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Book Review: Amitabh Bachchan as the Other

April 16, 2024 | By

In her latest book ‘Amitabh Bachchan and the Other’, film critic and author Shoma A Chatterji contends that beyond Amitabh Bachchan’s persistent ‘angry young man’ label, his cinematic prowess defies stereotypes, aligning him more closely with the intriguing concept of ‘The Other.’ A Silhouette book review by Somdatta Mandal

Amitabh Bachchan As The Other
By Shoma A Chatterji

When innumerable books, monographs, biographies, articles, and news reports are regularly churned out on the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, the very first reaction on the publication of this new book is, so what new information will we be able to garner from it? And this is where Shoma A Chatterji, the award-winning film critic, journalist, and prolific writer who has authored thirty-two books, manages to bring in a new perspective of studying the superstar when she chooses to look at Amitabh Bachchan as the ‘Other’, focusing on what made him stand out from the mainstream. Selecting and analyzing fifteen films featuring him that span between 1971 and 1990 (beginning with Anand and ending with Agneepath), she attempts to show how, in these films, Bachchan maintains various shades of the ‘Other’ image, something new that earlier popular Bollywood heroes never attempted to do.

Chatterji dedicates the book to her parents and to the Bengali film star Prosenjit Chatterjee. In the detailed Foreword written by award-winning filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who is also the Founder Director of Film Heritage Foundation (FHF), we are told about the sheer force of Bachchan’s presence, the intensity, the voice, the larger-than-life persona that dominates the big screen. His ability to play every kind of role – the angry young man, the common man, the sophisticate and the country bumpkin, the tragic hero, and the comedian, often in the same film. The trope of the angry young man immediately springs to mind. But in this book, Chatterji thinks otherwise.

In the Introduction, she thinks it is “the biggest challenge” she has given herself over her journey of nearly fifty years is when she ventured into analysing Amitabh Bachchan’s film career. She feels that labelling Amitabh Bachchan as the “angry young man” has been unfair as many other films were crafted for him where he played larger than life and simply “not angry.” She feels that “The Other” – the critical reason for his legendary status will most certainly find its place in the history of Indian cinema. Her chosen list of Bachchan’s films includes many box office hits, but this does not imply they were very good films in terms of quality, content, form, and performance. Many have made it to her discussion list in this book because they span a range of his ‘Other’ image.

The ’Other’ is a term used to capture the ways other people are different from us. It is also used to describe the people who keep distant from us because we decide they are not like us. Emmanuel Levinas calls this ‘alterity’ and stresses upon rethinking our attitude towards difference. Edward Said’s theory of the Other is also significant. After analyzing several postcolonial critics and theorists where they define the concept of ‘The Other’, Chatterji attempts to show how in Bollywood cinema, the Other is one who does not fit into the cliché mould of the stereotypical hero, which also does not have a fixed definition over time. Since this book is a comprehensive study of Amitabh Bachchan as the Other, the author places his personal background juxtaposed against his screen persona. We all know how with his image of the convoluted, intense, silent, and seething anti-hero, he changed the image of the hero in Hindi mainstream cinema. In this book the author cites ten different reasons for him being the Other.

Amitabh Bachchan’s greatest contribution to Indian cinema has been his redefining of the conventional Hindi hero in its varied forms. Interestingly the star evolved through the actor and the character, not the other way round. Dockworker, mine worker, railway porter, police officer, small-time crook – these were some of the roles he played in his career — roles that were predominantly lower class and integral to the evolution of the aesthetic of mobilization for the films. As mentioned clearly, the author does not analyse all of Bachchan’s films but instead selectively chooses fifteen films to explain her argument. The reasons for the selected list are namely – (a) box office success, (b) characters portrayed as ‘Other’, (c) omission of several directors he worked with in these fifteen films, and (d) chronological order that shows the evolution of the actor, a star, a legend, and as the Other from 1971 to 1990.

Overlooking several of his earlier films that flopped in the box office, the author begins her detailed analysis of the various shades of the ‘Other’ image with Anand (1971), the psychological thriller Parwana (1971), and then Zanjeer (1973) that turned the tables not only for Amitabh Bachchan as a star but also for the entire history of Hindi cinema in India. In it, we witness the strange bonding of the hero with Sher Khan, who represents a different facet of criminality in society. The next film analyzed is Saudagar (1973), followed by Namak Haram (1973) that depicts a close friendship between two social and financial unequals that ends in tragedy. In this film Somu is the ‘outsider’, and Vicky is the ‘Other.’ In Abhimaan (1973), music and Subir Kumar together ‘othered’ everything and everyone else. In Deewar (1975), Vijay is not ‘born’ as the Other, instead he becomes the Other. He justifies his life in crime by giving his family as the reason behind it. In Sholay (1975), Jai marks him out as the distinctive Other.

By the time we come to Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), the image of the angry young man was fast fading from the memory of the masses who created this label, and we find the character of Anthony Gonsalves as the ‘Other.’ In Don (1978), being the Other is not the result of any sectarian tension based on class, caste, or age but based on the professional difference between law and crime. Don defines the Other not as a single individual but as one individual split into three different personas which Amitabh Bachchan executes with so much conviction. In Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), he is the ‘Other’ in the beginning, remains the ‘Other’ right through the narrative, and dies as the ‘Other’ in the end. In Shakti (1982), Vijay is the ‘Other’ because he gravitates away from the orbit his father inhabits, more by circumstances beyond his control. Here the Other is also another facet of the marginalized. In Coolie (1983), Amitabh Bachchan ‘redefined’ and ‘deconstructed’ the Other in cinema by proving that noble birth in real life can be twisted to appear differently, and in Main Azaad Hoon (1989), his “verticality” or “lambuji” (the tall guy) makes him the Other. The last film discussed is Agneepath (1990) in which the director deconstructed the image of ‘the angry young man’ born in Zanjeer and reconstructed him through the very ‘Other’ character of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. In this film, Amitabh Bachchan stands out in stark contrast to his earlier characterizations, and this marks him out as the ‘Other.’ Thus, we get a clear picture of how the author analyzes different ways in which the nature of the ‘Other’ is portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan in the different films spanning the peak period of his filmic career.

In the last section of the book Chatterji shows how Amitabh Bachchan ‘others’ his earlier younger persona, pushes the boundaries and reinvents himself through a host of uncommon characters in films like Black, Sarkar, Paa, and Piku. Stripped of his youth, sex appeal and charisma, he reinvented himself through roles he could never have imagined playing in his youth. Some of his “mellow” films hold a complete chapter under the title “Othering the Other” where Chatterji discusses how twenty years after he arrived on India’s cinematic horizon, despite two spells of failure, Amitabh Bachchan rode right back into the large screen as a mellowed and gracefully wizened person, as an ageing hero. He broke away from any ‘young’ role that labelled him as an action hero and by the mid 1990’s he had decided to make a permanent break from this overwhelming image. He understood the significance of charting his journey away from the mainstream, while remaining within it. Today he is doing a variety of roles from godfather to philandering patriarch to an aged romantic.

One significant chapter in the book highlights a detailed interview that Shoma Chatterji had with the actor. Aptly titled “A Word Game with Amitabh” she divides the interview questions and answer under three headings – the philosopher’s response, the emotional response, and the professional response. Also, the detailed references, bibliography, and glossary make the book a collector’s item for readers who are not just satisfied with superficial information about Amitabh Bachchan that is usually available in most run-of-the-mill books written on this icon of Indian cinema.

Amitabh Bachchan as the Other
Author: Shoma A Chatterji
Publisher: Vitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd, 2024
ISBN: 978-81-19670-72-7
Price: Rs. 495
Available on Amazon

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Amitabh Bachchan – He Still Towers Over the Others

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Bachchan Back to the Beginning — Mega 18-City Retrospective & Exhibition to Celebrate the Icon’s 80th Birthday

Abhimaan (1973) — Where Music Leads the Way


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Somdatta Mandal is Professor of English at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan. Her areas of interest are American Studies, Contemporary Fiction, Film and Culture studies, Diaspora studies and Translation. A recipient of several international fellowships and awards, she has several national and international publications to her credit.
All Posts of Somdatta Mandal

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