Today’s View & Counter View columns in TOI dicuss the issue of Delhi University conferring honorary doctorate degree on Amitabh Bachan. I have never been a Bachan fan, and so read through the piece hoping to be enlightened on the qualities of the actor that I have failed to recognize and therefore appreciate. Times View says that the university’s decision was a strategy to bolster its sagging popularity ratings among the students & the general public. Well, well! not a flattering statement about a premier university! But we have seen the Bachan magic working. Remember, when the cadbury’s sales plummeted following an adulteration scandal, Bachan was signed up by the company to be its new brand ambassador ?– and Cadbury’s bounced back!! So cant blame the university for hitting upon this bright idea – Only, a university is meant to produce scholars, not chocolate heroes!
The Counter View justified the practice of universities awarding honorary doctorates on luminaries, and in this context, had only this to say about Bachan. "A filmfare award for AmitabhBbachan is an entirely different form of tribute than a doctorate. The former honours his talent as a performer and his contribution to the film industry; the latter recognizes him as one who has added to learning, culture, society and civilization as awhole” !!!!!!(the exclamations, mine).
Will someone explain how Bachan has contributed to learning, culture, society and civilization? The article didn’t help much. It stopped talking about Bachan after this tall claim and went on to talk about the contributions of maestros of traditional music, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan etc. But not another word by way of explanation about how Bachan altered the course of civilization.
Talking about his talent as a performer, I must admit I am in no way competent to talk about Bachan as an actor. I don’t think I have sat through more than five films in which he has acted. Have seen a lot more in snatches. I liked him in “Anand “. I remember thinking, here is a very promising new face. Over decades, the new face became familiar, then too familiar, then oppresivley omnipresent – but the promise remained unfulfilled. With the onset of age, the stereotyped angry young man became an angry old man.
The trouble with him as an actor, I think, is Amitabh Bachan is Amitabh Bachan whatever role he plays. He is trapped in his own personality and his image. His negative capability is zero. The public, the film makers and agents of power that decide on awards have been hoodwinked by his popularity; but popularity, we know, is no proof of talent. MGR was more popular than Bachan - he could sway the electorate, something which Bachan could not do. But MGR was no great actor.
Guess Bachan owes his success to media. Given his limited histrionic talent, he would have faded gracefully into oblivion, had not the media prevented it.
This is my take on the Big B as a thespian. I could be wrong. It is possible that my inability to relate to Hindi films on account of the language barrier could be the reason for my inability to become a hard core Bachan fan.
But I am curious about Amitabh Bachan as a cultural factor. This is something worth making a study on. What is his appeal to the masses? The angry young man image going down with the audience is easy to understand. But after that? An inquiry into this might, perhaps, throw up some interesting truths about a post colonial, developing nation and a pluralistic society.