From Inquilab to Amitabh: At 75, do we really know him?

There is so little that we don’t know about Amitabh Bachchan. Every Indian film lover knows that he had to face rejection from directors for ‘being too tall,’ and that All India Radio refused to offer him a job because his ‘baritone’ wasn’t, well, baritone enough.

If there is one man in the world who has been served historic justice in golden platter, it has to be Amitabh Bachchan, born this day, five years before India became independent.

When all is known about the man – so much so that his everyday thoughts too are in the public domain thanks to his hugely popular blog – how does one give a tinge of novelty to a ‘birthday piece?’

For starters, we could go back in time, and speculate with gusto. And if it turns out to be wrong, well, the responsibility is your truly’s. Maybe, the understanding of this legendary actor, who inspired a generation to part their hair into two nicely kempt halves and deliver left-hand punches to friends, has been wrong all along.

This is unverified but what could have prompted the poet Harivansh Rai to initially call his first son Inquilab?

Can we flashback to an infant, who lifts his left arm up, and delivers his first punch at the mid-wife? Do we see in that infant the embers of India’s first angry young man? Does his dad spot it so early that he decides to name the child ‘Inquilab’ – a dedication to a nation crushed under British rule? And was destiny to pen it down then and there that the boy will grow up and face up to British actors, and take audiences back to the rage of that era?

We didn’t get Inquilab Bachchan; instead, his dad eventually decided to name the boy Amitabh – ‘the light that would never go off.’ Was it another coincidence that prompted destiny to open up another page in its thick annals and mark that sad day in 1982, when shooting for ‘Coolie,’ this man would undergo a near-death experience? And that millions of the man’s fans would light up their homes in ardent prayers for the man’s health, and death would step back so that the ‘light would never go off?’

Going back in time, yes, the boy grows up to the resonance of poetic notes sung by his father and discussions on theatre by his mother. Does he think of ‘acting’ as a career? Hardly likely. Films aren’t career routes for young boys, then.

How would this boy have been in Allahabad’s Jnana Prabodhini and Boy’s High School? Was he a bully? Or was he the lanky boy who came to the rescue of others from the bullies? Was he good at studies? Was he caned? Was he a fun-lover? Did he pluck mangoes from wayside orchards? Did he walk to school? Did he love sports? Was he caned? Did he worry about exams? Did he have first crushes?

We could guess that Amitabh must have been one of those ‘also-ran’ kids, with the burden of his father’s illustrious legacy. We guess he must have been the rather-shy type – who had a few friends, not many, and with them, he must have shared a deep bonding. He must have been utmost respectful to elders and he could not have been the one to give young girls in his neighbourhood any sleepless nights. We have a sneaky suspicion that he must have been the affable ‘bhaiya’ for the girls. He must have been one of those neutral guys – not liked, not hated. You wouldn’t miss him.

He must have had bittersweet bickerings with his brother, and then bonded with him big-time as they reached maturity and stepped into college. How was Amitabh at Nainatal’s Sherwood College and Kirori Mal College of the University of Delhi? He was an Arts student – hmmm, not an impressive track record, then. For, isn’t Arts always the preferred stream for the ‘back-benchers’ and ‘also-rans?’ Did Amitabh bunk classes? Did he go for movies? Who did he adore? Was he in torrid campus affairs? Did he love college? Did he smoke and get together with friends for an occasional drink? Was he worried about exams? Did he take part in Arts Festivals?

We guess he continued his low-profile, with a select group of friends. He might not have been overtly famous. He might have acted in a few plays, and perhaps there was promise in the air. But we bet that none of his colleagues could have prophesized his metamorphosis into the legendary actor. He must have had the first of the romantic flings – will we get to know her name? He wouldn’t have walked with her under the moon but will encourage millions later to fantasize the same when he sang ‘Neela Aasman…’ in ‘Silsila.’

We move with the man to his job-hunts. He must have been disappointed when AIR and the film producers he met rejected him. Was he shattered? Did he get drunk to drown his sorrows? And what could have been in his mind as he decided to take up job as freight broker for Bird & Co in Kolkata? Did he learn Bengali? Did he ever consider the possibility that he might marry according to Bengali rites?

We guess he was good at his work. He could have taken the disappointments in his stride. He must not have allowed the bitterness to show. He must have laughed at himself. He could have been a great colleague. He would have taken his spare time off to watch movies and plays.

And moving on, what would the man have felt when he bagged his first role in ‘Saat Hindustani?’ What was his mindset when he went to visit director Khwaja Ahmad Abbas? In the run up to the 1971 ‘Anand,’ what would have been in the young man’s mind? A burning desire to make it big in silver screen? We guess that he must have been pretty cool about it all. He must have gone home to his mother, and bared his soul. He must have shared a laugh or two with his brother, and suppressed any malice he felt at the way the Indian film industry functioned.

Post-‘Anand,’ Amitabh Bachchan, the Legend was born. Now we have little to ask or second-guess. This man is family. We know him… or so we continue to believe.


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