A couple of days back I got a call from one of my colleagues from Delhi. “We need a piece on Amitabh Bachchan on his birthday,” she orders. “Again!” I start wondering. Now, what am I going to write when journalists all over the country and abroad too have explored every angle vis-à-vis the Star of the Millennium. But I can’t really afford to say no to her.
I have committed, but what am I going to focus on? And then I see a poster of Bachchan on the walls of my cousin’s room. It was from the film Ek Ajnabee, where he played bodyguard to the child of a millionaire. In a total commercial film where he has some dhishum dhishum, he simply rocked.
The film may not have worked at the box office, but if it is watchable it is only because of him. Then I remember some of the films he has done over the last four-five years — Black, Sarkar, Baghban, Virrudh, Cheeni Kum, Nishabd, Dev, Khakee and the forthcoming The Last Lear. Isn’t he getting much métier roles than ever? Doesn’t Amitabh Bachchan work because he has this adaptability factor when all his contemporaries are hardly seen on screen?
In my view and this is not just as a film journalist, but as his die-hard fan, what he did when he was at his peak (in the ‘70s) has less substance than what he is doing now. In other words, he is taking much more risks now than before? In fact, he himself agrees when I asked him why he was taking the challenge of playing Gabbar Singh (Babban was his name in the remade version) in Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (the remake of Sholay).
“Life is a risk every day. If Gabbar Singh is a risk, so be it. For me it is a terrific exercise as an actor, a challenge for whatever creativity I possess. Actors need to be tested. When I am in the mould of a character actor, playing Gabbar is another challenge. Also, I do not have much of a career in any case, so let me enjoy what I am doing,” was his exact quote.
And time and again he has underscored the fact that he is taking up new challenges and the result is the series of meatier roles he has got to do in the films mentioned above. Not that his Abhimaan or Deewaar or Trishul was any bad, but somewhere down the line I find a Nishabd or a Black much more métier.
At times I wonder if some of his landmark films like a Don or an Amar Akbar Anthony or a Pukaar or even a Kasme Vaade would have worked now, especially at a time when the audience has become so unpredictable. The fact that the ’70s formula doesn’t work is vindicated by the fact that Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag didn’t work.
Even his star status couldn’t make the film work and he had to face criticism for this. The films that he did at his peak may be good in keeping with time (those were the days of full-fledged masala cinema) and he played to the gallery, but now he has probably realized that time is changing . Even filmmakers like Prakash Mehra or Manmohan Desai played on his image that worked tremendously, but let me tell you a Naseeb or a Coolie shouldn’t go down in his repertoire as two of his greatest movies. The fact that he did films like Shahenshah, Toofan, Jaadugar and others and that they did not work was a signal that he got.
Agrees filmmaker Mohit Suri, “I think he is now playing roles that give him much more scope to show his skills as an actor rather than a star. Earlier on he was playing the role of a star.” Vipul Shah who has directed him in Aankhen and Waqt The Race Against Time agrees too, “Yes, he is playing much more meatier roles than ever. And the reason behind is that he is constantly reinventing himself as an actor and as a result directors can also taking a chance with him.”
This is what stands him apart vis-à-vis his contemporaries like Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra and others. While they are still trying to make a comeback (some do not have any plan though), roles are written keeping Bachchan in mind. On one hand he does the Kajra re number with Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, on the other hand he plays a stage actor in Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear. Again he is in love with his daughter’s friend in Nishabd and plays a father looking for justice for his son in Virrudh.
The face of cinema is changing and with more and more new directors coming up with newer vision, Big B fits into their scheme of things. Says young filmmaker Onir, “He is open to working with new directors and thus getting the scope to play métier roles.”
Adaptability is something that is his forte and that has actually endeared him to the new generation. Ask his directors who have worked with him and you get the answer. “He exudes tremendous energy on the sets,” is what they have to say.
The perfect balance is what Bachchan is focusing on now. And that is exactly what is keeping him going. Forget his star status, forget what he is — the fact that he dares to take challenges at this age (over 60) is what makes Amitabh Bachchan special. And let me reiterate — I would remember him for Black, Sarkar, Nishabd and of course The Last Lear (once it releases) and not for a Kaalia or Nastik or even Sharaabi or even a Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. Yes, you had an Agneepath but that was at a time when he was making a comeback and not when he was at his peak. Happy birthday Sir!