For any struggling filmmaker, getting a chance to work with a superstar is like a dream come true. The presence of the star can help him tremendously in his/her career as the bigger the star, the more number of people are likely to watch the film. In the second half of the 70s, Vidhu Vinod Chopra got one such opportunity, when none other than mega star Amitabh Bachchan had given his nod to work in his next. However, there came a point when the veteran filmmaker had to decline to work with him. He narrates this interesting tale in the book ‘Unscripted’, written by Abhijat Joshi.
This was a time when Vidhu Vinod Chopra had completed his filmmaking education from the Film and Television Institute (FTII) of India, in 1977. His film Murder At Monkey Hill had won the National Award and his documentary short, An Encounter With Faces (produced by Films Division) was complete and was loved by those who got a chance to see it.
At this point, Vidhu Vinod Chopra came to Mumbai and had the wish to work with Amitabh Bachchan. He met filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee, whom he knew as he had taken his interview at FTII, and impressed him by showing Murder At Monkey Hill. In return, Hrishikesh Mukherjee agreed to introduce him to Amitabh, who incidentally was working with the former for his film Alaap (1977).
Vidhu was asked to come the next day to meet Big B at Mohan Studio in Andheri East. Natraj Studio is located just a few minutes from here where Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s half-brother, acclaimed filmmaker Ramanand Sagar’s office was located. Through his influence, Vidhu booked the preview theatre at Natraj studio from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The idea was that he’ll convince Amitabh Bachchan to watch his film here.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra then reached Mohan Studio and after an endless wait, he managed to meet Amitabh Bachchan. He immediately told him that he’d like him to see his 20-minutes-long short film at the studio next door and that he had booked the theatre till 6:00 PM for him. Big B, of course, was taken aback but he assured Vidhu that he’ll watch the film.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra then had to wait for the shoot to get over. However, in the evening, there was drama on the sets as Hrishikesh Mukherjee shouted at Rekha and the actress walked off. Vidhu feared that his chance was gone and that he’ll have to show Amitabh Bachchan his film some other day.
As luck would have it, just before 6:00 PM, Amitabh Bachchan tapped on Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s shoulder and told him, “Let’s go”! He also asked Vidhu if he could bring along Rekha. The filmmaker, obviously, obliged. The trio sat in the van to reach Natraj Studio. Vidhu was fascinated with the van and also used its washroom. Vidhu calls it ‘the high point of my life’!
Finally they reached Natraj Studio on time and immediately, the screening of Murder At Monkey Hill commenced. Rekha loved the split-screen effect at the beginning and asked Vidhu how he managed. Vidhu feared that if he answers her question, it’ll disturb Amitabh. Hence, he requested her that he’ll discuss it after the film ends!
— Moses Sapir (@MosesSapir) April 10, 2015
The film got over and as soon as Amitabh Bachchan came out, he asked Vidhu Vinod Chopra, “So when do we work together?” Vidhu, obviously, was on cloud nine.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra immediately began work on the film, which was titled Prashant. However, Vidhu Vinod Chopra then met Mr V S Shastri, the director general of Mumbai Doordarshan. He, too, got impressed with Murder At Monkey Hill and offered him to make short films for Doordarshan. The best part was Vidhu was given a free hand to make whatever he wanted and that he would not need anyone’s approval.
This offer was too good to be true for Vidhu Vinod Chopra. He met Amitabh Bachchan and politely told him that he won’t be able to work with him. He explained that he can do any film he wants with Doordarshan. Amitabh told him that he can do the same with him as well. At this, Vidhu replied that it won’t be possible as “if you and I have a difference of opinion, your opinion will matter, not mine. I am nobody.”
Amitabh Bachchan understood his point but Vidhu Vinod Chopra mentions in the book that deep down, the mega star was angry. He also wondered that Vidhu Vinod Chopra is crazy since this was a time when Amitabh was at the peak of his career and filmmakers were ready to go to any lengths to work with him. And here’s a director who is getting a chance to direct the ‘mahanayak’ but refuses due to his desire to be a free spirit.
Almost 29-30 years later, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Amitabh Bachchan finally worked together in the thriller drama, Eklavya (2007). In between, despite the aforementioned episode, both the talented personalities kept in touch and were very friendly to each other.