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Bachchan: A director's actor?

India, Sept. 16 -- It is not remotely surprising that Amitabh Bachchan received the National Award for Best Actor, 2009, for Paa. That year, was about Bachchan and 3 Idiots, which got the award for Best Wholesome Entertainer. India's ultimate superstar acted in a tear-jerker, wearing loads of prosthetics and giving it his best as the precocious Auro, a boy suffering from progeria. He swept all the awards that year for Best Actor. 3 Idiots, the year's big entertainer, won all the other awards imaginable. The National Awards jury has cautiously reiterated that Mass is king. The Malayalam film Kutty Srank got Best Film and National Awards jury's favourite Rituparno Ghosh received Best Director for his film Abohoman.

A still from Paa

Bachchan's role as the overgrown, dying boy was convincing in parts. He gave it all and deserves all the kudos for it, having attempted it in his 60s. More deserving than the 2005 award, for his exaggerated, overwrought and unconvincing histrionics in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black. Earlier, it was for the blockbuster Agneepath.

Are the National Awards truly "national"? Yes, if that means films involving national (read Hindi) film icons. This year there are only three major awardees from India's vast and thriving regional cinema. That's an old grouse. And Bachchan being a great actor is popular mandate. True, a film that was sloppily written, with many unnecessary digressions, Bachchan held it together.

But it's also a good time to remember what we have in Bachchan as Hindi cinema's most experienced actor and star. He is rarely ever "directed". His baritone, his screen presence and almost always, his inclination towards larger-than-life histrionics get him all the accolades. We are used to the way Bachchan acts and when we get that, we applaud. No director wants to let the man trapped in his own iconic and godly persona out. In that sense, Paa was a refreshing change, but that was largely because of the role's radical physicality.

Bachchan rarely talks at length about acting. The quotes I remember are, "I trust my instinct"; "I go by what the director says." His cinematic instinct is shaped by decades of Bollywood potboilers where he is the wronged good guy out to save the world or the comedian given trying his best to make performances out of cheesy lines. The real gems are the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee where he showed what a gifted actor he really is.

Paa was a family entertainer. It reaffirmed the positivity canon that many mainstream Hollywood films and Bollywwod films exploit while depicting disease and death. There were no ugly moments in Paa. Auro's disability was his strength. Bachchan played it to perfection. And he was awarded.

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Date:Sep 16, 2010
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