Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Minimally Grand: Eastwood Enigma

Minimal should be an unusual word to be used in Clint Eastwood’s context. He is a physically big man with a colossal screen presence and epoch defining cultural influence.  With all his towering impact, the word that defines him is Minimal. He is all about ‘giving central satisfaction’ and removing everything else. His minimalism accentuates the force of his personality. He has a lean telegraphic style of delivery that is hallmark of his screen presence and also his directorial output. He goes for core and is ready to drop everything else, not because it will distract (of course it will) but mostly due to the fact that it is none of his business. He stands stark and abundantly clear. Despite bohemian airs of his youth, he is a shrewd and intelligent person. This intelligence is reflected the management of his estate, politics, finances, marriages, family cohesion (anyone else would have been hit much harder with all that philandering) but most importantly, he showed his intelligence in managing his own brand and his own career. 

Even before working with Sergio Leone and Don Siegel for spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry series, Eastwood knew limitations of his acting. He is not as versatile an actor as say Sean Connery or Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman. His range is set and he is unique in that range. To quote Jonathan Heaf of British GQ, “Paul Newman was always too smooth, Marlon Brando too pretty; Steve McQueen too much of a hothead,……there is a stylish nonchalance about Eastwood; he drives home fervour and conviction without so much as flickering a smouldering  cheroot from one corner of his mouth to the other.” More than acting, he is a presence and his air of raw masculinity, menace and authority are the key ingredient of that presence. He has to leverage these factors for any role. Even light heartedness of some of his characters is light heartedness of a suave lumberjack. As a DJ, gasping aging FBI agent, journalist, boxing coach, reluctant western gunslinger he manages to bring full authority of his limited assets very effectively. Every character benefits from the ingredients of his star persona without degenerating into self-caricature. He is clearly a limited actor but he is very resourceful and efficient with his skill set. 

Even his on-screen personality clearly indicates a man with economy of gestures who is fairly unhurried about using the time and resources given to him but he is focused. Being unhurried does not mean that he is not fast. He is very quick because he is not wasting time on distractions and is engaging with the core in a very thorough manner. He is aware when and how to expose the core of a character, issue or a film with minimum movements. He is clean and efficient on screen and as a director, he is famous for wrapping his shots in first takes. Even his sprawling movies spend time on the crux with great discipline. For example Unforgiven was unscrambling futility of violence and the reluctance of the hero to indulge in violence. Invictus is taught in management schools- in chunks, to drive home lessons of leadership and reconciliation. American Sniper is meditative and ruminative about the isolation and moral quandary of a sniper but never meandering- Eastwood stays the course and never meanders. 

His evolution must have taught him about the value of staying on course of unraveling the core of the question at hand.  When everyone else saw a handsome young man with not much of histrionic angularity, Italian second unit director Sergio Leone took the basic underlying structure of Japanese samurai movies and American westerns and created Man With No Name. He made the underlying structure based on glares, gun slinging and tough men overt and dropped the melodrama and other distractions that had crept into the genre. Dialogues were brought down to minimum and establishment of force of the personality was achieved in minimum possible moves. Eastwood with his ‘apprising taciturnity’ and imposing personality fitted the bill. He was learning what worked for him. What worked for him was – if you have good ingredients, don’t mess with them too much.
He was a star after the Italian stint. But it was Dirty Harry series that made him an icon. Don Siegal directed him in Coogan’s Bluff where Eastwood played a Western sheriff from Arizona pursuing a criminal in New York. This brought the man with no name some identity and urban setting. Moral clarity in the face of scums of the earth appealed to Nixen era sensibilities. Stage was set for Dirty Harry – man with strong moral core and was willing to discard tentativeness that liberal sensitivities bring in as check against misuse. However, Callahan (Dirty Harry’s name) was focused on removing bad people and was exquisitely violent. His line “You’ve got to ask yourself one question, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” became a signature line. Influential critics squirmed at the glorification of violence. But Eastwood as a vehicle of righteous violence was lapped up by the audience. David Denby of New Yorker has described the matter with masterful clarity “That moment—an insolent piece of pop cruelty—put Eastwood, at the not so young age of forty-one, over the top. An actor may work for years without becoming a star, as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart did throughout the nineteen-thirties. Then, suddenly, looks, temperament, and role all come together—as they did for Wayne, in “Stagecoach” (1939), and for Bogart, in “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)—and the public sees the actor, sees what it desires. He becomes not only a star but a myth, as Garry Wills defined it in his 1997 book “John Wayne’s America”—something that was true for the people who needed it to be true. What the public needed from Eastwood by the time of “Dirty Harry” was both physical and, in a convoluted way, moral.”  We have seen this in India also around the same time a lanky actor was trying his luck with all sorts of roles but in Zanjeer he found the mould where everything- the mood, the look and the temperament clicked and people wanted the angry young man to be real. But I digress, so back to Eastwood. 

Physically and from the point of view of style, Eastwood is a worthy vessel of a collective expectations of the entire nation. He stands tall at six feet 3-4 inches with rugged good looks and has maintained his fitness over the years and is considered one of the most agile and sharp octogenarian of our times (he was born in 1930). “He had an animal grace, a big-cat tension as he moved” qualities that have survived. Efficient resource manager that Eastwood is, he puts these attribute to stamp his authority on screen. His authority is tempered with weary worldliness and after Italian sojourn, had a visible and strong moral center. He personified American manhood ideal and a symbol of its individualism for most of the last century. This isolation may be bitter but never as painful as we see in tortured souls of say a Van Gough or a Wallander- the Swedish detective. He goes back to splendid isolation of a monk not of an outcast.  He might be spare in his movement but grace and style never leaves him. His conventional good looks were given makeover of style that became him by Sergio Leone. He rose in the movies that were self-referential- aware of their artifice and partial to magnificent visual backdrop. Lack of style is not his definition of lean, spare telegraphic film making. His focus on the core can be pretty detailed and beautiful. His grimness is not dependent on documentary like realism. 

In this backdrop of a limited but extremely effective props for acting and branding, Eastwood took charge of career and have been doing this for last many decades through his production company to make what Tom Junod of Esquire magazine calls ‘Clint movies’. Unhurried meditation on the subject with which the actor/ director has become comfortable with. He takes his time and jumps into the film making which is fast, efficient and without frills. Many of his films are reputed to have finished before schedule and well within budget. It has been documented that he filmed a shot of A Perfect World with double of Kevin Costner as Costner was taking his own sweet time for coming out for shooting. He exerts an authority on screen as well as sets. 

He was very closely identified with screen  violence. He is a regular fixture in the essays that tackle problematic glorification of violence. However, in later ventures he has dealt with the futility of violence. Much has been written about Unforgiven for its emphasis on messiness and pointlessness of violence. He realized that gory aspects of violence are not good business as they can be copied and lead to gratuitous one-upmanship. He developed a more nuanced understanding of violence and his depiction became more successful in making violence a gruesome reality which never helps anyone and it went more realistic than stylized. Gran Torino and Unforgiven are case in point. 

He has a political stand that is conservative and Republican. He was elected Mayor of Carmel, California. Often politics of his films are criticized. Dirty Harry was panned for its fascistic overtones. His Speech at 2013 Republican Convention where he talked to an empty chair has been termed rambling to classic by the analysts. Fact remains that he has taken stand on political issues and has shown his displeasure with excessive culture of political correctness. Richard Brody of New Yorker is  bang on target when he writes  ‘With  films ripped from the headlines (recent or past), such as “J. Edgar,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Invictus,” and, “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood has long been a conspicuously political filmmaker—the crucial American political filmmaker after John Ford (and before Spike Lee). But what makes a filmmaker political isn’t the choice of political subjects but, rather, the fullness of political thought, which extends to subjects that, at first glance, don’t seem political at all’. He has recently supported the racist remarks from Donald Trump and called current generation ‘pussy generation’ for what he perceives to be over emphasis on political correctness. Similarly, role of women in his films (rather their insignificance) have been a sore point. However in the 90s he realized this and in the Line of Fire has been acknowledged as an equal and absurdity of gender archetypes were openly mocked at by Clint’s character by caricaturing them. His Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby are sensitive studies in gender and racial relations. It seems he hates to be bogged down by too nuanced interpretation and wants to retain bit of less prickly old days when he was a boy in 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s. He has evolved but he is from old times. 

He has been perhaps the greatest Actor Director, only Woody Allen comes close and Mel Gibson too has a distinguished career as director. However, no one comes close to the length and depth of his career. He has been directing since Play Misty for Me and his latest Sully is getting rave reviews. He has given music score for most of his movies. His company has produced most of them. By any standard he has been one of the most successful single cinematic personality since Charlie Chaplin. His post Unforgiven movies have won awards and critics alike. His directorial output with a body of work like Unforgiven, Invictus, Gran Torino, Herafter, Mystic River, Changling, American Sniper, Letter from Iwo Jima and Sully puts him in the higher reaches of cinematic pantheon.  His assured touch has created works of enduring value. He crafted and succeeded in inventing and reinventing himself. He didn’t allow Eastwood mystique to be a liability but used his strengths to further explore his star persona in the service of his medium. He gave depth to westerns, he created space for righteous stylized violence and later he explored futility of violence (Unforgiven) and revenge (Invictus). Tackled racial relations (Gran Torino) and dealt with strong female roles in Changlings and Million Dollar Baby. He lent his star power to experimentation. All his films, specially later ones take the story of cinema forward but they remain quintessentially ‘Clint Movies’. Lean, minimal and spare thing of unbounded beauty. 

- Dhiraj Singh

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pink is a significant achivement.

Pink is a great movie, and I am not even talking about the message or the ideology of the movie (which,  by the way, is great). The movie is simply good cinema. A compact story told with masterful control over the medium. Cinema being a combinatory art form, brings various branches, which are both craft and art in themselves, to serve the vision of the director or to tell a compelling   story. We will appreciate the hardwork put in the movie if we realize, how difficult it is to weave a scene which is accessible to the audience in a cohesive way. Early cinema audience were puzzled by even close ups and moving images it took some time to instill grammar of camera in the audience. Having a disparate shots and developing a narrative from that is never that easy. Pink is a fully realized cinematic product.

Pink is a fully realized product of cinematic control over a complicated idea. It grabs attention with masterly deployment of tools of the craft. The very first scene after a suitably spare casting credits creates the tempo. Inter-cutting of bleeding Rajvir and tensed girls in two different cars set the spiraling nature of the doom so well. Similarly, shots of traffic lights on lonely roads, South Delhi colonies, Metro, Police Station cell, all were used to help the mood of the related scenes. That is about cinematography and editing which kept the narrative tight and did not allow audience attention wane. 

Then characterization. Every character of the movie has come out succinctly. Rajvir and his friends could easily be situated in a context of unexamined patriarchy and feudal mindset. Rajvir’s father was  irritated but not angry with him as he was comfortable with his infractions. Two scenes of his father established an entire value system. Girls- it was so easy to get that wrong. They were believably nuanced. Adria was the quietest but came out very clearly as a girl facing prejudice at many levels. Falak with her maturity and family burden was trying to navigate the situation with least disruptive way but her core came out so vividly when she broke the compromise proceedings immediately when she could not agree with the vulgarity of Rajvir’s thought process. She was the one who articulated their stance in the court and she exposed the hollowness of payment issue of their meeting with the boys. Meenal was difficult but she clearly laid out the core of a character who wants to live the life on her terms and is willing to take risks for that. Her trauma and believable rootedness in traditional value of family was conveyed very clearly. Bond between the three girls was conveyed so naturally  but never by overt proclamation. Their care, camaraderie and depth of friendship is noted in gestures, their heroic and unflagging support for each other. However, greatest pleasure is given by skillful etching of small characters. Solidity of their home owner is clear in one or two scenes that were given to him. ‘SHO madam’ was realistic in here casual corruption and lack off smarts. Generosity of the soul of Deepak’s ailing wife Sara was conveyed in almost all the scenes that she handled from the sick bed but in one scene where she offers biscuit to the girls is such a genuine depiction of a grand gesture of giving soul. The judge, colony people, inspector and almost everyone was placed so fully in the scheme of things always a sign of great director.
At one level Pink is an extremely competent court drama. Court drama is a genre that has a rich history in all major film industries. B R Chopra used it with great effect in Kanoon. Mera Saya, Insaaf ka Tarazu, many recent comedies including very good Jolly LLB are some examples. Deepak’s initial diffidence and rusty beginning stepped up the tension. Half of the movie is a substantial time to spend in the courtroom and Pink maintains the momentum by arguments and acting. The scenario had no big discoveries involved so it was about establishing new sensibilities and all actors and director were upto the task. Presence of an unusually sensitive judge helped.
Of course Amitabh Bachchan. Another feather in the cap of the thespian who has taken upon himself to take the medium forward. He is pitch perfect as man of fine sensibilities. He is angry and burdened and looks it. He conveys his worries and ailments with subtle  fluctuations in his voice and mannerism. His initial rustiness in the court was so controlled that it is a masterclass in itself. He is every inch  THE Amitabh Bachchan with his strong style intact but this pull, this star power is fully devoted to make Deepak Saigal a success in a great role. Not a single false move. Chief pleasure of his recent performances is the latent heroism of is characters that expresses itself in the least flamboyant manner. He is almost self-effacing in his most heroic moments in Pink and leaves a deep impact. 

Now the most powerful appeal of the movie. After getting into the flow of the movie I immediately regretted that I did not bring my 14 year old son for the movie. It is such a powerful movie that conveys so many lessons of proper gender relations for the boys of today’s generation. The rule book that Deepak kept on referring to during the trial is so convincingly conveyed that it is bound to have an impact. Film or the camera was never in doubt where the blame lay. Such a powerful initiation into the world of right sensibilities. My friends have a point when they say that this film should be taken over as tool of spreading healthy practices of gender sensitization. I was keen to watch the movie as Deepanjana Pal of Newslaundary in her excellent review expressed a niggling discomfort over ‘mansplaining’ and ceding  of space by Meenal to Deepak. After watching the movie I felt relieved that my observation about burdening a film with the personal ideologies were not too far off the mark. 

While the central message is the key appeal of the movie, I liked the fluidity with which it has tackled the issues and great performances that kept the movie at a believable plane. Music, editing direction, screenplay, sound other elements like cinematography have created a great movie. A significant  achievement. 

-Dhiraj Singh

Monday, October 10, 2016

Amitabh Bachchan: Enduring Excellence

Amitabh Bachchan is having an unbelievably successful late innings. His post KBC output is no less than the body of work during his angry young man days. It can be argued that later phase surpasses the earlier period if we take critical acclaim and contribution to cinema as yardsticks. His National Award winning performances, mostly, fall during the late phase and he has taken more risks to enhance his vistas and, more importantly, stay relevant in a totally new era with vastly different cinematic sensibilities and attention span. By any means, Nishabd, Black, Chinni Kum, Paa, Piku and Pink are path breaking movies creating new avenues for the medium and harnessing the thespian’s considerable star power in the service of his acting prowess. 

  A successful second innings by a great artist can really be rewarding. Henry Matisse took his creative journey forward virtually from his sick bed with his cutouts and murals in The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. Clint Eastwood will be known more for the work in his late seventies and eighties when he developed a telegraphic leanness of cinematic delivery as a director. He has not only given many Oscar worthy films but also created a niche for gritty, spare storytelling which has spawned a successful genre of such films. Currently his Sully is running to rave reviews. As mentioned somewhere else, advanced age can resolve many inhibitions and free an artist to experiment. A senior artist, though a carrier of a historical baggage, is often free from the worries of building a career and has better understanding of opportunities that his or her field provides. The wisdom of experience and accumulated star power can put the actor in a position of more deliberate and conscious choices of films. 

Given these advantages, we should see late flowering more often. However, it is not so common due to various factors. Commercial constraints keep the dominant trends of film making in sync with the lowest common denominator which favours youth and existing cookie cutter approach to film making. Aging stars often find it difficult to get author backed roles and are forced to take less central so called ‘character roles’ . General trend is, and Amitabh Bachchan also suffered this in 1990s, is ‘ muscular memory’ output. It goes like this.  The actor sleepwalks through the film. Due to innate greatness or ‘muscular memory’, broad parameters of the basic movie are usually in place and it has some signature flashes of genius. But this work fades in comparison to earlier works which were less of products of practice but of genuine inspiration supported by indefatigable craftsmanship. Soul simply does not shine through. Admirers of the artist get into nostalgia mode and start celebrating diminished sparks that remind them of the original fire – their own and that of the artist. Robert De Nero and Bruce Willis in Hollywood stopped caring about the quality of films that they were picking. De Nero, arguably the best actor of our times has reduced himself to B grade films and deploys his considerable acting muscles for cheap laughs and stereotypical thrills. Nearer home, Rajnikant (a massively under utilized actor) too is not able to break free from his astronomical image. His every new film is brand exercise in milking strong points of his star persona. He, unlike Amitabh, has not leveraged his influence to break the mold. Not that he is failing, he continues to manage his fan base with great success. But he is not expanding cinema. 

Amitabh Bachchan too was trapped in image and habit of staying in safe hands. He relied heavily on a set of directors. Initial phase of Bangali senior directors like Hrishikesh Mukherji was taken over by  Yash Chopra, Prakash, Mehra, Manmohan Desai,  Mehul Kumar, Tinu Anand etc. His choice of films deteriorated and he struggled to give a good film during 90s though he was shining as a star and giving hits like Hum, Shahanshah and attempts at reinvention like Agneepath and Main Azad hoon. His main achievement was to stay afloat as the reigning king of Hindi films. Future researchers will marvel how he survived so many embarrassing film choices (Indrjeet, Jadoogar, Toofan, Insaniyat etc come to mind). Even in his heydays, it was difficult to defend Amitabh Bachchan in any serious discussion. His mass popularity made serious cinephiles of those austere days angry. His unabashed pandering to populist tastes was very easy to attack. While everyone agreed about his talent but there were many who did not consider him to be great actor, Bachchan was for them, nothing more than a self-parody. An amalgamation of   his exaggerated mannerism, never allowing (I find that unfair) his star persona to be subservient to the character he was playing. To top it all he took a sabbatical for half a decade, a very long time in pop culture where memory is short and fads move quickly.

His return was painful, to say the least.  No lover of cinema can read the list without grimacing with  pain and sadness -Mrityudata , Major Saab, Lal Baadshah, Sooryavansham,  (not a bad outing), Hindustan Ki Kasam, Kohram and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan. Even yours truly wrote a requiem for the superstar in 1997, a very painful moment for someone who knew only one superstar. His frustration and financial loses (ABCL was a great concept which simply did not work) led Amitabh to his old director Yash Chopra, asking  for work! Yash Chopra, one of the more intelligent interpreter of emotions, who gave him Deewar, Kabhi Kabhi, Trishul, Silsila and Kala Pathar, reinvented him as senior, aged father figure in Mohabatain. This Aditya Chopra directed vehicle created a space for the second innings and showed the film world possibilities what this maga talent could offer. Meantime success of KBC introduced him to millennials and made him a contemporary for a generation who only knew him as a tall figure from earlier times. Another favourable development was rise of new crop of directors who were taking Hindi Cinema beyond 90s. Someone, recently accused Rajesh Khanna of destroying the golden age of cinema by making every other branch of film a hand maiden of star system. Gradually story writing, lyrics, even production design took back seat in the scheme of producing a film. Film maker’s work was supposed to be substantially over after signing a bankable star. Days of strong teams of Navketan, Raj Kapoor’s talent bank, respectable poets writing for movies were over. Amitabh did little to help the matter, But that was about to change. Ramgopal Varma personally and through his disciples created a new band with fresh perspective. Bhansalis, Gowarikars were rising with Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar firmly in place. Yashraj studio created an eco system for newer talent. Multiplex system, digital production and availability of legitimate finances pushed new film makers to create new sensibilities.   With this backdrop, Amitabh was ready for a new innings and he was being hugely intelligent about it. 

There was, despite strings of duds, a huge reservoir of influence and star power that Amitabh Bachchan enjoyed at that time. Buoyed by a little push by Chopras, TV and other factors, he started cementing his new persona as an aged actor, experimenting with age appropriate roles. After Mohabattain, Amitabh acted in Aks, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Aankhain, Kaante and Boom. All these films with exception of Aks (a personal favourite) gave decent business and created a climate for tailor-made role for the aging superstar. He gave a solid hit in Baghban and attained the status of a benign patriarch of Indian values which came handy for his flourishing advertising career.

 Amitabh was everywhere. An early adapter of social media, he was fully aware that stardom, no longer had the luxury of mystery and seclusion.  He broke the legendry decision of not featuring in advertisements and has since managed an extremely successful career as model for widest possible array of products, a testimony to his credibility and pull.  

Under reliable directors like Govind Nihlani and Rajkumar Santoshi he kept in touch with his action persona as police officer in Dev and Khakee. Veer Zaara, Lakshay, Deewar etc kept him busy with reasonable success. Then, in 2005 came Black

Black gave him Filmfare, National and every possible award for the year and resoundingly announced that Amitabh was ready to take risks to test his limits.  His stubborn irascibility in the backdrop of a hazy foreignness gave him a canvas to paint. He performed a complicated role that even needed a kissing scene with his student. The scene in any lesser hands would have been a disaster but both Amitabh and Rani Mukherjee lent full pathos, dignity and compassion to the moment that it deserved. It was a lyrical portrayal of many inaccessible emotions. The film very successfully reached to the depth of its difficult subject and created one of the path breaking moment in Hindi cinema.  This mold breaking was turning into habit for Amitabh. In Kabhi Alvida na Kehna, he took on the role of a philanderer with deep sense of respect for women and morality, never an easy balance to strike.

Nishabd tested even Amitabh. He had to convey yearning, vulnerability and conflict in almost taboo circumstances. This Movie needed Amitabh as only he could have taken on the nuances of the forbidden love in its full sinful splendour. His grand personality made it believable that a vivacious 18 year old could desire a 60 year old father of her friend. Amitabh relished the opportunity to portray the beauty of losing everything in love. Complexities of this doomed situation created new emotions and delicious pains in his character. In the hindsight, saving this gem of movie from falling into the realm of sleaze was a great achievement. Though the movie could not go the whole hog on the path of such difficult relationship, but Amitabh realized the character fully to bring out the depth and plausibility of his situation. One of the definitive performances on Indian screen. 

This was followed by Cheeni Kum where he so successfully tackled romance with Tabu whose father in the movie was younger than him. Bereft of taboo dimensions of Nishabd and powered by guilt-free atmosphere and powerful performance by both the leads, it was a mature love story with a lighter aspect. Amitabh was not only stylish but was in full sync with a late life lover. Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Last Lear took the experimentation further. Bhootnath, God and  Aladin were forays into comedy that always came easy to the megastar. His following among children is enviable. Paa was another landmark role with another National Award. Piku brought alive very believable demanding father and another National Award for the thespian. Teen and Pink are recent successes which saw him succeed in different roles. 

What lies behind this longevity? Sociological explanation of India of 70s and 80s, series of directors, transition of mushy, romantic days of a declining Rajesh Khanna are worthy explanations. However, a bigger part lies in the talent reservoir of this awkward looking actor with some undefinable arresting quality. Amitabh Bachchan is a complete package. He is superb in action, comedy, romance and clean cut family emotions. He even has a famous unique dance style and has given Filmfare worthy songs. It wasn’t so common when he appeared on the scene and not many of his contemporaries were so versatile.  Amitabh has economy of movements of an assured star. Despite a bombastic nature of many of his roles, he carried the day with his smouldering inner fire. A coiled presence which surprises with fluid, stylized expressions. This inner smouldering quality has allowed him to play with silences. His famous baritone is his forte but to me, his felicity with the silences and ability to emote with eyes are more potent histrionic weapons in his arsenal. He has many very posh distinctive style ingredients in his acting but all those famous mannerisms serve the needs of his characters. His being Amitabh Bachchan makes his Piku’s father and Sarkar’s don more potent. Persona of Amitabh is amplifying these characters not dominating them. Such an actor can never become a caricature of his own image, despite having an extremely strong style set. Arguably, Nana Patekar and to a certain extent, Rajnikant and even Shahrukh Khan could not be fully successful in avoiding a self-parody trap. 

Over a period of time many actors gather star power and influence to alter their medium. However, not many are inclined or lucky enough to use that star power to lay down new rules of the game. Dilip Kumar pulled Hindi cinema (along with Motilal, Ashok Kumar and Balraj Sahni) from the hyper stylized, Parsi theatre type of acting. Rajesh Khanna brought rockstar hysteria to films and showed how romance can be a vehicle for myriad emotions. Amitabh came and embodied the angst of youth of his time. He made being angry and dissatisfied fashionable. He turned being a mommy’s boy into ultimate machismo. He married romance, action , comedy and social message in a never before alchemy of popular appeal, art and commercial success.  But he took the medium to a different level in his second innings. He took risks and broke taboos. He wrote the new script of Hindi film lead who was old, often not in control and ready to be heroic in the least flamboyant ways. This led him to playing Alzhimer patient, constipated curmudgeon, wheel chair bound chess player, old man falling in love with much younger ladies, son to his son and an old sleuth in Feluda mode. All these are walking on new terrain created by an extremely talented and influential superstar who  rose above his comfort zone and chose to rewrite the script . What was once a survival tactics has now become a defining point of onward march of cinematic narrative in India. Herein lies the genius of Amitabh Bachchan. Happy Birthday sir.

- Dhiraj Singh