Monday, December 12, 2005

To be Big B

Mere paas aao mere doston, ek kissa sunao.

Oh Big B….a billion rupee Bollywood industry has been rendered paralyzed and an entire nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo hoo hoo. What you eat, when you pee, what you see, what you don’t see, the tweety bird flannel pajamas that you wear all make front page news in the main stream media. In homes across India the religious light lamps, chant shlokas and offer manat’s for their hero, who is lying in a hospital bed in Bombay. Yes, Amitabh Bachchan has captivated the attention of the nation once more with his health being circumspect. No public figure has received such adulation in recent memory. Farcical pictures have popped up all over the web of Bachchan look alikes performing elaborate puja , houses adorn with portrait of their hero next to the gods, artistes sculpting idols of India’s demi-god , and hospital break-in’s by cub reporters. All making up for immensely juicy tabloid stories.

What’s all this fanfare about Amitabh, you wonder?

My buddies, Anshul and Karan may deny this vehemently with me and Pratibha may stop talking to me altogether for stating this, but in my opinion, the angry old man is clearly past his prime. In fact he’s been past his prime for the past two decades now. Also his political alliances are really circumspect and the choice of ads and films that he acts in is questionable, at best.

After 1985, I cannot think of may notable movies from the superstar. By notable movies, I mean the Bachchanesque performance that we have come to know and love in the 70’s and the 80’s. Of late, maybe because of the vagaries in public taste and market demands, he tends to be loud, hammy and buffoonish in many of his recent movies. Buntu/Babli, Veer Zarra, Kaanta, Black, Kyun! Ho Gaya Na (Groan) are a few where Bachchan’s performances are best forgotten. Agneepath, where he won the national award, was highly over-rated. Khakee and Sarkaar were the only exceptions, with semblance of semi-decent performances.

Whatever happened to the mellow, simmering, subdued and smouldring Bachchan from Zanjeer, Sholay and Anand? His last decent gig was ‘Shakti’, IMHO, where he was pitted against the superstar of the 50’s, Dilip Kumar, who also was terrific, playing Bachchan’s morally upright and emotionally distant father. A poignant scene in the movie was when father and son cry over the death of Rakhee, the common denominator in the lives of both men, with otherwise vastly different outlook on life.

Amitabhs earliest movies, were where he wasn’t afraid to experiment defined him as the ‘angry young man’ that he came to be known and loved as. Movies like Parwana (one of the best and original murder mysteries ever), Bansi Birju and one of my personal favorites Saudagar.

In Saudagar, Bachchan stars opposite Nutan, as a jaggery selling vendor, where he secretely pines for Padma Khanna, but marries Nutan just to collect enough dowry money by making her slog to make jaggery, so that he can marry Padma Khanna. It was a mercenary kind of detached performance by Bachchan, the kinds of which, sadly, he didn’t get many more to enact, because of the iconic stereotype that was branded into.

Deewar saw Bachchan was at the peak of his prowess as an artiste, where he plays Vijay, a smuggler, with a chip on his shoulder (‘Main aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahi uthata’). Vijay, after establishing himself as a top-notch smuggler, in one scene, stares outside the window of a high rise at the footpath below when Parveen Babi, his lover, asks him ‘Kya dekh rahe ho Vijay?’. Vijay replies, and I paraphrase from befuddled memory, ‘Dekh raha hoon ek Ma, uske do chote chote bache, is foothpath pe thokrey khaa rahe hai….’ and something along the lines of his childhood struggles. But the voice and the pathos, the hurt in that voice when he delivers that dialog is unforgettable. Besides the now famous ‘Mere paas maa ki daal hai’ scene, there is another scene in the movie where he laments the fact that he can’t go visit his mother at the hospital. Vintage Big B.

In fact Yash Chopra has been one of the few directors who has exacted consistent performances from the Big B. Kaala Pathar (remember that ‘Why don’t you try to understand, doctor? line), Kabhie Kabhie, Deewar, Silsila, Trishul, all performances bordering on the subdued to the superlative.

And so did director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, exact memorable performabce i.e., with fantastic movies like Mili (give me an alcoholic, caustic Amitabh any day over Jaya’s goody two shoes, irritating Mili) , Namak Haram, Abhimaan, Anand and the rip-roaring, evergreen ‘Chupke Chupke’. Some of his best films, to-date.

Thankfully Manmohan Desai is dead, else I truly don’t know how many more nonsensical movies we’d have to sit thru where asses, dogs or parakeets drum the “dhol” and light lamps/candles in temples, masjids, churchs or gurudwaaras while a blind, amnesic, constipated mother Nirupa Roy regains her senses to clasp her long lost son in an ‘Oh, that doesn’t quite look right kind of’ embrace. Ewww, where’s that enema, doc?

But seriously, Amar Akbar Anthony (AAA), Naseeb, Parvarish, and Coolie were cult classics in their own rights. After the release of AAA, I vividly remember hordes of youth roaming the bylanes of Bombay with hair parted in the center, long long sideburns and multi-colored banians. On cue, they would break out to ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves….In hostels all across India lines like ‘Tereko kitne baar bola ke daaru maat pee’ and ‘Daarau peene se liver khaarab hota hai’ must have been mouthed millions of times by inebiretaed Bachchan wannabe’s.

Thanks to the long legged one, millions of middle aged, graying Bachchan devotees have their coif parted in the center. Some, to this day, still wear the colored banians!!!

And suit vests were in after ‘Don’, shiny, brazen, loud vests, with stars on them. As a teenager growing up, inspired by Bachchan bell-bottoms, I remember fighting with the tailor to sew the trouser bottoms at 42”. His response “would you like to have your pants stiched or a ghagra?”. Such was the Bachchan mania.

The death of the full-time comedienne side-kick can be attributed to the impeccable comedy timings of the Big B. Who can ever forget the famous mirror schitk from AAA, the one-liners in ‘Sholay’, the facial expressions in ‘Chupke Chupke’ and a host of movies where he’s played the buffoon.

It will now be apt for Bachchan to ride off into the sunset, when there is still a shred of regard for his past performances, instead of overstaying his welcome and reducing his legacy to the two-bit parts that he now is reduced to playing and let the likes of non-actors like Shah Rukh Khan’s or John Abraham’s steal the spotlight from him. For Amitabh Bachchan, the audience is standing in awe, the applause is deafening, the accolades are raining, and the curtain is falling.

Please, take a bow Mr. Amitabh Bachchan , its time to exit the stage.


Blogger Sunil said...

Nostalgic moments are always viewed through sepia tinted lenses......but i don't think his movies then were that much "better" than they are now. He's changed....he can't be an angry young man....he's sixty something....and old men when angry aren't fun....they're just grumpy old men.

So it's unfair to expect him to do stuff similar to roles enacted 25 years ago.

But he can select better roles, and doesn't need to be in every movie.

He did have a few good recent moments. Sarkar, Khakee, perhaps Black (though i didn't like it all that much), then this recent John Abraham movie (i forget the name) where he was excellent as the dad..........he's far from over. He's just different, that's all.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Anshul said...

Appreciate all the hard work you have put into your blog...a well researched write-up!

But as you were expecting, here are my two cents to your blog...
-If AB is treated like a phenomenon, it is we who have given him this stature and the entire country likes it this way.
-I agree with Sunil that he has moved to the character roles in the last 5-7 years and he has shown his worth. I'm pleased to see that the classes and the masses have accepted him that way. One of the example is BLACK wherein he has completely changed his personality and shown his mettle.
-Moreover, the amount of aura and power he carries is commendable and that does not come only while acting in Bollywood.
-Finally, the very reason that you have written this blog itself speaks for itself - that you are in awe of Big B.

Keep writing my friend!

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you...

1:03 PM  
Blogger chappan said...

Sunil, Anshul, Divya
Thanks for stopping by.

Sunil, yes he has changed, a lot, in his acting delivery. And hence the blog. Everything about Amitabhs acting is so loud now, the subtlety that he was so famous for is now gone. His angry young man persona came more from the smouldering looks than from Dharmendr like flaring nostrils, 'kutte-kameene', bash up the baddies demeanor.

And thats my problem with recent Amitabh movies.

Anshul, AB is someone I admire, but not in awe of. As I mentioned previously, he used to be a great actor. But not anymore. In Black, IMHO, he overacted.

And yes, we have accorded him all the hype and the accolades, which certainly is well deserving, though sometimes,a bit overboard.

All said and done, he will remain a collosal superstar, the likes of which will be rare to see. Compare his capabilities to SRK, and you'll know what I mean.

Divya - Thanks.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whichever idiot has written the above article. Its "mere paas maa hain" scene in Dewwar not aman ki daal.

10:23 PM  

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