In a very bad and not totally darkened theatre (because of the light leaking through some vents and gaps in the closed doors) called Ramapriya in Vijayawada town in Andhra Pradesh, for the first time I consciously began to understand the phenomenon of Amitabh Bachchan.
The film that was playing was Khuddaar and the scene which was going on at that precise moment was, when Amitji learning the lie his own brother told him, barges into the discotheque where his brother is grooving away with a girl. As he shouts at the DJ to stop the music and looks at his brother at the far corner with hurt filled eyes, a gang of vicious looking bouncers move towards him. He looks at them and with an emotion choked voice says that he will break their legs if they try to stop him. There was an audible gasp in the theatre from the viewers as he said this. The interesting point is that none of the guys in the theatre could speak Hindi as Vijayawada is a Telugu speaking town. So what did they connect to? It is just the raw emotions of anger, betrayal, helplessness and above all the hurt he managed to communicate through his body language, his voice and his eyes.
As I looked at the faces of the people sitting in the theatre I could see a tremendous sense of awe, admiration, respect and above all a connectivity in their faces. Each and everyone of his viewers connected to him deeply through the characters he portrayed in his various films. Each and everyone wanted a brother or a friend or a leader like him.
Even after volumes spoken and big fat books written on him, I think it is still very easy to underestimate his incredible influence and his unimaginable impact not only on cinema but also on at least on a couple of generations conscience.
Kids loved him in Amar Akbar Anthony then and Kids love him now in Bhoothnath.
I have seen street goondas emulating him from Kaala Patthar, Kaalia etc and modern day gangsters are awe-struck with his intensity in Sarkar.
Women used to swoon over his romances then and today’s women would want a life-partner like him.
Old people back then wanted a son like him and today’s old people see the reflections of their own life through his performances in movies like Baghbaan etc. His contemporaries back then were dying of jealousy and unable to understand what is making him tick and today’s stars and technicians resume cannot be completed unless and until they feature with him at least in one film.
For me Amitji is raw, real and gritty and he hit me like a thunder bolt both as a viewer and as a director. His charisma, his screen presence, his personality made such an impact both on me and millions of others like me unsupported by today’s so-called massive production values. Unlike today’s superstars he never had to hide behind catchy songs or lavish sets or exotic foreign locales etc.
Any random man you pick on the road anywhere in the country, and if you ask him what you remember of Amitabh Bachchan, he is bound to come up with at least a hundred of his favourite scenes, dialogues or moments from Amitji’s various films whereas if asked about any of today’s superstars I doubt that they will remember beyond their hit songs and their films box-office collections.
From the time of being awestruck with him in Zanzeer, Deewaar etc to consciously understanding his screen prowess post Khuddaar (which incidentally largely was responsible in influencing my own technique of shaping up characters in my films), my biggest desire cinematically was to do a film with him which eventually I realized in Sarkar. In the run up to the making of Sarkar in my several meetings with him I started seeing a very different side of him other than what I only perceived through his films. Behind the obvious power and intensity was a sensitivity and vulnerability and also listening to his thoughts made me sense his incredible versatility as an actor. By that time my proximity to him blinded me as a viewer of him as a star and the filmmaker in me got greedy and dumb enough to experiment with him as an actor which resulted in Nishabd and Aag. It’s not so much only about the quality of those films that I am talking here but it is just the idea of casting him in those roles.
Amitji’s make-up man Deepak told me on day one of shooting of Nishabd that the film will flop because no one is going to accept Amitji in a role like that. Whether that is the reason or not, I for myself as a viewer wouldn’t probably want to see him featured in a role like that. As an actor I think Nishabd is Amitji’s finest performance mainly because of its sheer complexities and it demanded such subtle nuances of reactions, which most of the so-called art-house actors won’t even begin to understand in their life-time let alone portray them. But the question is does one want to see Amitji just as an actor? I for one don’t want to, unless the acting is coming from a certain immensely larger than life perspective.
Similarly in Aag there will be a difference between a viewer’s reaction and my reaction to his performance. As a director I judge an actor by seeing what he does with what is given to him. The viewer sees the final effect of that in the context of the film and hence he cannot have an idea of how I could have screwed it up in the screenplay and how badly I edited it or various other blunders I could have committed. People seeing the film react on the effect, whereas as a director I know the cause.
On the other hand if somebody argues that he had no business to do those films without knowing what he is getting into, yes he is guilty of misplacing his trust in me but he is not guilty of not doing his best which he does invariably better than any other actor can ever even hope to do.
From what I gathered from my association with him, I understood that by being the ultra professional that he is, once he agrees to do a film based on whatever reasons he has, he completely succumbs to the vision or non-vision of the director. The end product sometimes can look a mess but the inside secret will be that he would have always given much more than what was expected of him.
The close-up of his when he stands on the steps looking at Aftab taking Jiah away in the climax of Nishabd calls for an extraordinary understanding of human emotions and hence a far superior performance, compared to him saying “Tujhe bhi karne nahin doonga” in Sarkar which he would have done a thousand times before. But sadly the effect of that line in Sarkar will become cinematic history whereas the Nishabd’s close-up might go unnoticed. On the basis of what all I said above if anybody out there understands, my favourite performances of Amitji from my films as a director are in the order of
(3). Sarkar Raj
(3). Sarkar Raj
But forgetting myself as a director and thinking like a viewer they will be
(2). Sarkar Raj
(2). Sarkar Raj
The effect of Sarkar’s performance as compared to Sarkar Raj is probably higher for many primarily because of the shock value of seeing Amitji in such a role after a very very long time but if you look deeper you can’t find a single shot in Sarkar which is comparable to, for an example the expression he has when he shows Sanjay Somji’s body to Raosaab. There are many many such moments in Sarkar Raj, Nishabd and Aag.
So the point I am trying to make in summation is that he never ever failed as an actor and he never will. It’s only directors, both other’s and me who frequently fail in framing his art in a given context.
Karan Johar’s favourite film of his is Kabhie Kabhie and Silsila which I loathe compared to my favourites like Deewaar and Zanzeer which Karan loathes. I dislike seeing him in movies like Last Lear and Black whereas Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rituparno Ghosh might not want to make films like Nishabd with him.
But that’s what sublimal art is about. You can take whatever you want from it and interpret it in any which way you want to.
Amitji is an artiste who can and will allow himself to be conformed, adapted and shaped up in any which way one wants to mould him and the final result he will leave it in the hands of the director he is working with.
But irrespective of what on a personal level he might think of the result, the effort he puts in and the passion he brings in to elevate even the most mundane of scenes, the performances he brings and the way he speaks his lines is for me my personal proof of what Amitji truly and really is.
Amitabh Bachchan is that rare art form which takes birth just once in several life times.