Amitabh Bachchan turned 75 on Wednesday. It is almost as if he has taken on a new role, promising some twist of surprise, some additional tadka to a life, meaty in its histrionics. For me, Amitabh is not a person, but a metaphor for a perennial man, who keeps on inventing himself in new and interesting ways. One can hear the baritone voice reciting Shakespeare’s seven ages of man with a gusto, a sense of joy, adding his own rhythm to the various interpretations of the text.
At one level I am surprised I like Amitabh. He is not a dissenter, an eccentric and a man quirky in his interpretations. He seems absolutely mainstream and yet Amitabh interests me in a way few actors do. I think it is the way he combines life and script to creating a fascinating persona, a hoarding larger than life that intrigues me. Controversy haunts him but he does not look for controversy. He seems to have defined life in his own terms and that is something even Raj Thackeray understands and accepts. He seems iconic of an Indian way of life; a way one wants a larger than life persona to be.
The problem with stardom is that it often goes stale quickly. The fan that glorifies you looks on in indifference as you age or put on a few pounds. A wrinkle seems like a death sentence. Yet actors age quickly and the muscularity one associates with them fades. All our great Khans — Shah Rukh, Aamir and even the perpetually adolescent Big Boss, seem to feel the effect of age, desperate to reinvent themselves. In fact, only one man can challenge Amitabh, and that is Rajinikanth. Rajini can invent himself, and even offer a new prospect of politics to keep his hungry fans happy. Amitabh makes no such effort or promise of politics. In fact, he is inept at it, happier to make friends with those in power rather than challenge it.
It is just that his life has a sense of a ritual cycle, a dramatic sense of rhythms as he invents himself over the decade. As an angry young man, he was immaculate and he gave to violence a dramatic intensity, a legitimation it has not had since then. The logic was simple and the anticipation complete. In a Bachchan movie, the good cop, the good father disappeared before the interval, inept before the power of evil or villainy. Amitabh explodes after the interval eliminating the villain. Yet there was a bittersweet taste to it, specially in Sholay which I saw 16 times. He dies to save his friend Veeru and the bitter-sweet poignancy of Sholay survives