Happy Birthday …Abhishek Bachchan’s Must-Watch Films
- Naach(2004): Naach in fact carries the Abhimaan theme forward. On a simplistic level we can take heart in Abhishek doing an overdriven version of his dad’s compromised and jealous musician’s part in Abhimaan.But the dynamics are far more intricate in Naach. The protagonists are no longer driven apart by their ego. They are victims of a well-oiled machine of power and passion that inflicts a certain self-annihilating rejection of a standard code of morality on their lives.When we first see Rewa she’s sitting at the roadside impervious of passing traffic. As the music in her head plays a pounding invitation (remember Urmila Matondkar’s opening song in “Rangeela”?) she jumps to her feet and performs an enigmatic seductive and yet personal dance that has no definition.Antara Mali’s Rewa dances to an indeterminate rhythm that goes well with the film’s restless unanchored hitherto-unexplored man-woman axis. The camerawork by newcomer Kiran Reddy is so anguished and passionate you begin to see the characters as dancers caught in a dance of self-destruction.Varma catches them to stop them from falling to the ground. Abhi’s love for Rewa is redeemed, though personally I’m not convinced by the happy ending to their turbulent and short-fused relationship.If she refuses to be compromised by the murkiness of showbiz, he sees assimilation and surrender as the means to further his career as an actor. If initially she’s a choreographer who has never choreographed a dance, he grins and says, “I’m an actor who hasn’t acted”.As you share their mutual sneers, you get ensnared into their world of heavy-traffic ambitions. The sounds and fumes of Mumbai’s roads qualify the Rewa-Abhi relationship as much as Reddy’s poetic cinematography which captures Abhishek and Antara in the most aesthetic kiss I’ve ever seen on an Indian film.The relationship grows with an animal passion and then gets stymied as Abhi’s ambitions carry him away from Rewa.It’s the first half where their relationship grows that holds you. Small details from the couple’s lives and their intense focus on dance crowd the canvas without toppling over the narrative.The second half about the couple’s ‘groaning’ disenchantment is laden with angry dance numbers where Abhishek’s grimace and growl are offset by Riteish Deshmukh’s gentle attentions towards Antara. In the film’s less weighty moments there’s a touch of Varma’s Rangeela.Naach is perhaps what Rangeela couldn’t be. An anxious and passionate look at the compromises that showbiz demands from the wannabes.There are only two principal characters and some well-etched passers by providing a beguiling backdrop to the tale. Both Abhishek and Antara perform their parts with a conviction that comes straight from the most unexplored areas of their talent.Naach escapes the blind alleys that Hindi cinema chooses to wander in.Naach is Varma’s most personalized and sensitive film ever. In it he creates an untried synthesis of realism within the morally suffocating world of showbiz and a freewheeling fantasy where both the struggling protagonists find success on their own terms.
- Yuva(2004): Abhishek Bachchan blossomed into a formidably engaging actor .Yuva is that rarity which can be watched both as an entertainer and a vehicle for projecting socio-political ideas.The easiest thing in the world is to sneer at someone who attempts to be unconventional through conventional routes. In that sense, Mani Ratnam and Michael Mukherjee, his protagonist in his latest film, share the same predicament.A riveting blend of social message and entertainment is what sets Yuva apart. Like Ratnam’s first Hindi film Dil Se, Yuva is an extremely restless film about young characters who are on the lookout for a relevance to their existence.While Michael wants to use student power to change the festering fortunes of Indian politics, the loutish Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) just wants a decent life for his wife Shashi (Rani Mukherjee) and himself, and never mind if it’s through indecent means. You can almost read between the lines that Ratnam crosses from one protagonist’s life into another. The effect is of sea waves lapping against the shore and receding to leave behind tempting tides of significance.The three-tiered plot creates a sense of lyricism in the plot. Every character fits in the Kolkata milieu without stretching in the larger picture. Yet the existence of the binding cosmic force that keeps watch on Ratnam’s world and the world beyond his creation, looms large over the narrative.The gangster Lallan and his volatile blow-hot, blow-cold relationship with his wife Shashi echoes Manoj Bajpai and Shefali Chhaya’s rapport in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya.But beyond that echo of familiarity is an aching originality in every frame, nurturing the characters through a remarkable process of self-discovery.Unlike Dil Se, whose narrative couldn’t really hold the audiences, Yuva keeps us glued to the goings-on till the very end, not because it tells a remarkably original story but because the characters come alive here as complete people, full of little gestures and understated personality traits that we may miss at first.Yuva is like a visit to a strange and warm tropical island. At first the sights and sounds may appear too familiar for excitement. But every shrub and every rock hides a new experience.It’s that subterranean experience that Yuva brings to the surface.Ratnam goes from one level of characterisation to another, weaving in and out of three lives without creating an autonomous self-contained world for each protagonist. The men who tower over the plot are also the tools in the hands of destiny.
- Sarkar(2004): What makes this film the most special achievement of Varma’s career? It’s the father-son combination of Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, furnishing Varma’s ebony vision of the world gone awry with a kind of blazing and bridled intensity that one last saw when Dilip Kumar and Amitabh played father and son in Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti.Sarkar is a far more complex jigsaw of patriarchal intensity, filial crises and familial obligations. Its ethical complexities go far beyond politics and cinema to embrace a kind of multi-dimensional secularism where religion is not about gods but definitions of goodness.Who’s the real villain? The people who rape society, or the ones who check crime and corruption by means that are extra-constitutional? The socio-political issue becomes more tangled in the light of the septic corruption that has crept into the governmental structure.Into this world comes Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief. Thackeray’s name is changed to Subhash Nagare in the film. But the power and the socio-political positioning of the man remains unaltered in the movie version of his life.No other actor in the universe could’ve played Thackeray’s screen version, or done the astonishing things that Bachchan has done to the character. Bachchan plays Nagare, the frail and yet all-powerful man.Marlon Brando’s The Godfather act provides a prototypical starting point for Subhash Nagare, one of the most entrancing heroes ever in Indian cinema.Varma brings out the protagonist’s power and glory through a demeanour that never screams for attention. Little gestures and nuances, agreeable and yet sinister, swathe the screen in a splendid arc of life and vitality.Abhishek as Shankar, the quietly faithful, duty-bound younger son destined to take up the strange family business — a role that has its roots in Al Pacino’s character in The Godfather — is in-sync with his character and the senior Bachchan’s prismatic persona.Abhishek’s delicately balanced facial expressions, his projection of the character’s fierce unquestioning loyalty towards his father’s politics, is done with such rare care and sensitivity that you cease to look at the actor.
- Antar Mahal (2005): Abhishek Bachchan uses his eyes and inward-drawn body language to create a socio-economically oppressed prototype. He almost seems like a distant kin of Om Puri in Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati. With less than 20 minutes of screen space, Abhishek’s eyes pierce a hole in the narrative’s sepulchral vision.In the bowels of feudalism there cries a female heart… The deep anguish of desolation has never created a more piercing and indelible dent in our soul. The refined, evenly defined resonance of Ghosh’s new Bengali work of art leaves behind the awkward rhythms of his last film in Hindi Raincoat.In Antar Mahal, he gets it right. The astonishing grace with which the director steals Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s skimpy short-story and turns it into a scintillating study of feudal and patriarchal oppression immediately links this work to some of the greatest literary adaptations from Bengal.The lonely wife Madhabi Mukherjee in Ray’s five-decade old film was more flirty. Soha Ali Khan as the child-bride, who is smothered in ritualistic subjugation in the inner chambers of a feudal household, is far more tender, fragile, vulnerable and heartbreaking. Images of her peeping anxiously and forlornly from behind filigreed curtains just sweep your heart away.Soha resembles the child-bride in Ray’s Devi — with a difference. Ray could’ve never imagined going into the graphic scenes of sexual subjugation. He was too much of a puritan to project sex in anything but silhouette.Ghosh brings feminine oppression out of the closet. In resplendently lit scenes of poetic languor (cinematographer Abhik Sen creates a lilting and magical play of light and shade), director Ghosh conjures images of unbearable pain and torture, as the heir-hungry decadent zamindar (Jackie Shroff, aptly cast) heaves and thrusts into his child-wife while the lascivious priest chants ritualistically to plead to the gods of procreation.The contrast between love and sex, male oppression and tender ministration is brought into the frames with teasing sensitivity when the Bihari sculptor Brij (Abhishek Bachchan) arrives in the sepulchral mansion to create a ripple effect in the lives of the brutish zamindar’s two wives, the doddering and crumbling elder bahu (Roopa Ganguly) and the sweet and heartbreaking younger wife (Soha).You can’t forget Roopa’s look of erotic longing as the Bihari sculptor shivers in his sleep in the outer courtyard. You cannot forget the bonding between the two wives, deeply but diametrically reminiscent of Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das’s camaraderie of desolation in Deepa Mehta’s Fire.But Ghosh doesn’t dwell on the bonding. He sweeps across the burning ghats of emotional desecration, entering the enchanting embers of simmering discontent only long enough to sweep us into the vortex of these demoniacal emotions. We are then pushed out of the inner chambers like unwanted guests.But the hospitality while it lasts, is overpowering. This is a film that invites you into fascinating folds of emotions, creating pockets of intangible feelings for us to savour… and live with forever.The doomed characters wrench us out of our habitual repose to evaluate the space and sound of cinema in a novel light.Though Ghosh’s film is exceptionally literate and articulate, it doesn’t do away with that cinematic quality of emotions which make the characters seem to be simultaneously sublime and obtainable. The anguish of the women is handled with a graceful delicacy unequalled in the work of any other Indian director. You cannot forget Roopa Ganguly and Soha Ali Khan’s collective desolation, or their shared unexpressed passion for the soft and kind sculptor, or the way they handle the suffocating brutality of their household.
- Manmarziyan(2018): While Tapsee and Vicky give to their robust parts, it is Abhishek Bachchan, whose quiet character creates a space in the heart of the plot and lodges itself in the library of the luminous by respecting the character’s need to remain noble without seeming over-sweetened or simply stupid.Manmarziyan takes the traditional love triangle to a new level of expression, articulating an idiom that cannot entirely avoid tedium. After Rumi marries Robbie the narrative runs out of steam. There are repetitive scenes in the second-half which could do with some serious pruning. In spite of its flawed flow due to its extended length Manmarziyan is a winsome romantic tale which dares to ask a very basic question from diehard romantics: love is all very well, but what else? Imagine if Mani Ratnam had sex in his mind for Moun Ragam. Yes, the same story that Sanjay Leela Bhansali made into Hum… Dil Chuke Sanam about a marriage of inconvenience where the kind patient husband desists from consummating the marriage until the wife comes out of her earlier relationship.Imagine if the wife can’t come out of her stuporous obsession with her first love because, hell, the sex with Vicky (Kaushal) is toooooo good.The girlfriend-wife is played by Tapsee Pannu who seems to get more confident with every film. Her Rumi is no walkover for sure. Nor is it someone you would want as your wife, or your son’s wife or even as son’s friend’s wife. She is an unabashed epicurean… and the fact that Tapsee can play this super-annoying selfish woman without making us cringe is in equal measures a triumph of writing (Kannika Dhillon) and performing.Take the sequence where Tapsee’s Rumi rides a mo’bike to her future husband’s home and tells him, sorry, she can’t marry him. But hey, she can talk to him on Facebook. And she rides off.Outrageously self absorbed Taapsee plays Kangana’s smalltown harridan from Tanu Weds Manu multiplied by 10. She is vixenish yet spontaneous, arrogant in her selfishness and yet not unlikeable. Tapsee brings out all the contradictions in her character. She spares us none of Rumi’s churlishness. By the time she heads to Kashmir for her honeymoon with her husband on the rebound, I was hoping someone would slap this unapologetic self-server hard.Fate does that. The trouble with a pleasure-seeker like Rumi is, she is given a lot of leeway by the people around her. Her Punjabi joint family consternation at her sickeningly self-gratifying behaviour with Vicky comes through in spurts of hurt and indignation.Not that Rumi cares. She is arguably the most annoyingly self absorbed romantic heroine seen on screen. Vicky Kaushal as her cheesy DJ lover has worked hard on looking his part. The hair and the clothes and the body language exude a sense of selflimiting rebellion. It is never very clear whether the passion between Vicky and Rumi is all about sex, or something more.