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Amitabh Bachchan: Reflections on a Star Image by Susmita Dasgupta- Review

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Book: Amitabh Bachchan: Reflections on a Star Image
Author: Susmita Dasgupta
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 224
Price: Rs 499

The book is a set of existential pieces on Amitabh Bachchan that are very far from what a general interest reader would expect from writings on the film star. The various chapters, throughout the book, are reflective thought pieces and address the actor both as an actor as well as a phenomenon. It seeks to analyse why he has been a towering presence in the Hindi film industry and in what ways was his image so different from the general pantheon of stars.

Speaking of the era in which the thespian delivered his best performances, in the chapter ‘Star as an individual emotion’ the author says, “Emotions, as the ones Amitabh Bachchan would portray on screen, were very useful for individuals to socially climb above their social class, change the objective conditions of their lives and in this way, were politically charged with anger”.


Making a comment on the actor’s persona in his films, ‘Classification of stars’ says, “Amitabh in the film Deewar attains his selfhood only after his long struggle from which he rises as the victor. The need for success makes the hero a person who is so autonomous that he can exist as a loner; he really needs no one with him, his world may well be unpeopled”.

Taking this further, the ‘Hero’s relatedness to others in his social milieu’ says, “Amitabh is strangely indifferent to romantic love, indifferent precisely because he has no predefined idea of a self, his selfhood is not attached to anything or anyone. Amitabh’s image is that of a loner, a loner because of his autonomy, his ability to stay aloof despite his violent engagement with the world”.

Interestingly, ‘Heroines of the Amitabh era’ says, “The heroine was more or less redundant in times of Amitabh and thrived mainly as a stereotyped construct designed to elicit male sexual gaze upon her body and the distinction between the vamp and the heroine collapsed. Actresses like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, who in earlier years would have perhaps been vamps, with their revealing clothes and wanton ways, now became the hero’s love interest; the woman as the epitome of virtue was made redundant because women were no longer considered as humans, but were in fact considered tools for the satisfaction of the male desire”. It adds, “Rekha is the most adored woman among Amitabh’s heroines. She forces herself to appear as non-ambitious and coy while at the same time having the capacity to fight tigers all by herself as in Khoon Pasina and Mr Natwarlal. Rekha complements Amitabh as a partner in a duet, while Rakhee and Jaya need Amitabh to play along as an accompanist”.

About those who wrote wonderful scripts for the actor in ‘Writers as shadow directors,’ it says, “Biographically the three young men, Salim Khan, Javed Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan were similarly placed at their respective moments of life when they met. All were trying to make it out in the world on their own and had rather different childhood experiences, which nonetheless, converged into what came out in their projects together. The biographies of the three men, in one way or the other, centre around a missing father and an overwhelming mother. These themes occurred throughout Amitabh’s films with Salim Javed. Amitabh’s image was a convergence of three aspects of the hero’s onscreen biography; one was against the unjust social institutions which debarred people from participating in and contributing towards the development of society. The second aspect was the hero’s desire to step into the father’s shoes because the father had failed him while the third was his deep attachment for his mother, who he could go to any extent to make her comfortable in life”.

About those who directed his most iconic films, it says, “Among all of Amitabh’s directors, I would say Yash Chopra was perhaps the unlikeliest of them all and this is despite the fact that he directed Amitabh in films that could be counted among his best, namely Deewar, Kala Paththar, Kabhie Kabhie, Trishul and later Silsila. Yash Chopra is a man of romance while Amitabh appears to be cynical, sardonic and even downright contemptuous of love, lust and conjugality, whether in romance or in marriage. Perhaps this is why Yash Chopra was successful in identifying in Amitabh, a man who purposefully avoids romance, steels his heart to passions, skips his instincts and resolves to engage in only work in order to single-mindedly achieve his goals”.

So, the book can safely be counted upon as a no-holds-barred account about all the various facets of the actor. But this book is not for those fans who seek a coffee table sort of book since it is devoid of lush images from the actor’s movies, or his life. What it lacks in imagery, it more than makes up for in its thought-provoking chapters that also seek to analyse the actor, reasons for his becoming a superstar and what sets him apart from other actors. Comparisons of his acting skills with actors ranging from Rajesh Khanna, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Guru Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, etc, make for very interesting reading. In that sense, the book may well be a first of its kind.