Wednesday, October 11, 2006

God is 64 Years Old

If you ask a guy born in 1974, “What were you doing on 1st of February 1991 in between 12 noon to 4 p.m.?”, there is very little chance that he would say that he was preparing for his Class X Board Exams.
If you ask the same guy, “Why did you watch Hello Brother?”, there is even lesser chance that he will profess a liking for the Khan brothers or Rani Mukherjee.
And if you ask this guy – now his age matches the number of teeth he has – “Which movie are you looking forward to this Diwali?”, there is absolutely no chance that he will mention Don – The Chase Begins Again.

My generation grew up worshipping The Big B. And for us, he was The Only B. There was nobody else who could match up to the Towering Inferno – and not that we missed it too!
The news of his 1982 accident was taken in more with a sense of disbelief than sadness. It was just that no one could reconcile that Vijay Verma could die in real life. Surely, Puneet Issar was the Anti-Christ everyone was looking for.
Long before the Filmfare nominations became the subject of nationwide debate and controversy, we heard rumours that in 1986, Amitabh was nominated twice in the Best Actor category – one for the father’s role in Aakhri Raasta and one for the son’s role! And there was no one to make us disbelieve this.

The birth of our generation coincided almost exactly with the birth of Amitabh’s stardom – and we lived through it like no other.
We were toddlers when we started hearing the stories of his legendary roles, we saw them on television, we hardly saw him in magazines, we were in our peak movie-watching phase when his worst films were running – and God knows, we defended the choice of those roles as our own personal crusades.
And when he turned around – walked right up to us and said, “Aap ke liye 15 sawaal. Jiske uttar dene ke baad shayed aap ke zindagi mein aur koi sawaal na rahe…” – it was not an answer to his critics. It was an answer to our prayers.

There are several theories on why he captures the public imagination like no other. In fact, at least one of these theories has been the subject of a Ph D thesis (and now, a book).
The most plausible one is that Amitabh is the only superstar who has extended his reel persona to the real life. The angry vigilante, the duty-bound son, the faithful friend, the modest poet, the affectionate father of celluloid lived beyond the 21 reels and walked the streets of Bombay, Allahabad and beyond.

He fought back to pay of his ABCL debts in the same way the novice industrialist of Trishul worked night and day to build his empire.

He stood by his real-life friends in the same way Kishan of Yaarana mortgaged his career to save a friend.

His respect and pride for his father – in an understated way – is a replica of countless films he has acted in.
Like, the reason for him to start the fight to clear his name in the Bofors scandal. He took the entire set of allegations in his stride and decided to ignore it in the same imperious fashion that he ignored all the filmi gossip all through his career. He felt secure in the belief that he was innocent and also the fact that the people who really matter to him would treat this entire political conspiracy with the same disdain that they treated the filmi stories. But that changed.
He said in an interview that once he was very late in returning from shooting – but when he entered, Harivanshrai was waiting for him. And not without a purpose…
The father asked his son, “Beta, tu ne kuchh galat to nahin kiya hain?
Like so many films, in real life too – India’s most respected actor decided to fight a protracted battle not because it affected him but because his father’s honour was also at stake.

Or, the time India Today quizzed him on why he had started working out – so late in his life. (He goes to the Juhu Centaur gym every day at 5 a.m.) After he cracked a joke about how he wanted to shave off his chest and appear bare-chested in his next movie, he got serious and told the real reason.
He said that his father’s health had become quite fragile and he needed to be transferred to a hospital often. On one such occasion, he realized that he was unable to physically lift his father to put him in the car. The family had to wait for Abhishek to return and do the duty.
It was for this reason that India’s sexiest 65-year old decided to hit the gym. In an industry full of Botox-laden beauties, it feels so refreshingly different that the Emperor of them all has chosen to work out in order to be strong enough to lift his father.

And all these things added up to blur the boundary between the star and human being. And Amitabh Bachchan is no longer at the top of the Filmfare Power List. He has moved to the top of the India Today Power List.

And in the din of all the special supplements, book launches, TV programmes and film festivals, let me represent the Gen 1974 in wishing Amitabh many happy returns in the way he wants. Quietly.
Happy Birthday, Sarkar.
Hope to see more of you… after all, we now have children to show your movies to.

In case, some kids are wondering – we were all watching first day, first show of Hum on 01/02/91 (and yes, we have preserved the ticket!).
Hello Brother ended with a speech from God in you-know-whose voice (and it was duly credited as ‘Heavenly Voice’ in the titles!).
But on second thoughts, we might as well go and see Don… chances are that the trailers of Ekalavya will be on by then.
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