Amitabh Bachchan never really went away, but the time has already come to welcome him back. The 1 July release Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap seems to be a “best of Bachchan” from his 1970s and 1980s hits. Younger audiences who are more familiar with his son and daughter-in-law will get to hear the punch dialogues that made Bachchan famous. Older viewers are supposed to feel gratified that he has returned. Film-goers are never going to be allowed to forget that they are watching Bachchan the star, not Vijju the character.
The Amitabh Bachchan cult is based on a man named Vijay. He has played variations of the tormented yet romantic soul in 21 films, with varying degrees of success. The name changed over the years, but the conceit remained the same. Bachchan has played several other roles over the years—a lascivious old man in Kabhi Alvida na Kehna, a curmudgeonly chef in Cheeni Kum—but Bbuddah takes him right back to where it all started for him and for viewers.
The fate of Hindi movie stars as they grow older seems to be to play themselves or rehash their past roles. It can work like magic, as it has for Salman Khan. Ready is supposedly about an action hero named Prem, but it’s really only about Salman Khan the superstar. He is an unrepentant “bad boy” who is irresistible to anybody who crosses his path. Khan has arguably been playing himself all his life—an unapologetic romantic who wears his heart on his sleeve and gets hurt in the process. Dabangg and Ready reflect his new-found optimism and the fresh connections he has forged with audiences. Khan is a happy man these days, and his movies reflect that mood.
Rewind: Bachchan brings back the angry young man persona.
The danger with playing the memory game is that you are forced to confront the reality of the passage of time, Botox or no Botox. Some stars are best left untouched. I don’t think anybody mourns Rajesh Khanna, but do shed a few tears for the present-day sight of a portly and lush Vinod Khanna, especially if you remember his smouldering 1970s self. Dharmendra too dragged himself out of retirement recently to recycle himself in Yamla Pagla Deewana—if only he could have crawled right back. Rishi Kapoor still has what it takes, probably because he isn’t trying to be cute and dashing any more. Once a bon vivant, always a bon vivant, give or take a few kilos.
Bollywood’s leading lights are either pushing 40 or well past it. Many of them have signed up to play potentially interesting characters, but how long till the temptation to rest on their laurels strikes? Already, Shah Rukh Khan’s Ra.One has become less of a movie and more of an acid test for his superstar status. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Sean Penn is playing Brad Pitt’s son in The Tree of Life, while Robert de Niro and Al Pacino are content to play second fiddle to young blood in various films. Sylvester Stallone, however, is still playing Rocky and/or Rambo—guess whose example some film-makers in Mumbai want to follow?
Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap released in theatres on Friday.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai ( www.timeoutmumbai.net ).
Write to Nandini at email@example.com