It may seem like a minor matter to a non-film person, but in the eyes of an actress it counts as one of the ultimate acts of generosity. If you are Abhishek Bachchan’s co-star and he knows that you prefer being photographed from the left, he’ll make sure that during film promotions he is always standing to your right.
That way, when you turn to talk to him in the presence of the press, what camerapersons get to click is your “left profile”.
You’re probably amused by what you just read.
But for female film stars under constant scrutiny for every line, every pimple, every microscopic spot on the face, it counts for more than you can imagine.
Which is why Vidya Balan can’t say this enough: that Abhishek is a supportive co-star. She explains: “Let’s say you’ve got a zit on your face and you don’t want it to show, all you have to do is tell Abhishek.
If there’s a close-up between two people, he’ll hold your face in a way that the zit doesn’t show. He’s that supportive!” Supportive… secure… fun… these are words that colleagues constantly use to describe Abhishek. And yet, here’s a word that might occur to a journalist interacting with Abhishek: confusing. As in, dealing with him is a confusing experience. Before the cameras roll for an interview, Abhishek is one of the friendliest stars you might meet. He’s helpful, cooperative, fun, funny, talkative and relaxed. On one occasion this writer was waiting to do a TV show with him while he was shooting for a film in a studio complex. Since he realised that recording the interview on the grounds would require official clearances apart from costing a packet, he gladly offered to shoot in his vanity van. Which meant packing his own 6 foot-3 inch frame, one journalist, three cameras and a team of technicians into that small space. He didn’t have to do it. Yet, when the interview was telecast, colleagues and viewers had one question: why is he so tense? Does Abhishek Bachchan deliberately project an image of himself in public and press interactions that’s different from reality? Or does he genuinely find it hard to let his hair down when cameras are capturing him off a film set and all he’s got to do is be himself? It’s one of the many things that makes this 35-year-old actor such an intriguing figure. There’s also the fact that Abhishek’s CV may show just half a dozen hits in an 11-year career, but producers and brands continue to invest their money and faith in him. He currently endorses Idea Cellular Service, Omega Watches, Videocon DTH and Lux. On the film front, coming up on April 22 is Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum, then Abbas-Mustan’s Players (Bollywood’s official remake of the 1969 Hollywood heist film The Italian Job in which Abhishek is cast in the role originally played by Michael Caine), Dostana 2, Dhoom 3, Bol Bachchan, Ram Gopal Varma’s Department and Ladies & Gentlemen with Raj Kumar Santoshi.
These are films backed by some of Hindi filmdom’s biggest production houses. There are those who contend that Abhishek’s survival in Bollywood hinges on his famous surname, but that can’t possibly explain his longevity in an industry where so many other star kids have fizzled out. It’s likely that Abhishek has benefited from the fact that any Hindi film-maker looking for a hero in his 30s has very limited choices: no one other than Abhishek, Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham has managed to make any sort of impact, and Shahid Kapoor’s boyish face continues to bely his 30 years. But there’s more to it than just that. If you consider that the true tests of stardom are that brands want you irrespective of the box-office fate of your films and crowds gather to see you wherever you go, then Abhishek is, without a doubt, a major star. And film-maker after film-maker seems convinced that the problem with his career has been his choice of films and his seeming inability to pick the right scripts.
“Abhishek has the talent, the lineage and the love of the audience but it’s always been about the films,” says producer-director Karan Johar. “No actor can be above his films, and that’s where your acumen, your choices, the films that the industry gives you come into play.” Johar directed AB (as friends fondly call him) in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK). It was precisely the sort of role that he excels in—a cool, suave, urban, urbane dude. Versatility may not yet be his strength if you go by some of his recent films (those maniacal hand gestures in Raavan, the faltering Bengali accent in Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey) but a look at his roster of hits courtesy the trade website boxofficeindia.com would confuse any new entrant in the industry in search of pointers.
The first certified hit of Abhishek’s career came with Dhoom1 in which his brooding cop was a key character but John Abraham walked away with the laurels. In Bunty aur Babli, he played the loveable rascal to remarkable effect but had to share the honours with Rani Mukerji and with Amitabh Bachchan in a sizeable supporting role.
KANK was primarily an SRK-Rani vehicle. Dhoom2’s blockbuster status is largely attributed to Hrithik Roshan in popular perception. In Paa his costars won the accolades. And that brings us to the one solo hero hit of Abhishek’s career that no one can take away from him: Mani Ratnam’s Guru.
Abhishek had already earned acting awards for Ratnam’s earlier film Yuva. In Guru, he took on a role that was far removed from his city-slicker image, worked hard on his physicality, and bagged both critical acclaim and stupendous box-office success for his efforts. When such great success came with a role so distant from his comfort zone, everyone concluded that in Mani Ratnam, Abhishek had found what Hrithik has in Rakesh Roshan: that one director who knows exactly how to bring out the best in him. But that reasoning failed when Ratnam’s Raavan fared miserably last year.
It’s impossible to accurately predict the fate of any film, and no actor could have guessed that Raavan would turn out the way it did, but Paa director R Balki echoes industry sentiment when he says, “Abhishek, should do justice to his enormous intelligence and talent. He just needs to choose slightly better films. I don’t think films have let him down.
I think his reading of scripts has let him down.” Another possible way forward for Abhishek could be to heed this suggestion from his Dum Maaro Dum co-star Bipasha Basu: “Abhishek should try to do more comedy because he has the ability to effortlessly make you laugh.” Perhaps Abhishek should also seriously consider striking out on his own, in a sense. Bachchan Senior stands firmly by his position that Abhishek’s professional plans are not influenced by the family. “Abhishek has always had the freedom to make his own career decisions,” he says. “We are supportive in that. He should have the ability, on achieving something, then to be able to say ‘I did it my way’!” But perception counts for a lot in this industry of dreams.
When Ranbir Kapoor debuted in films, Rishi Kapoor had said that he’d be happy the day he becomes known as “Ranbir’s daddy”. For Abhishek, the day may never come when Amitabh Bachchan is known as “Abhishek’s daddy”—and he may not strive towards that either—not just because of his father’s iconic status, but also because Dad remains extremely successful even now.
But with a little effort, Abhishek could more easily be known as his own person. Almost as if in defiance against the press and the public who drowned him in comparisons when he was starting out, Abhishek doesn’t seem to be making any such effort. Quite the opposite. In the early years he endorsed Maruti Versa with his megastar father. He also starred in a credit card ad in which he phones his father to tell him: Dad, they just called me the Big B. When he debuted as a TV show host in 2010, his father was a guest on the opening episode. And on Twitter he calls himself @ juniorbachchan.
All this brouhaha over a last name tends to overshadow the fact that Abhishek remains a talented youngster who is not living up to his potential. Remember that scene in KANK in which Maya (Rani) is trying to initiate a serious discussion with Rishi (Abhishek) who pretends to misunderstand and drops his pants in the most comical fashion, in the expectation of some action? Remember Gurukant Desai’s pot belly and clumsy gait? We really need to see more of that.
It would also be lovely to see a more relaxed Abhishek in his interactions with the public and the press... that boy about whom his friend and costar Riteish Deshmukh says: “He’s got a fantastic sense of humour. He can command a mehfil, he’s that funny and capable of keeping people entertained.” … that person that Balki describes as “such a chilled-out guy” … Yes, it would be fun to see more of that too.