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Being Amitabh Bachchan

Published Oct 09, 2012 01:40pm


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Amitabh Bachchan was never meant to be irrelevant. In spite of 13 straight flops before his breakthrough solo hit, Zanjeer (1973), the actor wasn’t written off or even relegated to inconsequential roles. It was only in the mid 1990s that the audience and Bachchan briefly lost each other. Following the release of Khuda Gawah (1993) the actor hit a midlife crisis of sorts and forfeited films for half a decade and his identity crisis upon his return with films like Mrityudaata (1997), Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (1998) Kohraam (1999), and Lal Baadshah (1999) didn’t help. But since the year 2000 or Mohabbatein (2000), and Kaun Banega Crorepati the significance of Amitabh Bachchan only increases with the passage of time.

There have been many long relationships that Hindi cinema has enjoyed but none fall in the same league as the one it shares with Bachchan. Lata Mangeshkar might have been around for longer and Dilip Kumar continues to be the thespian but it’s not the same when it comes to Bachchan. The only time this relationship suffered a pang of uncertainty was in the years following his self-inflicted exile. In 1992, Bachchan turned 50 and no one knew anything about the future. For two decades Bachchan was the hero but as the 1980s inched to an end, the one-man industry was running out of breath. The burden of being Shahenshah (1988), Toofan (1989), Jaadugar (1989), and Ajooba (1991) was perhaps a little too much to handle.

Most actors become successful, many become memorable, some become unforgettable and a few become legends … but there could only be one Amitabh Bachchan. There isn’t any other actor in the world that wins a Best Actor award the year after being awarded a lifetime achievement award. But with nothing left to prove he ended up becoming his own victim. Something had to be done and hence, he stopped for a while and grew a beard. Having seen a Marlon Brando fall to the unmentionable pits and resurrect himself in The Godfather (1972), people believed the beard was an indication of things to come.

The middle years are the worst and even Bachchan didn’t have an idea of how devastating they could be. He returned sans the beard and things got worse. By definition ‘return’ means getting back and Bachchan did what he was good at – playing a character that had made him what he was. At 55 he still wanted to be the angry young man. It wasn’t that his audience wouldn’t recognise him as anyone else; maybe Bachchan had forgotten being anyone else. For three years Bachchan believed in the likes of K.C. Bokadia and Mehul Kumar that he was the Mrityudata and Lal Baadshah but at 58 his mind, rather than his body gave up on him. If Mohabbatein gave him an opportunity to be a character and not an image, Kaun Banega Crorepati made him realise that acting one’s age is perhaps the most challenging role.

The Supporting Actor Filmfare for Mohabbatein might have been his third in the category but it was as important as the first one he got for Anand (1971). Somewhere the wheel started a familiar journey and since then he has done over 60 films.

Today, at 70 Bachchan is more visible across mediums and formats than he ever was. He does films, hosts’ television shows and endorses just about everything from yellow-pages websites to cement. Every now and then, he teases us with performances like Khakhee (2004) or Cheeni Kum (2007) to remind us of how it used to be but makes us endure a Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (2007) or The Last Lear (2007). When did Amitabh Bachchan go from being someone who could do everything to someone who wouldn’t stop at anything? It is sad to see an icon reduced to someone who is willing to sell the benefits of a house cleaning liquid and yet, we want him to engage us. What is it about Bachchan that makes us want more of him? There isn’t any simple answer to this besides that he is Amitabh Bachchan.

The last time when Bachchan failed us, he became irrelevant. There wasn’t anyone he could blame but himself. Now that we are over the middle years in our relationship it seems like it’d be senseless to expect a different reaction from Bachchan. So it’s the films that must engage him in a manner befitting his persona. How we would have loved to see a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film with the everyman avatar of Bachchan Ver. 2.0. But as that isn’t possible, one would gleefully settle for an Anurag Kashyap, a Dibakar Banerjee or a Vishal Bharadwaj experiment with Bachchan. For that matter, Bachchan in a Shyam Benegal or a Yash Chopra minus Shah Rukh Khan would do just fine. Is someone listening?

Amitabh Bachchan turns 70 on October 11.


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Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Gautam Chintamani loves to closely observe society when not being devoured by Bollywood, politics and everything in between. Commissioned by Harper Collins, Gautam is presently working on a biography of Rajesh Khanna due to come out later this year. He tweets @GChintamani.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (26) Closed

jd shami Oct 09, 2012 03:41pm
Mr. Malik: Do u have any thing better in liife than this indian actor.
Sarfraz Malik Oct 09, 2012 02:46pm
Amitabh is the finest actor and truly a legend of our times. He was magical 30 years ago and still is magical in Kaun Bane Ga Karor Pati and movies like Baghban, Ek Laviya , Black n many more. I wish and hope he lives for many more years and gives us a lot more of his magical work..
Zak Oct 09, 2012 05:06pm
He has become a caricature of himself. Charming on television yes but I cannot bear watching him on the big screen.
ravens Oct 09, 2012 04:39pm
love big b and his movies especially with amresh puri. there is nothing wrong with him being too conservative in his style but since it is showbiz he may want to change his hairstyle and do something new with facial hair. black wig and white goatee is boring.
FAPS Oct 10, 2012 11:08pm
Zak is simply stating his feelings. Why are you getting bothered.
AKS Oct 09, 2012 09:12pm
Amitabh Bachchan Is The Iron Man Of The Hindi Film Industry. He Has Got The Midas Touch And No Other Actor Can Compete Him
Raw is War Oct 09, 2012 03:09pm
great actor. He is the force behind India's polio eradication.
Kannan Oct 10, 2012 01:26am
Truly he is one actor who took Bollywood to the world fame and the rest completed the job. Truly a great leader who inspires Bollywood even now.
BEA Oct 10, 2012 04:18pm
i have never liked him after the Rekha saga a man who does not stand up for the woman he lovesw gets no respect he left her to face the music on her own.
gp65 Oct 09, 2012 01:59pm
Apart from the 2 movies you mentioned he had a couple more substantial roles e.g. Baghbaan, Black, Aarakshan
Ch.subba Rao Oct 09, 2012 05:36pm
Amitabh is the and will be the biggest super star of the masses,no body ever comes close to him
LOC1947 Oct 10, 2012 10:07am
who is asking u to watch ???go and watch ur high qualitiy tv serials and movies which has no existance at all.....grow up dude
Ajay Sharma Oct 09, 2012 08:58pm
Super Star of millenium...none other than Amitabh bachchan..
QB Oct 10, 2012 06:39am
Why not someone useful besides showbiz who have really impact the lives at large? Why only him? and only him?
observer Oct 10, 2012 02:52am
I don't like the way he thinks he is a big deal. He is an intelligent man but too much pomp around him.
Ashutosh(India) Oct 10, 2012 03:27am
Not sure how many of you will agree with me, but I would add 'Aks' (I liked most) and 'The last lire' in Bachchan's finest movies list.
Ali Oct 10, 2012 03:50am
dont forget Sarkar i still love him
ISI Oct 10, 2012 03:12am
best actor ever.....amazing
chakraborty Oct 10, 2012 12:47pm
Has Anyone seen " Saudagar" directed by Shubhendu Roy ? it was released in 1973 and I consider it as one of the best movies Big B has done. If you missed it, Please see it. You will be amazed. Amitabh Played a Gur Seller in Rural India
kkk Oct 09, 2012 08:56pm
we are tired of this old man
shaan Oct 09, 2012 08:56pm
best actor ever i`ve seen... wish him on his gtreat b day... love you sir.
saythetruth10 Oct 10, 2012 09:19pm
Waste of time what does Pakistan got to do with Amitabh Bachchan. Common Dawn their is so much going on in the world and Dawn is covering n Amitabh Bachchan ??? Dawn is started to look like a Indian newspaper.
Jaaf Oct 10, 2012 10:55am
Well, there are many works that made Amitabh the Legend of this Era, but I think PAA is the one film which makes him to this stature.
Harsha G Oct 09, 2012 07:30pm
Many thing shave been written about Big B in last 42 years of his career. But today I am going to write about this article. Simply Brilliant.
sunsurya Oct 10, 2012 01:43pm
Thanks DAWN for the article about the Legend. I pray my god for many more anniversary for Amitabh.
SAK Oct 09, 2012 08:57pm
To me, there is no greater film personality, no more charismatic than Amitabh. He is truly the best in the world. He is the whole package, a fluid actor who can deliver any type of acting in a natural and endearing manner. He is the best comedian, the best action hero, the best dramatic actor, and the best character actor. Dilip and Dharmindera may have been handsomer, Rajesh Khanna may be better looking, but Amitabh is heads and shoulders above all of them when looked at as a whole package. There is something about Amithabh that overshadows the other great actors. I am a die-hard fan of him!!!