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As Big B goes on getting bigger

  By Vijay Darda | 09-02-2015

Bollywood films are always larger than life and their influence on our life is also in the same proportion. Indeed, these films have an extraordinary presence in our daily lives that goes beyond much their screen life. For instance, lines from film songs are remembered spontaneously to describe current situations. The latest incident in public life being union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s use of the line “Manjhi jab naw duboye use kaun bachaye” from the famous Rajesh Khanna Amar Prem song Chingari koi bhadke to sawan use bujhaye” to comment on the happenings in the Janata Dal(U) in Bihar where the chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is engaged in a public battle with his one-time mentor and former chief minister Nitish Kumar. To measure the long lasting influence of films, you have to remember that Amar Prem is a 1972 film (43 years old) and sadly both the man who sang the song – Kishore Kumar as well the superstar who enacted it on the screen Rajesh Khanna, are no more. Likewise, Rahul Dev Burman (lovingly remembered as Pancham by his fans), the music director who composed the song and the poet who crafted these memorable words – Anand Bakshi, are no more with us. The more significant thing about this interweaving things of Bollywood in our daily lives is that episodes like Jaitley remembering the song are a regular occurrence even in the confines of our private and family lives. It would be no exaggeration to assert that they are an inseparable part of our conversations.

It is in this Bollywood landscape that the legend of Amitabh Bachchan – Big B as he is endearingly referred to – keeps getting bigger with every new movie or creative contribution from him in any of his chosen fields of activity. The latest film Shamitabh – that hit the screens this week is further proof that the Big-B’s charm and pull on the millions of moviegoers remains intact. He has been at it since 1969, and through various ups and downs it is now nearly 45 years that he has dominated the world of entertainment. There is indeed a remarkable coincidence about Shamitabh – where he uses his voice for a young actor who is mute – and his first film the legendary Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome in which he was also the voice narrator. So, it is his baritone that rules the day. Indeed, another maestro of the film-making craft Satyajit Ray also used him as a narrator for his Hindi film – Shatranj ke khiladi.”

His filmy career has many facets. There is no doubt that each of these would be explored and studied in terms of their dimensions and complexities over years. But then the most impressive part of the package that comes to life as Amitabh Bachchan in real life is the man. Few sons have done their parents proud in the manner as Big B. His devotion to ‘Babuji” as he keeps referring to his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan, an eminently popular poet and his mother Teji herself a famous presence in the theatre arena, is something that would be a role model for modern day professionals who cite their busy schedules as an alibi for shunning their responsibilities towards their parents. It is well-known that he would fly from foreign lands to be back with his parents for the weekends, and then resume his engagements with the same vigour the next week. The way in which he recites his father’s poems lends them a special life, so whether it is Agneepath or Madhushala, Babuji’s verse in Amitabh’s voice have an electrifying effect on the listener.

He has been through some extremely testing times in life. There have been crisis related to his health, finances, and public life. Any lesser mortal would have collapsed under the burden of any of these. He has come out with his head held high through the cumulative combination of all these. Moreover, not all of his films have been successful. He has faced failures as well. But then he has been a thoroughly disciplined professional. There is an anecdote about him shooting in the Chennai heat on a film set. He sat immersed in the script imbibing the details of the character whereas another co-actor, a big name, but not bigger than Big B, threw tantrums and refused to shoot as the ‘conditions were oppressive.” Only when the co-actor was leaving the set in a huff that he saw Big B in a corner. ”Don’t you find the heat unbearable here,” asked the co-actor, and matter of factly Big B replied: ”I didn’t notice it, I was reading the script.” The co-actor got the message and the shooting resumed.

If professionalism in films has seen him through the ups and downs, then it is the equanimity of character that has seen him survive all the other challenges. He does not change his attitude towards people depending on the highs and lows in his life. For us at Lokmat and for me personally, he has retained the same warmth and affection through these years. Even any chance encounter with him is always a pleasure and lesson in excellent inter-personal behaviour as evidenced in a three-way chat we had recently. This happened in the presence of two other celebrity film personalities – the BJP leader and MP Shatrughan Sinha and the durable Rajnikanth. As the small talk veered towards politics, Big B was the first to opt out with a disclaimer: ”This is one thing about which I am the most ill-suited person to talk about.” Then there was the quip from Rajni Sir: “I am yet to learn about it” and this clearly left the stage for the Shotgun. We all had a hearty laugh.

Very few people actually live up to their name but then Big B has lived up to both the elements of his Amitabh – the light that will never die and Bachchan – childlike, and this makes him adapt almost effortlessly to the 21st century tools like twitter and selfies. His tweet 1763 (yes he numbers them all) is quite instructive in this respect – Sometimes you have to forget what is gone, appreciate what still remains and look forward to what’s coming next…

When it comes to actors and acting there are many schools of thought about techniques and traits that make for great performances. However, there is a near unanimity about one aspect. All great actors are in touch with their spirit, as if there is something coiled inside them waiting to break out. It is when the mixture of their instinct and technique strikes the right balance they explode on the screen. They deliver performances that are memorable. As Big B says in Shamitabh: “To get you high, a bottle of whiskey doesn’t need water, but water does need whiskey. Even if a whiskey bottle is 43% whiskey and 57% water”. In Big B the whiskey is the instinct, and it keeps getting better.

Before I conclude…

The voting for the Delhi state assembly is over, and the exit polls are showing the resurgence of the Aam Aadmi Party. This could open up a new phase in the electoral democracy of our country. We have situation where a less than two-year-old party has challenged two national parties and if as the exit polls indicate finally manages to upstage both of them, then the test governance would arrive and there would no escape route this time. People have had enough of words, and now is the time for deeds.


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As Big B goes on getting bigger


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