EXCLUSIVE: Amitabh Bachchan is reserved not snooty, says Coolie co-star Rati Agnihotri
Rati Agnihotri and Amitabh Bachchan have done iconic films like Coolie, Kaante, Dev and a few others together.
Co-actor Rati Agnihotri shares fond memories of Amitabh Bachchan on the megastar’s 79th birthday from far off Poland where she’s set up a motley of restaurants. In the actor’s own words…
“For a 20-something, being signed opposite an iconic star like Amitabh Bachchan for Coolie (1983) was a feather in the cap. For the outdoor stretch, we were staying at the West End hotel in Bangalore. I did my make-up and reached the railway station where we were to shoot. I was both nervous and excited as it was to be my first shot with Amitji. The scene was about our first ‘takkar’ (encounter). I remember I was wearing a white dress. My character was that of a rich spoilt brat.
“Amitji was sitting languidly on a chair on the platform waiting for me. As I walked towards him, I had butterflies in my stomach. He got up respectfully, shook hands and introduced himself. His impeccable manners were like a breath of fresh air. He spoke warmly to me. After that it was a cakewalk with him.
“Dancing with him for the song Accident ho gaya... on top of the train, swinging from the banyan tree, it was all great fun. Despite his seniority, I felt I was with Sanju (Sanjay Dutt) or Bunty (Kumar Gaurav). Director Manmohan Desai, who himself was so easy-going and jovial, made it all the more enjoyable.
“Once, we were shooting a scene in what was supposed to be the coolie’s ‘flooded’ house. The set was created at Natraj Studio. Two old berths were placed in the ‘coolie’s’ room as beds. Accidently, a livewire fell into the water on the set that day. It was frightening. But in a fraction of a second, Amitji held me by my waist and threw me on the upper berth, while he jumped onto the lower one. He’s a real hero.
“I was not present during the schedule of the accident (on July 26, 1982, during a fight sequence with co-star Puneet Issar, Amitabh was accidentally punched in the gut resulting in a life-threatening abdominal injury). He was brought to Breach Candy Hospital from Bangalore. The collective prayers of the world made a miracle happen. I recall Jayaji (Bachchan) visiting the Siddhi Vinayak temple.
“Amitji resumed shooting after a few months. We began by doing patchwork at Chandivali Studio in Mumbai. He kept it normal even after such a major incident. Amitji has this quality of not letting anyone know what he’s been through. He doesn’t wallow and has a tremendous capacity to bounce back.
“Decades later, we were shooting for Govind Nihalani’s Dev (2004) in Kamalistan. It was the month of May and extremely hot. The set had no air-condition as we were shooting in sync sound. The scenes were heavy. But Amitji pulled them off with dedication, especially the monologue after he comes to know about his friend and co-police officer’s (Om Puri) transgression.
“Watching Amitji makes you want to perform better. So loaded is his performance that you have to kill it yourself. He sets the mood for you. I learnt a lot about dialogue delivery, how to hold your words, your scenes and emotions. The key lesson is that you don’t need to hurry up.
“As an actor, he doesn’t intimidate you. He never makes you feel any less. He will appreciate you and put forth a suggestion in a nice manner like, ‘Maybe, we can do it this way!’ It’s all for the betterment of the film. It’s not like ‘I need to perform better than you’. I have worked with actors, who want to steal the scene from you and go all out for it. But not so with Amitji. He’s so self-confident that he allows a co-actor to perform to his 500 per cent.
“As a person, he’s reserved, not snooty. He minds his own business. I also believe in minding my business. That’s why I was termed as ‘arrogant’ by the media. Jackie Shroff once remarked, ‘I thought you were akdoo’. But I had a schoolgirl approach on the set and just concentrated on my work. “Much to my delight, Amitji once said, ‘You’re a well brought up girl!’ My parents would always be around. My father (the late Roop Agnihotri) would fly down or drive for hours to spend the weekend with me if I was shooting outdoors. Amitji was a family-oriented person and appreciated that.
“Once, I had brought homemade paani puri for the unit of Dev. My staff took a special packet for Amitji to his van. Later, Amitji politely told me he couldn’t have it as he was particular about what he ate. Keeping his health in mind, he preferred simple food like moong ki daal and bhindi. He had stopped having chatpata stuff. He said, ‘I’ve been there and done that’.
“Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante (2002) was yet another memorable film. I played Amitji’s wife and a cancer victim. Though the film was a thriller, our interaction had a lot of tenderness. The song Yaar mangyasi featuring us is an emotional one. “The last time I met Amitji was perhaps at his 70th birthday celebration. It was organised at Film City. He stood at the entrance greeting each invitee along with his family members. Every guest was given personal attention.
“Even today, when I watch him host Kaun Banega Crorepati, I marvel at his grit and charisma. He’s so with the times. Age is no bar for him. He’s truly iconic. If a younger person could bless, then I’d like to bless him too. Health, health and more health… is what I wish for him.”
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