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June 28, 2000
A boy called Abhishek
Comparisons are as odious as they are inevitable. Unfortunately, no description of Abhishek Bachchan can escape comparison to his Colossus-like father, Amitabh. But, again, Abhishek is probably lucky to have a yardstick by which one can measure him. Others are not so fortunate.
The son of Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan "cannot fail to have inherited some genes from his parents," says lyricist/script-writer Javed Akhtar whose pen crowned Bachchan Senior India's angry young man. "I've known Abhishek's parents since before he was born and, for me, he's a kid. But Amitabh and Jaya have crossed milestones in Hindi film acting. It's strange that I'm asked to comment on him just now, at a time when the scientists who have been preparing a map of the human genes have just finished doing so. In fact, a public declaration was just made after a century of research. I consider this decoding of genes the most important happening in the medical world and, immediately after that, you ask me for my analysis of Abhishek Bachchan.
"If genes have even a small influence on children, then Abhishek must be a child worth watching. Personally, whenever I've watched the way he carried himself, there is the strong impression that he's an extremely well brought up young man. The Bachchan family has always been known for its impeccable manners and this boy has inherited that. In today's day and age, this is considered outdated. In fact, you don't find such manners in other children of his age.
"Looking at him, I'm quite convinced he has imbibed the right values from his parents. With his kind of sobriety and sensibility, I don't see why he should not be focussed or why he won't do well in life."
Everyone who has worked with Abhishek Bachchan predicts huge success for him. Yet it is difficult to decide how much of it comes from the awe one holds his father in and how much is what the critics actually mean.
That Abhishek has inherited both his parents' qualities is obvious. Amitabh has always been a private person in a public arena. Jaya, on the other hand, is an extrovert who is known to emphatically assert herself and speak her mind, often at the risk of offending her listeners.
Abhishek is quiet, composed and rather reserved looking -- just like his father. But -- and this must be a quality Jaya finds difficult to swallow -- he tells her exactly where he finds her wrong. One has seen Abhishek criticise her, albeit reasonably, in a room full of people. Actually, it was not so much as criticism as the stating of a fact. And that, sometimes, can be worse than mere opining.
He's gone on record to say he preferred to watch his father's films rather than mummy's because "she worked in such depressing films!" Thus slotting her in a mere half a dozen words!! He's also shared, with genuine delight, how Jaya once walloped him when he and his sister, Shweta, were watching one of mum's films and he couldn't help guffawing at her histrionics when the appropriate response would've been to cry!
Jaya was obviously trying too hard to monitor the boy's responses to suit her own. Something every parent learns, at his own expense, never to do. But that was when he was still at a slappable age. Unfortunately, Jaya has today made public her disapproval of his reported liaison with Karisma Kapoor. The result? The two meet on the sly whenever they're able to.
Here again, her objection cannot be sustained. Though she dislikes her son's association with Karisma, she's happily got her daughter married to Karisma's cousin! Inexplicable and unjustifiable -- if Abhishek should feel like pointing this out!
This kind of heavyhandedness is also characteristic of the tradition-bound and family-oriented Bachchan family. Amitabh often shares how his father, Harivanshrai, till date asks if his son has returned home and/or eaten his meals. Amitabh himself is known to check up on Abhishek if he's out too late. This, in today's world, can only be seen as suffocating paternalism.
Bachchan Sr often drops in at Abhishek's sets as well, creating a minor furore each time he does so. While today this is seen as a privilege by the current crop of film-makers, one wonders how long it will be before it is seen as an intrusion.
On the credit side, Abhishek does not seem like he's carrying the Bachchan chip on his shoulder. He makes sure he talks to the spotboys and crews (in Bollywood, this is considered a sure sign of groundedness), is never heavyhanded, behaves courteously and, at times, is just like any other 24-year-old. Surprisingly, even in this, he seems to have hurt his parents a wee bit.
Amitabh said in an interview that he'd been waiting with delicious anticipation to give his son some helpful hints on acting and on the film industry. But, one fine morning, Abhishek just upped and left for his shoot without, even perfunctorily, asking for advice. Obviously, he wanted to make it on his own. And who wouldn't, especially if he knew that he would have to spend a lifetime being compared to his father or hearing how easy it was to be a star son in Bollywood?
To give Abhishek his due, he has wisely adopted an attitude of insouciance where his father's achievements are concerned. He can't hope to match them. There can't be another Amitabh, there can only be an Abhishek -- the son of the legendary father.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Seema Biswas (of Bandit Queen fame, she is also an NSD graduate) had occasion to give a few star sons some tips on acting. Even at that time, she'd noticed that Abhishek and Hrithik Roshan (both of whom were participating in her class) were different from the others.
She says, "First of all, you noticed Abhishek's very quiet sense of humour. It was very reminiscent of Amitabh. If you remember, Amitabh never stooped to ordinary comedy -- he'd have some intelligence even in doing the most farcical thing on screen and it always looked endearing. This boy, even when he felt like laughing at something, he'd cover it up quickly and use that amusement in his performance.You could sense he wasn't dumb.
"I'd given them a topic for improvisation and I remember him choosing something to do with medicine -- nothing run of the mill. There's nothing about Abhishek that suggests he's in the field because he is his father's son; he's definitely got something of his own to offer.
"You see a number of Amitabh's touches in him -- intelligence and a sense of humour. I must go back to when Amitabh was new... no one looking at him would've felt he'd break tradition in such a way and give a new look to the hero. But he did. And he became popular with his kind of looks. In the same way, looking at Abhishek, one wouldn't know what to expect from him. That in itself is pleasant -- a sort of a discovery of talent. In many ways, he reminds me of Amitabh."
When his name is mentioned to Refugee's director J P Dutta and cinematographer Bashir Ali, both smile secretly as if to say, "Just wait for the first show on the first day -- this boy is going to take everybody by surprise."
Anu Malik, who's had occasion to see Abhishek right from the time he scored music for Manmohan Desai's Amitabh Bachchan starrer, Mard, says, "He was about nine years old then. Today, he's all grown up. You see the control with which he behaves -- it reminds you of Amitji. He was so interested in the music -- he'd be up all night listening to the recordings and congratulate me when it was done. His way of doing so was to offer you a chilli-cheese sandwich, which, apparently, is his favourite snack. It was surprising to see such a lot of interest in a young boy.
"I've often seen him at home with his parents. Even when there are no witnesses, he is unfailingly courteous to them. If he doesn't agree with something, he speaks his mind. But if his mother reprimands him, he apologises at once. A well-brought up kid."
One has to admit that, superficially at least, it has been proved that Abhishek is a chip of the old block. But there is an even deeper resemblance, in that he's trying very hard not to conform -- he doesn't want to be another actor, however successful. He wants to use his difference to create a new persona, exactly the way his father did. Amitabh did not try to be a Rajesh Khanna or a Shammi Kapoor -- he knew he was different and he finetuned it to create a new persona. If Abhishek succeeds in doing anything similar, in that success will lie his difference.
One has seen the boy, at times giggling, at times getting upset at little things. But now that the mantle of stardom has been put on him, he's turned sober. And responsible. He's trying his best to get people to judge him on his own merit, but he wouldn't be human if he didn't expect some indulgence for being the son of Amitabh Bachchan.
It would be tough for anyone to constantly be on guard and not appear as if he expected special treatment because of who he is. After all, he knows he's being judged all the time. But judgments notwithstanding, Abhishek has come out with flying colours as a star-in-waiting. Tomorrow, we'll know whether he has actually donned the robes of stardom.
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