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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.

23 comments

1 Kishore Budha { 02.03.10 at 9:49 am }

Well done Kuhu. That was much needed.

2 Rakesh { 02.03.10 at 11:47 am }

The article NAILED it! Amitabh’s pseudo-intellectualism gets on my nerves so much. This piece nicely showed, through this recent right-wing activity, how much of a sellout he actually is. There are so many other instances as well. He always wears horn-rimmed glasses these days so that he can appear to be a statesman. Writes lofty words in his blogs/articles with *zero* substance. He has never taken a strong stand against anyone or anything. So frigging selfish. Prominently displays some of his father’s poems just for good measure. Claims to represent the voice of India in all manners of events held abroad – god save our country’s image! Didn’t some foolish newspaper make him an editor-of-the-day too? Oh my. That must have jacked his ego up to the moon. And does he make use of the opportunity at all? Nope, I am sure he just slipped in references to some of his latest films/hair oil ads/whatever he wants to promote, did some lip service to ‘Our Glorious Nation’ (imagine it in his baritone, done-to-death-now voice) and goes back to his skulduggery. How does he still have so many fans?! God save us.

Felt so strongly about it that I made a blog out of the comment now!

http://ahfresh.blogspot.com/2010/02/amit-ji.html

3 Ramesh { 02.03.10 at 4:02 pm }

I am probably going to get attacked as a right winger or a hindu or a fundamentalist, but I find that this article is an example of how colonial associations bring familiar old labels to indian politics like a relapsed cancer.

Would it help if I pointed out, in criticism that the author of this piece is muslim? or that the fear of a hindu rightwing comes mainly from the muslim minority that feeds paranoia of an already fearful indian secular population? It needs pointing out that in many neighboring countries to india(and I am NOT talking about pakistan,) Indonesia, Malaysia, Afganistan Bangladesh and Afganistan, the radicalization has been ISLAMIC radicalization, the rightwing is FIRMLY islamic.

(have I been called a fundamentalist hindu yet?).

Thus, associating Mr Bacchan with the favorite bugaboos of the muslim right in India(from the hindu right), such as Narendra Modi and Raj thakersay is not only lazy tendentious journalism, it is also borderline sinister, specially considering Mr Bacchan has ALSO, hitherto been associated with the lower caste(and decidedly ANTI rightwing ) Samajwadi party of Ajit singh.

But dont let facts get in the way of your sponsor’s ideology. if people can be made to believe something, it must be true.

4 Kishore Budha { 02.03.10 at 4:15 pm }

Dear Ramesh. Welcome to this blog.

5 Ramesh { 02.03.10 at 4:30 pm }

thk you. 🙂

6 Amrita { 02.03.10 at 8:49 pm }

@Ramesh

Ajit Singh? Samajwadi party? Are you sure?

7 Ramesh { 02.03.10 at 10:50 pm }

umph i was wrong WRONG ! and “friends on facebook took great pleasure in pointing me out. so much for friends….

Amar singh.

8 Kota Shiva { 02.04.10 at 6:17 am }

BRAVO!!

9 Rao { 02.04.10 at 6:52 am }

Ramesh,
After reading your first comment I felt compelled to respond. Firstly, I certainly admire your confidence in judging by the name of the author that she is Muslim. My last name is Rao. If you were to guess that I am from the south of India, or indeed that I am Hindu, you would be wrong on both accounts. Might I suggest that you perhaps stick to ‘analysing’ (such as what you did was) instead of drawing specious links between what people say and what religion they were born into? Secondly, what if the author is Muslim? Does that somehow lessen her right to talk about issues of secularism and right-wing politics? Or does her desire and willingness to engage in issues which concern any even semi-intelligent individual, somehow make her automatically one of the ‘Muslim right wing’? Looks to me like it’s someone else here who is paranoid.

You are, of curse, correct to point out that the radicalisation of political Islam certainly has afflicted India, its neighbours and countries the world over – though to varying degrees. That, though, is a separate issue. Your implication seems to be that if a Muslim right exists (in India or elsewhere) then any other ‘right’ cannot exist. To equate Islam and only Islam with right-wing movements is incredibly naive and simplistic. You may consider broadening your horizons a little bit…some minimal reading never hurt anyone.

Finally, seriously?

10 Francis { 02.04.10 at 10:13 am }

Originally Posted By RameshI am probably going to get attacked as a right winger or a hindu or a fundamentalist, but I find that this article is an example of how colonial associations bring familiar old labels to indian politics like a relapsed cancer.

Would it help if I pointed out, in criticism that the author of this piece is muslim? or that the fear of a hindu rightwing comes mainly from the muslim minority that feeds paranoia of an already fearful indian secular population? It needs pointing out that in many neighboring countries to india(and I am NOT talking about pakistan,) Indonesia, Malaysia, Afganistan Bangladesh and Afganistan, the radicalization has been ISLAMIC radicalization, the rightwing is FIRMLY islamic.

(have I been called a fundamentalist hindu yet?).

Thus, associating Mr Bacchan with the favorite bugaboos of the muslim right in India(from the hindu right), such as Narendra Modi and Raj thakersay is not only lazy tendentious journalism, it is also borderline sinister, specially considering Mr Bacchan has ALSO, hitherto been associated with the lower caste(and decidedly ANTI rightwing ) Samajwadi party of Ajit singh.

But dont let facts get in the way of your sponsor’s ideology. if people can be made to believe something, it must be true.

Ramesh Uncle,
To see more you ought to understand how it feels to stay in Maharashtra and live in that place to know that politics makes it not easy to live and since I have Indian in whatever context that is, I believe I would like to be in a mumbai where the poilitical scenario is not of marathi….

I was in love with mumbai way before i was into what it was, but now with these actions of political leaders, journalists, people who can voice thier opinions, our leading bollywood stars.. all bending down to the voice of the sena is not right…
I am an Indian, and when in all other states and places, all of us can live without the terror of being in a political stress then how can anyone come up with such a terrible sad comment to this nice post, a post which shows a spirit of rebellion against the system that is not working correctly…

We ought to stand together to when these things stand in the progress of the nation, liberty and equality… we ought to make a voice and now. Lets take a stand. Its a humble request.

11 Ramesh { 02.04.10 at 6:07 pm }

Dear francis(nephew?!)

I am with you that rightwing son of the soil movements are cancerous in india’s (or other) societies. I am also for the people of mumbai and India putting up a credible principled political objection to these ideologies and movements.

I am only saying above that please do not endow our filmmakers with so mcuh power that they are subject to vilification if they don’t do what you want them to do. often film stars and filmmakers are businessmen who want to remain invisible in politics because theyre doing a dhandha…business. They don’t want to get involved in the crossfire ofideologies. This is also reason why maniratnam showed bal thakeray the cut of Bombay before it was released, despite the film being an anti amchi mumbai film…politicizing filmmakers(any more than they are ALREADY political) is a malicious excersice in my opinion.

Rao,

Many of the “presumptions” you have attributed to me are YOURS, not mine, I suggest you read my post. I AM saying that, all things considered, it is MORE likely that a MUSLIM commentorator in india sees rightwing ghosts (sometimes with justification, and sometimes without) than if the commentorator is NOT a muslim(and is , instead a christian , hindu, sikh or jain) but that is not because I am a rightwing zealot(and I reserve the right to be whatever I want to be, although I dont think I AM either) but because of the somewhat tense hindu muslim relations in India.

the point of my letter above is that there is no need for the NATION to be gripped with the same paranoia as the embattled minority. This is NOT a plea to persecute the minority further, but one that people stop catching a cold every time a muslim commentorator sneezes.

hope that clarifies.

12 Neel { 02.05.10 at 6:20 am }

Kuhu, a well written piece that expresses the frustration one feels when a well-known public figure panders to fundamentalists in self-interest at the cost of liberal and secular ideals.

Ramesh, I won’t call you a right winger (sic) or a fundamentalist since getting personal is not going to help this discussion. Your comments on Kuhu’s religion serves as nothing but a distraction from the real theme of her post.

13 ramesh { 02.05.10 at 2:02 pm }

neel,
the more the better. discourges people from taking kuhu’s thesis seriously.

14 Kishore Budha { 02.05.10 at 4:06 pm }

Ramesh: Is your argument that there are no right wing individuals and groups in India who are also Hindus or those who hold right wing views about Hinduism and its place in Indian and indeed global society? And if there are any such groups, it is only a figment of the Muslims’ imagination?

15 Ramesh { 02.05.10 at 6:15 pm }

kishore,

my argument is that the right wing on both sides belong with one another, and often we truck up with the right wing of the OTHER side because we dont like OUR own rightwing (here I am using our and other to mean hindu and muslim ,although I dont really identify myself with either religuion).

16 Kishore Budha { 02.06.10 at 9:42 pm }

So are you arguing that any criticism of the right wing is invalid because we truck with the other right wing? And does Kuhu demonstrate that line of reasoning and conclusion?

17 Prashant Kadam { 03.01.10 at 12:11 am }

Much appreciated Kuhu. What is sad but not surprising that if the mainstream media were to take up this issue (of the changing Face of AB) it would actually be a very high TRP episode. Sadly they do not have the courage to do so.

Nonetheless, we should, (at least I do) admire the courage SRK showed this time with MINK.

18 NILESH { 08.03.10 at 1:45 pm }

i have aqmitabh

19 anil { 06.22.11 at 4:55 pm }

Amitabh Bachchan is dazzling actor and still going on nicely. I am a great Bollywood fan and love to write and read about Bollywood. Want to see some interesting facts about Bollywood in http://www.squidoo.com/indianbollywood-movies. have a look its amazing.

20 dr.savitanepali { 01.14.12 at 8:03 am }

amitabh ji ,ki jiwanshaili tatha kala ko jivantata pradan karne ki urja anukarniya hai. meri anek-anek shubhkamnayen.

21 Vijay Singh { 02.18.12 at 5:48 am }

Jeevan me maine Amit Ji se bahut kucha sikha hai.
Aaj mai acchcha kavi hu aur yeh sab Amit ji ki filme dekh kar sambav ho paya h mera jeevan sda unka abhari rheg.
Mai unki lambi umra ki kamna karta hu.

22 Vijay Singh { 02.18.12 at 5:48 am }

I like all Amit ji movie I am a big fan of Amit Ji.
I pray to god for his lang life

23 The Establishmentarian Old Man - Plasma Pool { 02.05.10 at 7:12 am }

[…] he ages, Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan has changed from his iconic status as an angry young man to an increasingly conservative presence in Indian […]

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