Bollywood idol Amitabh Bachchan tells Chris Evans why his days of singing and dancing are behind him as more challenging roles beckon.
'The Indian economy is opening up and as a result the country's culture, food, dress and industry are suddenly becoming very attractive. Investment is coming from all parts of the world and cinema is riding that wave.'
So says Amitabh Bachchan, a man with a commanding presence who stands nearly two metres tall and has enjoyed a 40 year-career in the Indian film industry. The star of more than 170 films has amassed an obsessive global fanbase thanks to his roles in traditional Bollywood melodramas such as Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer, the 1973 film that shot him to fame, and the global mega-hit Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham in 2001.
Beyond the sharp suit and striking demeanour is a sensitive and intelligent man who surveys the Indian film industry with the gleam of the future in his eye. 'People of my age have a tendency to reflect back,' he says.
'But I like to look forward at how the industry is progressing. The technology, techniques and presentation of Indian films has vastly improved since I started.'
Indeed, a new breed of Indian film-makers is embracing all the latest technological advances and the professional, efficient work ethic prevalent in the West, and tackling ever more challenging storylines to appeal to a universal audience.
'These film-makers are holding hands with producers in the West, learning their expertise, being influenced by them and then making their own product,' says Bachchan, who has just wrapped Rituparno Ghosh's English-language The Last Lear, about a fading Shakespearean actor in Calcutta, and is set to start work on Mira Nair's Shantaram, about an escaped Australian convict, in Bombay later this year.
'When you enter the film industry initially, you want to work in set ups which are going to be commercially successful,' says Bachchan, although he admits to feeling nervous when first dancing in front of thousands of people in the streets alongside some of the biggest names in Bollywood.
These days Bachchan is more comfortable out of the spotlight in smaller roles in more offbeat films where there is less pressure on him to carry the box office.
'I have no qualms about working on a film that may not necessarily be in the formatted commercial form,' he says. A good example of this is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black in which Bachchan played a teacher looking after a deaf, mute and blind English girl.
He is proud that such challenging films are gaining wider recognition. 'Whether it is an Iifa (International Indian Film Academy award) or Bafta (Rakesh Mehra's Rang De Basanti was nominated this year), it shows that other people are genuinely interested and want to give us dignity after the cynicism and ridicule our more traditional 'song and dance' films have received over the years from abroad.'