I was proud to be an Indian much before India was shining or US media was touting us as the next Asian tiger on the prowl. My tryst with pride happened much earlier, way back in early eighties, 1982 to be precise, when people were shivering in the chill of Cold War and the world according to George Orwell's novel 1984 wasn't any encouraging either.
To top it all everyone was sick and appalled by Israel's invasion of Lebnon to finish off Palestinian Liberation Organisation headed by charismatic Yasser Arafat. They were finally able to drive Arafat out of Beirut and while the world debated the right and the wrong of their action one small news item just stuck in my mind. It was a small story in a foreign publication with a small photograph stating that the foes (Israelis and Palestinians) had one thing in common --- love for Amitabh Bachhan.
While Israeli soldiers carried his photographs PLO hideouts were full of his posters and the photo showed the hardened Israeli solders touching those bullet-riddled posters with remorse in their eyes. In that moment my barely teenaged mind forgot the international conflict and the impending doom of the world and felt a surge of pride that I am from the land of Amitabh Bachhan.
As a kid growing up in seventies there wasn't much to be proud of and a lot to feel angry about. One man reflected the pent up anger of the people and he was our screen idol raised to the status of demigod or rather god. My life on this planet and Amitabh's screen life in Mumbai grew simultaneously and this strange connection was a source of great elation. When the screen idol met with an accident this idol worshipper thought the prophesy of impending doom had become a reality. When he survived we felt relieved that the doomsayers were proven wrong. Later we realized idol had survived but the magic was gone. Surprisingly the kid who wanted to be a don, or a dock worker or a Kuli wasn't interested in being a Mard or a Shahanshah and had no inclination of being Mahan either.
As years passed by the idol too started developing cracks, failure in politics, films and then in business coupled with white goatee with which he appeared on the cover of Sunday magazine all but proved that he was after all a human. Nervous nineties for most of us were just that - very very nervous. But for me it was time to turn my attention from Mumbai filmdom and concentrate on my work. I kept listening that the industry had a new king whom many dubbed as nothing more than a kink. He was the badshah but I had no interest.
Life slipped into 21st century easily and uneventfully. Years passed by and once again I came face to face with a news coverage about Amitabh Bachhan getting a rousing welcome in Morroco. Hollywood director Ridley Scott was also on the same flight and when he came out he was stunned to see the grand reception. He inquired about who the man was and got an emphatic reply, "He's emperor Bachhan." It rekindled my interest in the old warhorse that he had become. I saw his movies and found that in his second innings he had performed way better than when he was at the top.
To my surprise I wanted to be a restaurant owner romancing a much younger girl, a body guard and a teacher mentoring a deaf and dumb kid. Life came a full circle. He wasn't my god anymore but I wasn't indifferent or disdainful towards him either. He was just an ordinary human like you and me with all our frailties. However I had started respecting his extraordinary charisma, grace, poise, humility and of course his acting.
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