At 72 years of age Amitabh Bachchan is arguably still the most famous name in India's multi-billion dollar Hindi-language film industry.

When you sit inside a darkened hall to watch a film, you never question the caste, creed or religion of the person sitting next to you. Yet you see the same film, you laugh at the same jokes, you cry at the same sentiments, sing the same songs. I doubt there are many institutions left in the world which can boast of such integration.

Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood movie star

To his many devoted fans, "Big B," as he is known, is far more than just an actor – he is an Indian institution, a legend.

His fans mob him on the streets, wait outside his house each Sunday to see him, and when he was seriously ill they held vigils to pray for his recovery. A prolific user of social media, he has 13 million Twitter followers.

That popularity and fame has given him access to the country's leading politicians and decision makers.

He once counted the Gandhi family as close friends and briefly entered the world of politics in the 1980s. By his own admission, it was not a successful career move.

"I don't know politics, and I realised that after having won an election, I was not qualified. I had entered politics on an emotional note, and soon realised that emotions had nothing to do with politics," he told Al Jazeera.

But his work in film and television continues, as does his influence. Bachchan has made more than 180 movies during his 45-year career – his latest film, Shamitabh, was released in early February.

He is a passionate defender of Hindi-language cinema – known the world over as Bollywood – despite accusations that it is sexist, demeans women, and fails to deal with serious and political issues. 

"We do tackle many issues that are socially and morally concerning in India. Indeed all our films do. We always show that good will prevail over evil. We have a very vast and strong cultural identity; over 5,000 years of culture, and that is always depicted in our films," he said.

We discuss Bollywood past and present, religion, and Indian politics as Amitabh Bachchan talks to Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera