Same Old Story: When a great actor turns into a set of predictable mannerisms
Amitabh Bachchan has been a prisoner of tics for some time now.
What happens when an actor plays a character like a set of tics? You get just that, a set of tics.
In other words, the props that are used to either sketch out, or fill in, rise to the surface, and hang heavy. And instead of being used by the actor as tools, become the thing itself.
Look at Bhashkor babu in this summer’s winner Piku. Amitabh Bachchan’s irascible Bengali ticks many boxes that you might find in irascible Bengalis of a certain generation: exasperating, annoying, opinionated, obsessed with their alimentary canal and the excretions thereof.
There’s also a singularity that Bhaskor is gifted with: a lovely daughter, who must have been born so late in life that she looks more like his granddaughter. He is aware of her beauty, and keeps suitors at bay: what will happen to him if Piku falls in love and goes off with another man?
The crux of the film — the bond between parent and child that is subject to the pulls and pressures of life — is what makes it such a heart-tugger.
It’s a greatly likeable film, and I liked it. But I did not fall in love with it, chiefly because I could not see inside of Bhashkor. I did not get to know what makes him tick. He was just a set of tics.
There are a couple of moments where Bachchan lets you in, when the half-open mouth, the white hair, the gait, the gestures and the accent make way for interiority. But those are momentary, and from the particular we return swiftly to the generic.
Amitabh Bachchan has been a prisoner of tics for some time now. Whether he fishes them out, and lines them up like his very own ducks in a row, over-ruling directorial diktats, or whether the director doesn’t really look to going beyond — given the thespian’s stature — is unclear. But the result is the same in every film: the character is just an excuse for yet another display of the famous mannerisms, rather than an actor at work, mining the writing, and seeding the superstructure with something startling, something new.
He’s played old in The Last Lear, Bhootnath and Shamitabh: “old” roles are being custom written for him, but they are being drowned by the reverence of his directors. Bachchan’s elderly father in Baghban channeled genuine emotion, which made its way past the schmaltz. But in the other ones, can you tell the difference, other than the garb or the make-up, or the lines? Even the delivery of the dialogue doesn’t differ enough.
And it’s not just Bachchan who is guilty. Superstars whose fans show up just because they — the stars — show up on screen, fall into this trap. If the faithful will worship at their altar, regardless of what they play and how they play, then why bother with any kind of exertion?
It is, when it comes down to it, our fault. As audiences, we are too forgiving. We swoon everytime Shah Rukh Khan spreads his arms. We continue to crowd the theatres every time Salman Khan swings his hips. When Akshay Kumar climbs atop a truck and roars, we roar in approval too.
Why would anyone want to create any difference, if the template works so well? What if, shudder, the film truly becomes hat ke, and the fans don’t come, because they want their idol to do the same thing?
And then look at Irrfan, who even in his not-so-good films, keeps trying for difference. His part in Piku made the film come alive for me: he moves, he shifts, and he lifts the film. No statutory tics, just deft tic-tac-toe. That’s star quality.
Source:: Indian Express