When Amitabh Bachchan Spent a Sleepless Night Worrying Whether His Photograph Would Appear on The Front Page of “Screen” or Not
Ali Peter John
These days no newspaper, magazine, TV Channel or any other social media cannot exist without having something or the other about Amitabh Bachchan and writers, reporters and even editors have to look for new ways of having Amitabh Bachchan as a part of their mediums. And a time has come when Amitabh tries his best to keep away from the huge crowd of the media. In fact, he and his security have an arrangement with all the venues, auditoriums and even five-star hotels to have a special corner from where he can enter without facing the paparazzi and also have a corner from where he can escape as soon as the main function is over.
This is another time in his life and there was another time in the good old days when he craved for attention in the media. There were people in the media who believed that nothing about him was worthy of being published and he was not saleable at all.
There was a time when he was facing a very grim situation in his career when he had a string of flops to his name and he was thinking of giving up the right, but one of his advisers asked him to get his photograph published on the front page of “Screen” which they told him was the only way left for him to catch the attention of filmmakers, who had this amazing belief that you were someone only if your photograph was seen in “Screen”, or at least a line written about you in the same paper or if the news of the film you were working in appeared on the front page or any other page of “Screen”.
A desparate Amitabh tried all the ways possible and even hired the services of the leading PRO Gopal Pandey who was working for all the big stars and films of the time, which included Jaya Bhaduri with whom Amitabh had done a few flop films but was supposed to be having an affair with her.
The PRO approached the Editor of “Screen”, Mr. S.S.Pillai who was a staunch Gandhian and came to office dressed in a lungi and knew very little about Hindi films or any other films, which was supposed to be a qualification to be the Editor of a film magazine according to the father and son team of Ramnath Goenka who was the founder of the Indian Express Group of Publications of which “Screen” was a small part.
Mr.Pillai promised the PRO that he would publish the photograph of the new hero “in one of the coming issues”, which was his way of saying no in a kind way, or was it the Gandhian way about which he kept talking more than about Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor or Dev Anand?
Amitabh kept expecting his photograph to be published every Friday when “Screen” came into the market, but several Fridays passed and there was no sign of his photograph even though there were photographs of other actors like Vijay Arora, Anil Dhawan, Rehana Sultan and others who had passed out of the FTII.
Amitabh then decided to make it a do or die effort and he kept calling Mr Pillai three or four times in a day. And on one particular Thursday, he broke all his own records and kept calling Mr Pillai and make all attempts to make him understand how important it was for him to appear on the front page. He was finally satisfied when he was told that his photograph was appearing the next morning. Amitabh was so thrilled that he didn’t sleep and drove to the Churchgate Station at three in the morning as he was told that all the papers of the Indian Express Group left for delivering in different parts of Bombay.
A truck of the Indian Express reached the Station and Amitabh is said to have rushed towards the truck like refugees rush to a truck carrying food.He grabbed a few copies of “Screen” and kept looking at his photograph as if he was seeing a dream
It was the beginning of a very long association between Amitabh and “Screen”.He had once banned the entire media, but “Screen” was an exception. There was an open war between the Indian Express which naturally included “Screen”, but the relationship between Amitabh and “Screen” remained as strong as ever. This writer was marked out by his own parent paper for meeting and even writing about Amitabh during the Bofors scandal, but I was only writing about his film career, but they were still against Amitabh being featured in any of their papers. They once wanted to sack me for writing too much about Amitabh,but somehow their efforts failed.
It was January 26 and the common workers of the Indian Express always celebrated this day as a special day of prayers and celebration s. I had met Amitabh the previous day and I asked him to give me a letter congratulating the workers and he said “Ali, I will come myself and congratulate them”. I felt entirely excited about the idea and the news about Amitabh coming to the Express Towers spread all over, but when the then Chairman of the Express Group Mr. Vivek Goenka heard about this, he said, it would be either Amitabh or him. The idea of Amitabh’s participation in the celebrations was scrapped and I was in a fix. The next morning, I walked to the nearest telephone booth to tell Amitabh about what had happened.He was relaxed and he requested me to relax too. He said, ” I knew this was going to happen, so let us forget all about it, because you know and I know we had the best intentions of the workers in mind when we planned all this.”
The war between Amitabh and the Express continued for a long time, but whenever the the Express needed him for a show or an awards night, they would ask me to invite him. He accepted my invite and kept the audience waiting as he had other plans clashing, but he would always make it, even if it was 2:30 in the morning and then stayed on till the early hours of the next morning.
He however showed me his best gesture when he was finally declared out of danger at the Beach Candy Hospital when he called me into his room and wrote out a personal letter thanking “Screen” and me for all the support he had received from us during his battle between life and death. The same Express Group took the letter written in his own hand as a privilege and asked the Editor of the time to carry the letter in a prominent way on the front page of “Screen”. He was the first star to feel sorry when “Screen” which he called “an institution” came to a shocking and sudden “death”.
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