His is a career that has spanned over fifty years, transforming the film industry of a nation, and changing the perception of Asians the world over. He remains a colossus, a titan, a one-man industry whose respect among his peers and his countrymen and women remains unparalleled.
Over that incredible career his persona, his screen presence, has meant different things to different people. It all comes down to gender, taste, age, but it is rare to find a single admirer of Bollywood throughout the world to disagree with one conclusion: Amitabh Bachchan towers over Indian cinema like no other.
In his heyday, when he established his Angry Young Man persona — Zanjeer, Deewaar, Sholay — and later on when he fine-tuned his comedy chops and charm offensive — Don, Amar Akbar Anthony-he made all other actors, songs, musicians, dance sequences, infinitesimal in comparison.
His meteoric rise in Indian cinema came alongside India’s state of emergency, introduced by Indira Gandhi. Screenwriters such as Salim-Javed began to put together scripts that reflected the anger of its people. Bachchan, the son of a poet, became a working-class hero anyone could support: the ordinary man who was willing to stand up and fight against the establishment, the big bosses, the unfair practices of industry, the naysayers, the bureaucracy, and the political elite.
Later on in his career, he reinvented himself as the elder statesman, the character actor and regenerated his appeal all over again when presenting the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Well into his seventies, he continues to work, continues to draw acclaim, and still pulls in the adoration of hundreds of millions in his native India, and many more Bollywood fans the world over.
It’s his allure and dizzying charisma that initially pulled in Author Saurav Dutt to pen a new book on the enigmatic superstar. It’s called Dear Mr.Bachchan: A Bollywood Story and rather than trot out the same tried and tested format of an overzealous flattering biography, Dutt-whose work has been featured in TIME magazine-took the more circuitous route of writing Bachchan himself into a novel.
The book is an enchanting, uplifting, and magical parable of a Mumbai boy from the slums who idolises the superstar and through a quirk of fate ends up both meeting Bachchan, and subsequently starring as an extra in one of his movies. Throughout the story a friendship blossoms and the elder Bachchan teaches the youngster a thing or two about life, fame, ambition, and the real meaning of family.
“It’s a cautionary tale about fame as well as a celebration of an incredible superstar,” Dutt says “if you like your stories to put a smile on your face with the added ingredient of some Bollywood masala to go, then this book is for you.”
For Dutt it’s a remarkable turnaround in genre, the prolific Indian born British Author has concentrated his early writing career on topical issues such as domestic abuse, homophobia, and racial discrimination; marking the centenary of the Amritsar massacre last year by launching a historical fiction novel at the House of Lords.
“I felt it was time to mark Bachchan-ji’s incredible record of fifty years in the industry,” Dutt explains “his films were a huge part of my life, watching him over the years has been an education in Bollywood cinema; some of the films have identified an industry, left an imprint on how films are made in the Indian subcontinent, and given respectability to how Asians are portrayed outside India.
“I know there are Bachchan fans out there in the world as fanatical about his films as I am and we’re a collective group of admirers that have supported him during his best periods and the challenging ones; we have paid our money to see the films that never found an audience, and cheered for him as he flied the flag for Indian proudly across the globe.”
The novel format allows Dutt to explore the nature of celebrity, poverty in India, class issues, discrimination, the topical issue of farmer suicides, as well as the concept of hope and personal growth.
“Ultimately it’s a story about hope, about believing in yourself,” Dutt says “and the spirit of Bachchan empowers this small boy to dream of a life beyond the slums, beyond the poverty, and to make a genuine change in his life that will help his family and allow him to be the man his parents want him to be.”
Dutt believes that Bachchan presents his audience with empathy, sincerity, honour, and wisdom-values that other Bollywood stars simply cannot promote the way he believably can; and that many feel as if they can understand the real person behind the multimillion budgets and the glitz and glamour.
“He has a way of touching others through his love of the nation,” Dutt believes “he’s had ups and downs in his life and career and that has taught him humility and empathy. People, myself included, have gravitated towards that and that is why I believe fifty years on he has a fan base like no other.”
India may be a movie mad nation, but Amitabh Bachchan is far more than just a star. Dutt hopes his new book will present the human side of the man and monolith, but also shine a mirror against the society that deifies the actor.
“Amitabh Bachchan is not merely an actor,” Dutt said “he instils hope in the hopeless, and allows others to live vicariously through his performances, gravitating towards his strengths and being there to overcome his weaknesses. There is no other like him as an actor in Bollywood, and he will be remembered with adoration long after he is gone.”
Dear Mr.Bachchan: A Bollywood Story is available now on Amazon through Amazon Publishing.