Bollywood stars get famous when they appear in a few hit films, but more often than not, commercials and brand partnerships help them sustain their fame. But this was not the case for yesteryear stars. Amitabh Bachchan, who can now be seen in ads for everything from baby apparel to hair oil, once admitted that he found doing commercials very “awkward.” In fact, he had decided to not do any commercials when he came to Mumbai to become an actor, even if that meant that he had to sleep on the road or make a living by driving a cab.
In a 1999 chat with Vir Sanghvi, shortly after his company ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd), plunged into massive debt, Bachchan shared that when he came to Mumbai, he was presented with the opportunity of appearing in ads that would have paid him Rs 10,000 and back in the 1960s, this was a massive sum. But he detested the very idea.
“There were opportunities then, too, when ad agencies approached me. I was offered Rs 10,000 for an ad, which was huge money since I was earning Rs 50 a month doing radio spots. But I felt doing an ad would take something away from me and I just resisted the temptation,” he said.
Bachchan said that he had come to Mumbai to become an actor and that was his sole focus. “I came to Bombay with a driving license, and that’s about it. It said if I don’t become an actor, I will drive a cab,” he said. “The whole intention was to act,” he added.
In fact, turning down Rs 10,000 was a big decision for Bachchan at the time as he had to spend a few nights sleeping on the benches of Marine Drive. “I didn’t have a place to stay. You know there is a limited amount of time you can spend with friends because you’re barging into their house. So I spent a couple of days on Marine Drive benches with some of the largest rats I have seen in my life,” he said.