Monday, August 22, 2011

BOLLYWOOD FOR BEGINNERS POST #30

For previous installments, please visit the index.

The next few posts in my ongoing series will be on heroes who are tied to the first decade of the 2000s in some form or another. I'm positive we'll be seeing them all in the 2010s, too, so please don't take my grouping of these guys to mean that I think they're washed up. It's more that I think they hit their stride in this rich and complicated decade.

In full disclosure, I will preface this by saying that I strongly dislike Abhishek Bachchan but I am going to do my best to be objective.






KNOW YOUR HEROES: ABHISHEK BACHCHAN

There are children of stars and then there is Abhishek Bachchan, whose father, Amitabh Bachchan, is not just a star but the biggest star, the flaming supernova of Bollywood. Ever since Abhishek debuted in 2000, he has been tagged with diminutive nicknames emphasising his status in relation to his father - Junior B, Little B, Abhi-baby, or just Junior. And Abhishek, for the most part, has embraced the junior role Bollywood has made for him. Instead of distancing himself from his father, Abhishek emphasizes the relationship. Amitabh does small roles in Abhishek’s solo hero films and Abhishek will play Amitabh’s reel life son. Abhishek may never escape the shadow of his father but he has good working relationships with many people in the industry and will probably be starring in films for years to come.


Abhishek Bachchan debuted opposite Kareena Kapoor in 2000 in the Partition era period film Refugee, in which he played a man who helps Muslim families cross the border into Pakistan. The film was a moderate success and the Little B seemed set to move on to bigger and better things. Alas, it was not be. His next release flopped and then the release after that one flopped. For the next four years, every film of Abhishek’s was a flop - solo hero pictures, two hero pictures, multistarrers, romances, mainstream thrillers, and serious films. It’s a testament to both the genuine good will the industry has towards Abhishek - and the not insignificant influence of his father - that even as Abhishek seemed unable to find a hero persona that suited his talents, he was still offered choice roles.



Everything changed in 2004 with two back to back successes, one critical and the other commercial. Director Mani Ratnam gave Junior his first real taste of critical praise with Yuva (2004), a politically charged drama structured around six characters from different walks of live whose lives intersect in unexpected ways. Although the film was a flop, to many film critics, Abhishek’s performance as goonda (thug) Lalla Singh seemed to finally reveal the actor within. Soon after Yuva came Abhishek’s first real taste of mainstream success with the thriller Dhoom, in which Abhishek played cool cop ACP Jai Dixit out to catch a notorious thief (John Abraham). While the film didn’t break any box office records, it was an unquestionable success. The next couple of years brought Abhishek a steady stream of moderate box office successes and plenty of critical praise. With a Best Supporting Actor Filmfare win and the runaway success of Dhoom 2, which sealed ACP Jai Dixit into the cultural consciousness in late 2006, it seemed like Abhi had finally hit his stride as a hero and an actor. Everything was coming up Bachchan.

And then just as suddenly as it has started, the streak of good luck ended. The years 2007 to the present have been fallow for Abhishek, with the exception of runaway hit Dostana in 2008, in which Abhi and his former Dhoom co-star John Abraham play two straight men who pretend to be gay in order to rent a room in the apartment of an attractive young lady, and Paa in 2009, in which Abhi plays his father’s father. Whether it was the film choices - some of which would have been tough to sell even with a Khan in the lead - or his performances, audiences just weren’t buying what Abhishek had to offer. This run of terrible box office luck continues today.


The question that remains is this: what drives producers to keep casting this star son in film after film? I think the secret is this - industry people genuinely like the guy and want him to do well. And maybe Junior is too nice a guy to say no to his friends when they offer him really stinky pictures - something that Salman-bhai is notorious for as well. And maybe Junior doesn’t feel comfortable stepping away from the sorts of roles that his father thinks he should be doing to embrace the sorts of roles that mainstream audiences have embraced - in other words maybe Senior Bachchan isn't a fan of Junior's crowdpleasing antics.*



But even if Abhishek’s career is not as successful as he (or his fans) would desire, he seems to have a happy life. He has no reputation for drinking or womanizing. He was engaged to Kareena Kapoor’s sister Karishma for a hot minute but they broke it off for reasons that allegedly has something to do with Abhishek’s mother’s objections to Karishma’s background. And in 2007, Abhishek married the top actress in Bollywood, Miss World 1994, Aishwarya Rai. They are currently expecting their first child.

It's not too late for Abhishek to really make his mark on the industry - Saif Ali Khan kicked around for more than 10 years before hitting his stride - but unless he steps away from his father's shadow, he will always remain Junior.

Your milage may vary on how much you enjoy Abhishek's more serious work. Some people really enjoy and others find it tedious. One thing most people agree on is that Abhishek is a great comedian. Here are three films that are a great place to start with Abhi-baby!



Bunty aur Babli (2005)

A boy (Abhishek) runs away from home to follow his dream and meets a girl (Rani Mukerji) who has done the same thing! When becoming rich and famous proves more difficult than they expected, the two join up and begin conning people to earn enough cast to continue on their quest. The one flaw in this plan - a savvy cop played by Abhi's father Amitabh. It's a screwball comedy with a heart of gold, great songs, and plenty of Bollywood gloss.



Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007)

Although it's a love story at heart, this film is a bit more conceptual than your average Bollywood film and fans of Broadway shows should really get a kick out of the staginess. Amitabh plays a gypsy who narrates the wacky romance of Rikki (Abhishek) and Alvira (Preity Zinta.)



Dostana (2008)

Two straight men - played by Abhishek and his hunky co-star John Abraham - pretend to be gay in order to rent a room at an attractive young woman's house. Of course, they both fall in love with her and of course there are some over-the-top moments that play on stereotypes (it is Bollywood after all) but underneath it all, Dostana has a wonderful heart. And Abhishek has wonderful comedic chemistry with John. (We've been promised a Dostana 2 but unfortunately the director has had trouble casting actors to play a real gay couple. )

* I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Abhishek's RAP obsession, which often factors into his "cool" roles. He's even threatened to release a rap album. Somebody needs to stop him!

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Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl