The changing face of Amitabh Bachchan
An appropriately dramatic beginning for this would be, ‘There was once an actor who embodied rebellion, middle-class anger and anguish in popular Hindi cinema.’ Amitabh Bachchan who made the unlawful, illegitimate rogue figure so attractive in the cinema of the 1970s has turned his face away from anything even remotely oblique.
Every actor has to change his on-screen persona as he gets along. Films in general, and Hindi cinema in particular can be very ageist and no one knows that better than actors who are idolised one day and forgotten the next. (Needless to say this is a much more visible problem with female actors, but that’s digressing from our story at the moment.)
Mr. Bachchan however has given a new meaning to this ‘peaceful growing old’ in the last few years. From the Angry Young Man to a submissive and increasingly right-wing presence – his shifts can cause mostly sadness and a great deal of worry given the unprecedented fan following he commands even today.
Here’s a brief look at some significant, telling events in his recent life. September 2008: In the wake of attacks by the Maharasthtra Navnirman Seva and their insistence on Mumbaikars speaking in Marathi, actress Jaya Bachchan said at an event, “People of Maharashtra, please excuse me. I am from Uttar Pradesh so I will speak in Hindi.” Highlighting their hooligan outlook, the MNS attacked her for what was referred to as her ‘anti-Marathi statements. As this was shortly before the release of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer The Last Lear and also Abhishek Bachchan’s Drona, the threat to the early revenue collection from the films’ ticket sales became very real.
Before Jaya Bachchan could get a chance to retract or stay her statement, Amitabh Bachchan stepped in and made a public apology. He said, “She (Jaya) was speaking at a film function and not on a political stage. It is in the past and need not be a matter of discussion now. Even if a single person is sentimentally hurt, we need to apologise and we express regret. What she (Jaya) said was done without any kind of malice.” Bachchan also took the opportunity to refer to Raj Thackeray (of the MNS) as his brother. (Click here for the full news report.)
Mr Bachchan’s brotherhood with the Hindu right has only gone from strength to strength. Almost all of his films are first screened for the likes of Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi, and it is no longer so that they can give the films a clean chit, because the films he does are no longer a threat to them in anyway.
Come January 2010, Bachchan takes his film Paa to Gandhinagar for a special screening for Chief Minister Narendra Modi. His awestruck comments on the blog are almost embarrassing. He says, “He (Modi) lives simply and with mere basic needs and most unlike the head of a state. He speaks with affection on development and progress. He is welcoming to fresh ideas and ideals. His oft repeated phrase of him being a CM, a common man, is not misunderstood. He does and acts as he speaks. He talks of raising the level of awareness for his state through tourism and I volunteer to participate in any activity that would help promote that.”
True to his word, February 2010, Amitabh Bachchan has accepted an offer by Modi to be the brand ambassador of Gujarat.
And things are only getting worse. One of his recent blogposts gathers the love and affection of the Thackerays once again. “Uddhav Thakeray calls. he has just come out of the theatre after ‘Rann’ and is not able to find appropriate words to describe his appreciation for the film and the performance. Minutes later Bala Saheb calls. ‘I want to see this film. Come and show it to me !’ ‘You have not been to see me for a long time !’ I assure him I shall arrange a projection in his house. I ask after his health. He is fine he says. He cannot travel out due to his frail condition, but the fire in him still burns. He is resolute and firm as ever and in that resoluteness you discover an endearing, that sudden soft moment, which has always made his presence so strong and affectionate. His sense of humor is in tact as he punches in some wise ones !!”
The fire? To do what one may ask, but then the results can be more than we bargain for. It is sad that this desperate attempt to look for goodness in the Sena chief at a time when he and his party are waging a thoroughly corrupt and undemocratic war against the cosmopolitan fabric of Mumbai by insisting on Marathi speaking and on the one hand, and on the other commanding all Muslim actors who have raised their voice against the exclusion of Pakistani cricket players from the IPL to ‘go back to Pakistan’. Endorsement from the country’s biggest star to such blatant communalism is upsetting to say the least. This is not the Amitabh Bachchan India admires.
The angry young man is not so angry anymore it seems.
PS. Don’t be surprised if you see this post or me being quoted by Big B as examples of how the media misconstrues everything and twists a good man’s image. When he doesn’t have answers, he resorts to media bashing. The media run after TRPs and do everything to keep the audience coming, he says. While that is true, he has done nothing radically different from that either by safeguarding his film releases by giving into the worst kind of political terror.