Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who will be seen in a film themed on caste-based reservations, says he doesn’t believe in the caste system, has never faced any bias because of his caste and is proud that his father gave him a surname that doesn’t denote any such thing.
“If ever I have faced a rejection or a failure, it has been on the basis of my incapability to do something and never my caste,” Amitabh, 68, told IANS in an interview. “I think rejection because of incapability is right because if I’m not capable of doing a particular work, the other person has the right to disapprove of me or reject me. Like, I lost in politics because I was not capable, not because I was of a particular caste,” added Big B, who is a legend in the Hindi film industry with several hits like Sholay and Deewar.
In Aarakshan, directed by Prakash Jha and releasing Aug 12, Amitabh will be seen as the principal of a private educational institution. Themed on caste-based reservations in educational institutions, Aarakshan revolves around Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh), an idealistic principal, and his loyal disciple Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan).
Traditional Indian society is based on social hierarchy created by the caste system. But Amitabh said he never believed in the caste system because of his upbringing. “I never understood the caste system because I was born and brought up in a family and in an atmosphere that never ever preached caste or believed in it,” said Amitabh, eldest son of late Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Teji Bachchan.
I’m very proud of the fact that I was the originator of the Bachchan name, which is casteless
“I feel very proud because I am the first bearer of a name that was started by my father which has no cast reference at all. My father, perhaps, was the very first individual in the city of Allahabad to have undergone an inter-caste marriage in those times.
“He married a Sikh. He was a Kayasth from UP (Uttar Pradesh). When the question came about of my admission in school and the teachers asked what is the surname, my father said he didn’t want the surname to bear any kind of caste reflection and therefore his pen name became my surname.
“So I’m very proud of the fact that I was the originator of the Bachchan name, which is casteless, if surnames are an indication of any kind of caste,” he added.
Amitabh’s family boasts of secular credentials. While his father married a Sikh, he himself is married to a Bengali (Jaya Bachchan). His son (Abhishek Bachchan) is married to a Kannadiga (Aishwarya Rai) and his daughter (Shweta Nanda) has tied the knot with a Punjabi (Nikhil Nanda).
When asked what could be done to break the caste barriers and change the situation in the country , he said: “Many attempts have been made… everywhere I have gone, where we have discussed this, we haven’t really come across a solution. It is something that we have inherited. Our social structure has been developed in this manner. We have to live with it. But I hope something can be done.”
Speaking on the film Aarakshan, which also stars Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Prateik Babbar and Manoj Bajpai in pivotal roles, Amitabh said director Jha helped him understand the subject quite a bit.
“I wasn’t as conversant as perhaps Prakashji about the subject because I never paid attention to it and never thought about it because I don’t believe in it. When I met Prakashji and he talked about the film, I came to know various aspects which were very convincingly and adequately explained to me during the making of the film,” said Amitabh, who has so far featured in about 180 movies.