Ralph Fiennes calls on Amitabh, raves about 'Eklavya'

Feb 2, 2007 Subhash K. Jha

Mumbai, Feb 2 (IANS) Two of the world's greatest actors met up last week and left a lasting impression on each other. "The English Patient" star Ralph Fiennes visited Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan at his residence Jalsa in Mumbai.

"I got a call from Vidhu Vinod Chopra. He said he was with Fiennes, who had just seen 'Eklavya' and wanted to drop by. I was about to fly off to Delhi. Fiennes came across and we spoke. Yes, he was appreciative of my performance," Amitabh told IANS.

"He's an astonishing actor. Ralph has a lot of admirers. Abhishek called from Bikaner to grumble why I hadn't told him about Fiennes. Jaya is also a big fan, but she was unwell and couldn't meet him. She sent him her regards. Ralph is bringing a play 'Oedipus' to India. We spoke about theatre in India."

Fiennes, who is a UNICEF ambassador, was on a five-day trip to rural Maharastra investigating the impact of HIV and AIDS.

Asked if he was tempted to do theatre, the Big B laughed and said: "I'm not qualified. Being an actor isn't enough. You have to be conversant with the language of theatre. It's a frightening thought to return to stage."

The function to receive the Legion d'Honneur last Saturday has left Amitabh with an afterglow.

"It was lovely to have my entire family there for this moment... Jaya, Abhishek, Shweta, her husband, my grandchildren, my samdhis Rajan and Ritu Nanda, Aishwarya and her parents. I feel privileged to be able to receive this kind of recognition in front of my entire family.

"More than for myself, I was filled with pride for our film industry. I feel it's more an honour for our cinema and country."

He described it as a truly humbling experience.

"First the film 'March Of The Penguins', in which I've done the voiceover, was shown in the outdoors. Then in another section of the embassy I was given the Legion award. French Ambassador Dominique Girard gave a very moving speech on me. Then the medal was brought and pinned to my coat."

It coincided with Amar Singh's birthday, and the entire family was in a temple in Uttar Pradesh's Vindyachal town in the morning.

"We've been there several times. Earlier, we had taken Amar Singhji's two daughters for their head shaving ceremony. This year he wanted to celebrate his birthday differently. Instead of a party, he wanted to marry off 51 economically challenged couples at the temple."

Amitabh said the idea to help the needy and underprivileged instead of splurging money on a party appealed to him.

"Why not use the money to help those who really need it? It was so heartening to see these couples being not only married off but also given the provisions to set up a home. These couples were short-listed from hundreds. Some of them were physically challenged. I felt truly happy for Amar Singhji."

He dismissed renewed speculation on Abhishek-Aishwarya's marriage at Vindaychal: "There were 51 marriage there but not this one. When a date is decided, we'll inform everyone.

Referring to the media, the star said the media has the right to information. "And they're free to speculate as much as they like. But the speculation needn't reflect the truth. As a public figure I'm prone to be scrutinised. If we go to a public place we've no right to stop the speculation."

Reminded that including Aishwarya and her parents in public functions would further fuel speculation, he said: "I don't look at it that way. They're part of my family now and I want them to be at events in my life."

The shooting for Ram Gopal Varma's much talked about film "Sholay" is almost over.

"We just have the 'Mehbooba' song to do, and we're done. It's been an exciting experience to see Varma's interpretation of Gabbar Singh. Obviously, it isn't the same film as the earlier 'Sholay'. We had decided not to worry about what has been made in the past, and just enjoy ourselves. We did just that. We've innovated and I had fun."

Amitabh was dismissive about Vidhu Vinod Chopra's observation that his performance in "Eklavya" was his career's best. "I think he's just being generous. I don't agree with him. I'm incapable of evaluating my performance. But it was heartening to see Fiennes speaking so highly about one of our films. What's really gratifying is that the West is waking up to our cinema."

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