Amitabh Bachchan’s 75th birthday is, in many ways, a milestone for all of us. Having grown up watching the angry young fellow of the 70s and 80s metamorphose himself into the benign and genial Mr Bachchan of today, one cannot help but feel rather nostalgic.
What is evident is the fact that Bachchan has found his way deeper into our hearts with his present day avatar as the Good Samaritan who hosts the popular show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. It is not as if he started off as a lout and has now become a saint, but it is the gentle transformation in the impression that he created upon us over the decades which is worth analyzing.
Amitabh was always a gentleman off screen, from a cultured background, verily sophisticated and with a baritone that sounded even better when he spoke English. But it was when he let loose unforgettable dialogues in iconic films like ‘Sholay’, ‘Deewar’ or even ‘Shakti’, and veritably seared the enemy with his fearsome and fiery gaze, that he truly created mass hysteria. He rarely played the amiable sorts on screen in those days, always ready to throw several punches at unsuspecting goons, and mouth irreverent, even embarrassing, dialogues.
So much so that my father, whose persona was a no-nonsense one, almost debarred me from watching AB’s films. He considered the gangling actor to be an extremely poor influence on an impressionable mind. It was only when films like ‘Anand’ or ‘Chupke Chupke’ were screened on TV that my father’s opinion of Bachchan changed for the better.
He hardly knew how to dance, but effortlessly romanced all top actresses- Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, Rekha and Parveen Babi. He often shared screen time with better looking compatriots like Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Vinod Khanna, but seldom came away playing second fiddle.
Indeed, his style, his panache and his unmatched personality became the gold standard for Indian heroes to follow and emulate.
What happened in the 90s was inevitable, though. As he grew older his stock gradually dwindled. Anil Kapoor became the superstar of the day to be followed by the impressive Khans, some years later. Amitabh Bachchan’s aura was fading, ever so slowly, but it was surely fading.
His misadventures with politics and event management, as evidenced by the Miss Universe pageant fiasco, further dented his image and brand value. He has himself spoken publically of his efforts at reaching out to friends and benefactors in his time of crisis, with little or no result.
KBC was launched in the year 2000 and it obviously came like a manna from heaven. A high value contract was signed by him with its producers and his resurgence was palpable. Even his films started doing well again and his new appearance, with the grey French goatee, found acceptance with cine-goers who flocked to watch films like ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’ and ‘Mohabbatein’.
We now found a more settled Mr Bachchan striding purposefully but calmly across the spectrum of Bollywood (a term he loathes) and even undertaking a rare foray into Hollywood with ‘The Great Gatsby’. His family came to the fore like never before. Abhishek and Aishwarya found success to varying degrees in their own careers, and his diminutive better half, Jaya Bachchan, too ventured to play meaty roles once more, though sporadically.
And today when we watch the towering figure of Amitabh Bachchan sit across the man or woman on the hot seat, we feel as if we are with him. He makes the commonest of folks with their inadequacies and hesitations flower into charming versions of themselves by sheer dint of his warmth. The humaneness with which he brings out the true Indian on KBC is worth its weight in gold. We often feel as if the superstar on the show is not AB, but the insignificant other!
If inspiration is to be found in this era, older generations especially can find it in the forms of Amitabh Bachchan, Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar. And the common quality which places these matchless icons upon the highest of pedestals is ‘humility’. We are truly fortunate to have them in our midst.