Age has a strange way of treating actors – even legends. There are some senior actors you can order like a pizza. A phone call, a price agreed upon, and they arrive on your sets. In time. To deliver what is asked of them. They have made peace with the fact that times have changed; and they have not been able to keep pace.
But there is also that extremely rare breed of actors who typify the famed vintage-wine metaphor. Amitabh trenchantly belongs to that latter. The bestubbled actor has pulled of an amazing sleight of hand with stardom — he remains relevant at 70!
What is fascinating about the Bachchan story is that it has not always been smooth sailing – the septuagenarian has, over the years, triumphantly surmounted debilitating health problems, financial predicaments and professional setbacks. But he has always boomeranged back to prominence.
For 20 years after 1973 (the year of Zanjeer, Namak Haram and Abhiman), he was the unchallenged superstar.
Post Khuda Gawah (1992), he took a five year sabbatical, only to stumble back with two potboilers, Mrityudand (1997) and Lal Badshah (1999).
He was like a clone of his earlier mass entertaining self, latching onto younger heroines like Manisha Koirala to boost his in-need-of-refurbishing macho image. I remember thinking, with trepidation, that like most of his ilk, his legend had lapsed into the past tense.
But a year later, I found myself congratulating him for a double whammy. The new millennium marked a new beginning for Bachchan. Perhaps fortuitously, his failure propelled him to risk turning to TV – and he ended up a tele-visionary! His impeccable English and Hindi, spoken in his inimitable baritone made ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ a sensation.
Simultaneously, his performance as the grey-haired school principal with unbending principles in Mohabbatein proved he had reinvented his film career too. From the go-to-hero, he became the go-to character actor, still entitled to top billing.
Bachchan held his own against Shah Rukh and Hrithik Roshan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and was able to single-handedly power Baghbaan. In 2005, at 63, he enjoyed a remarkable year with Black, Sarkar, Waqt and Bunty Aur Babli! Best Actor awards continued to come his way.
In the youth-worshipping world of endorsements, whether it is to sell noodles, chocolates, or destination places … they just dial Amitabh Bachchan. On TV, his amiably avuncular stance continues to draw viewers in the sixth season of KBC.
The writer is the Editor, Bollywood News Service