Di­vid­ing Lines

The Asian Age - - Oped -

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

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