya Bhaduri, and to see her became my overriding interest in visiting Prateeksha.
Amitabh sent over the tickets to me through his establishment in Delhi and his car and driver picked me up in the wee hours of the morning to drop me at the airport for the flight to Mumbai. I was more worried about a packet of soft notun gur sweets not being squashed on flight that I was carrying for the Bachchan family purchased from Annapurna in front of their Delhi bungalow, Sopan. Then finally as the day broke and life picked up in the streets in Mumbai that his car drove me into Prateeksha. Amitabh was the first person to greet me in the house. He was getting very distracted by a light sweater that I was wearing from Delhi because though Delhi was freezing, Mumbai was hot. He constantly worried that should the sun become brighter I would sweat. He then took the journalist who was interviewing him and me into the wooden shed at the corner of his garden because here he could run the airconditioning. He was more enthusiastic talking about my work to the journalist than about discussing his.
It was close to lunch that I met the family in full force which included Ajitabh who had come down from London. I soon realized as we sat down to dine in the finest silver crockery and over a twelve course meal, that it was not Amitabh Bachchan, but I who was the star. Eyes were looking at me admiringly and with awe, there were furtive glances from the staff trying to see what kind of a star I was so as to merit such an honour. I inferred that so far no guest has been so much honoured at Prateeksha as I was. Perhaps the reason was that I was an academic and so was Harivanshrai Bachchan. Teji, Amitabh’s mother told me that Harivanshrai had read my work and then my bibliography and said to her that so many books, even he had not read. I was being admired for my academic achievement.
In my observations and through my analyses of Amitabh Bachchan, he, his family, his home, the way it was organized, the décor, and his daily routine was very familiar to me. It was as if I knew them as closely as I knew my own family. But it was interesting that they too found me familiar to them as well. I think that they knew my “type”, intelligentsia, city bred urban middle class educated in premier institutions with excellent schooling and that made my “type” much more familiar to the family than the film world of Mumbai could ever be.
Yes, food was resplendent and overflowing, Amitabh was perceptive to my addiction to pickles and insisted that the pickle should always be set before me for all meals. Jaya was torn between being a good host and just chatting with me finding in me a fellow Bengali who remembered her glorious films and her famous Bengali directors. But the memory that I would cherish were the philosophical discussions with Amitabh and Jaya over the nature of self, manifestations of ego, anger, morality, the law and justice, democracy and ethics, stardom and cinema, poetry and epic, spectacle and extravaganza, violence and obscenity, right wing politics and liberalism, vendetta of the media and the emancipatory power of popular culture, of Hussain and Ganesh Pyne, of eyes and laughter, of image and appeal, most of these I have captured in my forthcoming book of sixty philosophical essays around the image of Amitabh Bachchan.