By Mayank Chhaya
The media in India ought to impose a pretty long moratorium on Amitabh Bachchan interviews.
The media bakes the same old banalities and garnishes them as profound questions. And Bachchan, with no other option left, responds in a mockingly serious tone. Like a jaded couple trapped in a dull matrimony both the media and Bachchan have run out of things to say. Can you blame either? They have been tangoing for the past 30 years. There are no new moves left. They can only grunt at each other.
One recurring question that I have heard the media ask in the past 25 years concerns Bachchan's status as the ultimate Indian cinema icon. The media asserts with unbridled enthusiasm that he is one. He, on the other hand feeling awkward about the relentlessness of the compliment, begs to differ and says he is just an "ordinary, mediocre actor". It would not hurt the media to tone down its praise just as it would not harm Bachchan if for once he were to accept some of the compliments for what they are.
In the great Indian tradition of fawning before an icon, his fans become delirious while showering praises on him. Bachchan, on the other hand, perhaps genuinely befuddled by all the attention, responds with self-effacement, which, even if real, comes across as contrived. He knows he possesses unquestionably great artistry and should acknowledge it without much fanfare. If after over three decades of astonishing critical and box-office success, he still regards himself as an "ordinary, mediocre actor", then it can only mean that the world around him has been fundamentally flawed in its judgment about him and his craft. This seeming reluctance to accept praise is a patently Indian trait born out of a carefully choreographed dance of humility.
It is entirely plausible that Bachchan's self-effacement and humility stem from the core of who he really is. It is equally plausible that he genuinely does not know how to handle the encomiums, which are poured on him so routinely. I am willing to grant that he sincerely rates himself rather low on the acting calibre scale. If that be the case then he must wonder in his private moments with amusement how he has managed to enthral millions for decades with his "ordinary and mediocre" talent. I am sure that is not his intention at all but when Bachchan insists about the limited nature of his abilities he seems to tell the world, "Listen you impressionable fools, get a life."
The media is much more to be blamed than the man. What do you expect the practitioner of a highly self-absorbed profession to do when he is badgered with gushing compliments every single time? He tries, even at the risk of sounding insincere, to play down his own standing so as not to come across as someone who is full of himself. He tries, even at the risk of sounding trite, to tell the world how normal a person he is with all the frailties and weaknesses like the rest of us. He bends over backwards to make others not feel small and inadequate in comparison. Give the man a break. It has been a well-known fact that Bachchan is arguably among the world's great actors. Just leave it that. There is no need to compel him to respond to or to celebrate his own talent every day of his life.
Another frequently asked question is who the real Amitabh Bachchan is. In his latest interview with CNN-IBN, Bachchan quite effectively demolished the notion that the world needs to know the real him. He was right in implying that the world connects to him through his celluloid image and should be content doing so. If he were not the superstar he is, who would have bothered to find out about what he is really all about? That is a valid question.
If Bachchan has been aggressive with the media for the better part of his career, and more particularly in recent weeks in his blogs, it is primarily because he seems to feel that while it is necessary, the media cannot become the arbiter of his destiny. It is fair game for him to turn the tables on the media through his blogs and subject it to the same treatment of judging and castigating. He has understood the power of blogging, especially the fact that it allows him to eliminate intermediaries from the media who spin what he has to say for their own utilitarian reasons. To that extent blogging has liberated Bachchan from the shackles of media judgment and spin.
Once the newspaper platform was much coveted and had to be earned with a great deal of work and commitment. The crass democratisation of the print and broadcast media in the past five years or so has meant perceptibly declining standards in the quality of the written and broadcast material. Any urbane nitwit with a microphone has the gumption to grab the media pulpit. It is just as well that in this climate of declining professional media standards, Bachchan has begun taking pot shots at us using the net. It would be worthwhile for him to completely stop random interviews and say whatever he has to say via his blog. I am afraid both the world and Bachchan have had quite enough of each other for the foreseeable future.
(Mayank Chhaya is a writer and commentator living in the US. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Indo-Asian News Service