Thank you, Mr Bachchan.
Not merely for the hundreds of invariably personalised memories shared by generations -- memories involving pistols and sidecars and knotted shirts and kolhapuri slippers and chain-mail arms and many, many a one-liner -- memories every single one of us has singled out, gratefully appropriated and made our own, but, specific to my being a film critic, thank you for infinitely more than that; thank you for being you.
Much of what we watch and write about happens to be the stuff of tedium, and even those that shine fail always to soar. There is brilliance, absolutely, but the good -- quite like you in one of those vintage fight sequences -- is utterly outnumbered by the mediocre. Thus, when exhausted by droning on about the cardboard clutter of our cinema, it is to you that we look -- and I am surely not alone in this -- as we gladly forsake forceps.
"And then there's Amitabh Bachchan," I have often times scribbled with gleeful relief, only too eager to yank off the critic hat and pull on the fanboy cap. And while we try our best to be objective about you, sometimes even overcompensating as we strive for fairness, the truth of the matter is that all the people working with you, around you and writing about you today have, at some point, been awed by you.
You've been in more films then the average actor has watched, honestly. That bark itself has looked on over many a manhood: When my father was 19, you growled in Zanjeer; when I was 19, you growled in Mohabbatein. That baritone has done much heavy lifting for the Hindi talkie.
My first Amitabachchan memory (we dared not separate first name from last, growing up) was a kick.
In Amar Akbar Anthony, I believe, but it could well have been any of them, each equally potent -- be it applied to a police station chair or a goon's torso. It was a revelation. Here was this skinny, affable fellow with a goofy grin who suddenly turned his lankiness into a weapon, coiling his long leg inwards and then, gnashing his teeth and lashing out lethally. Always fierce, always sudden, always violent, and almost always, in those days, repeated several times over for effect.
Mothers, as enthralled as fathers and foals, would uncharacteristically refrain from asking to fast-forward
Awed, as I said. And this is where the thank-you this massive began with assumes yet more weighted significance: because you refused to rest. (Not merely on your laurels, but rest at all. You act, you endorse, you blog, you tweet, you give interview after interview with indefatigable grace and impossible tirelessness.) And while that is by itself a staggering feat, it is amplified by your willingness to start, each time, from scratch.
The oft-misused phrase 'director's actor' actually means one who surrenders himself to the will of the director, one who is as good as the director needs him -- and pushes him -- to be. We've all seen the landmark performances many times over, but, with nothing left to prove, it is amazing how you continue gamely to leap headfirst into the unknown, willing to play the fool and go out on an unprecedented limb.
Outlandish roles, debutant directors, performances that are loved, those that are derided -- the only thing consistent in your filmography over the last decade has been risk. You recklessly go for broke far more often than any other star, and continue to defy conventional wisdom, continue to paint a bullseye on your back, pull on those silly boots and take criticism on that now-bearded chin. Despite having amassed more experience than every single person you work with, you are still content being -- and I mean this in the most complimentary of ways -- a mere actor.
Happy Seventieth, Mr Bachchan. May you remain as emphatically restless as you ride gloriously toward the windmills. And may we all continue to get a lot more of you.
(Who, at 7, had a Shahenshah jacket made.)