There’s something inherently tragic about being a fan in denial. Especially when the people you grew up with and shared your unconditional adulation with start moving on. Even when left to defend the indefensible, the fan keeps the faith. Giving up is not an option.
The critical and commercial failure of “Mrityudaata” (1997), a generic fan drama, most likely left the millions of people who loved Amitabh Bachchan at this strange point of transition. Bachchan – still India’s biggest movie star – was making a comeback, five years after “Khuda Gawah”. The Khans were already on the rise, and the mighty Bachchan’s box office mojo in the 1990s, with the exception of ‘Aaj Ka Arjun’ (1990) and ‘Hum’ (1991), was on the wane. It wasn’t exactly decisive for Bachchan, then 55, but there were points to be made; for the fan, it was presented as a reaffirmation of the superstar’s rightful place at the top.
The reboot period of Bachchan’s filmography spanned four years, without that big solo hit. It was not a comeback. The star was still basically doing star things, with lackluster results. The actor even seemed to have lost his thing for comedy. Something had changed.
Those four years, marked by totally forgettable releases like “Laal Baadshah” and “Kohram” (both released in 1999), also saw Bachchan move on to characters closer to his own age. With ‘Sooryavansham’ (1999), ‘Mohabbatein’ (2000), ‘Ek Rishta: The Bond of Love’ (2001), ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’ (2001) and ‘Baghban’ (2003), he solidifies a transition from necessary, if uninspiring, screen towards the stereotype of the hulking patriarch.
It was, however, an important career choice that helped transform him from angry old man to venerable old man. This was a change that made losing Star Traps much easier.
Bachchan who in his heyday played by the trade manual was now open to working with the new and untested. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s underrated thriller “Aks” (2001), though a box office failure, was a deftly staged crossover that attempted to bring the actor home, while waving head to the star.
Two releases in 2002 – Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s thriller “Aankhen” and the “Kaante” adaptation of Sanjay Gupta’s “Reservoir Dogs” – effectively established his second role as a solid character actor who gets the lead. displays among younger and popular stars.
Rajkumar Santoshi’s 2004 thriller ‘Khakee’ had Bachchan’s definitive performance of this phase. It showed us what the actor was capable of when there was no star baggage to drag; the film was also a rare success in presenting him as a cornered old man who still matches mainstream male sensibilities. Ram Gopal Varma would later exploit this compelling actor-star model in his tribute to the godfather-adaptation/fanboy, “Sarkar” (2005). The actor’s TV hosting tour with “Kaun Banega Crorepati” in 2000 is widely seen as a point of reinvention, but as an actor, “Khakee” in many ways shaped Bachchan 2.0.
The decision to become prolific – the actor who turned 80 on Tuesday hasn’t had a year without a release since 1995 – added plenty of duds to his resume, but more work also meant a better chance of landing a good job . Some of her acclaimed recent performances, including in “Piku” (2015) and “Pink” (2016), have also reached heights that have broken through the clutter of the ordinary.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’ (2005) had it in its second – after ‘Agneepath’ (1990) – National Award-winning performance. In one year, 2007, Bachchan could play an aging royal guard in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s ‘Eklavya’, a guilt-ridden lover in Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Nishabd’, and a London-based chef in the romantic comedy ‘Cheeni. Kum” by R Balki. .
There’s an interesting contrast here in Rajinikanth who has extended his box office dominance much longer than Bachchan but at 71 is being challenged at his own game by younger stars and doesn’t seem in the mood to return. to the actor he was.
The adaptation was arguably easier for Bachchan because he had a greater awareness of his acting abilities, which helped him make thoughtful career decisions, as he was more accessible to writers and filmmakers who knew what remained underutilized. It was easier, also because he made the switch at the right time.
That three of Bachchan’s four national awards – the most won by an actor – have come in the second half of his career, that he has worked with Shoojit Sircar, Sujoy Ghosh and Nagraj Manjule should leave the fan in a better place.
Bachchan’s pro-establishment stances have sparked criticism of his politics. His overexposure in selling brands has erased the star-studded, Rajinikanth-like mystique — he still doesn’t do commercials — on which his exclusivity has been built. The actor, however, has navigated his career admirably, smoothly transitioning from the most adored movie star of our time to a formidable performer who still has a lot to offer.
Around his 80th birthday, there were familiar talks of a biopic, but it all seemed to come down to one question – who will play Amitabh Bachchan? Like all true screen icons, he’s shaped generations of actors and inspired millions of fans, but none come close enough to be a replacement.