The peren­nial man

The Asian Age - - Oped - Shiv Vis­vanathan

Amitabh tran­scends gen­er­a­tions. He re­fuses to be a pe­riod piece. In rein­vent­ing him­self, he shows the pro­tean pos­si­bil­i­ties of life, a sense that a good ac­tor can turn even the most medi­ocre of scripts to pos­sess a sense of the mag­i­cal.

be­cause of that. Sho­lay is I think the great­est B-grade movie ever made cre­at­ing the great stereo­types from Am­jad as vil­lain, to Bas­anti as the sheer ex­u­ber­ance of life. It im­i­tates a dozen movies but Amitabh shows that out of all the im­i­ta­tions, the ge­nius of Hindi cinema is that it can cre­ate an orig­i­nal out of a mil­lion copies.

Amitabh rein­vents him­self as a quiz­mas­ter in Kaun Banega Crorepati. He is em­pa­thetic, a good lis­tener, ev­ery­thing your school teacher should be and is not. In­for­ma­tion be­comes play­ful and the quiz a na­tional sport. In fact, it is with these shows that the ex­cite­ment for the in­for­ma­tion rev­o­lu­tion be­gins as Amitabh gives it a mys­tique, while Sam Pitroda and In­fosys give it en­ergy. In in­vent­ing Crorepati, Amitabh shows how one can make a tran­si­tion to mid­dle age. One does not slow down, one moves to a dif­fer­ent mi­lieu, speaks a dif­fer­ent script. He brings to tran­si­tions a con­vic­tion and con­fi­dence that makes me en­vi­ous. His dal­liance with Rekha is per­fectly timed turn­ing both into peren­nial icons, the ideal one can only hope to be. One can play down the re­la­tion­ship but at the cin­e­matic level, it added a touch of the inim­itably erotic that few things could match. Amitabh re­turns to do­mes­tic­ity but Rekha plays the inim­itable Garbo of In­dian film. She does not re­tire but just be­comes age­less. Film life seems more real than real life and I think that is the wis­dom of Bol­ly­wood. It al­lows for the world of ifs

and buts with­out which life would lack its verve of gos­sip. Also there is lit­tle that is judg­men­tal as Jaya Bachchan holds her own as a Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber, as a Guddi who grows up and life makes sense in its prom­ise of mul­ti­plic­ity.

But even scan­dal or the whiff of it per­ils into in­signif­i­cance as Amitabh be­comes the grand old man, per­pet­u­ally young at heart as he matches Tabu in Cheeni Kum and years later Deepika Padukone in Piku. He makes grow­ing old in In­dia a grand af­fair, a dif­fer­ent kind of pos­si­bil­ity giv­ing to life and old age a dif­fer­ent verve, a dif­fer­ent sense of mean­ing. In fact, he has a way of dom­i­nat­ing the stage. He senses the drama of his own iconic­ity. Even when Aish­warya and Ab­hishek Bachchan stand next to him, they sound like a sup­port­ing cast, wait­ing for his mem­o­rable lines.

Amitabh tran­scends gen­er­a­tions. He re­fuses to be a pe­riod piece. In rein­vent­ing him­self, he shows the pro­tean pos­si­bil­i­ties of life, a sense that a good ac­tor can turn even the most medi­ocre of scripts to pos­sess a sense of the mag­i­cal. I think he helped keep the myth of Bol­ly­wood alive, against the Shiv Sena, against the sense of per­pet­ual en­tropy that cinema ruth­lessly im­poses on its ac­tors. Be­ing and be­com­ing 75 is like say­ing there are more roles to play and like a glut­tonous fan one waits pa­tiently for the next act. For me, there must al­ways be a next act and that is the beauty and com­plic­ity of cinema.

The writer is pro­fes­sor, Jin­dal Global Law School and direc­tor, Centre for Study of Knowl­edge Sys­tems, O.P. Jin­dal Global Univer­sity

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