Saturday, May 03, 2008

Amitabh Bachchan is a mediocre actor, in the same way as Robert de Niro and Al Pacino are




Amitabh Bachchan is a mediocre actor. This will offend all those people who had started seeing movies some time around 1969-1970. It was a time when some people came into the Bombay Hindi film industry from a place called the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), somewhere in Pune. It was also the time when that brainless phrase, 'generation gap' gained currency. And someone called Shatrughan Sinha wrote in The Illustrated Weekly of India about how the new generation of actors and actresses are better than the older lot like Dilip Kumar because the older ones picked acting while working in films, while he and and his friends have entered the job with the required qualifications to act. It is true that Amitabh Bachchan does not belong to the FTII crowd like Shatrughan Sinha, Jaya Bhaduri, Shabana Azmi et al. But he belonged to that crowd with that attitude. At that time the word 'attitude' did not have the connotation it has now. But with hindsight, it can be said that Sinha, Bachchan and the rest of the FTII-wallahs had plenty of 'attitude'. These people preened themselves on the fact that they were all well educated, that they did not belong to the entertainment tribe which dominated the film industry. These people also felt that they had life beyond films. For all these reasons, they ended up being mediocrities when it came to acting. As they went along, they did unlearn all that FTII stuff and did some good acting. Shabana Aazmi and Shatrughan Sinha, and at times even Jaya Bachchan, showed traces of good acting. But they could never achieve their potential because of the education they received at FTII.
Bachhan was not from the FTII but he showed all the bad qualities that the institute imbibed in its students. Behind his reserve and modesty was a certain kind of arrogance of the so-called cultured man, the educated man. When he mingled with the industry people, when he did all those roles which came from the heart and imagination of directors like Manmohan Desai, he performed them with a certain detachment, even with a certain contempt about the absurdity and melodrama of such stuff. He was untouched by all that. He knew that they gave him money and fame, and he was no fool to spurn them.
So like his FTII friends in the industry, he used skills, craft, intelligence and also intellect. But never his heart. That is why, there is no warmth of any kind in any of Bachchan's performances, from 'Anand" to 'Cheeni Kum". He does the job competently and goes home. And when somebody interviews him and refers to the Hindi cinema industry as 'Bollywood", he objects. But it is not out of any sense of solidarity. It is pure professionalism. The industry has provided him work, and he would remain loyal. It has nothing to do with emotions and with the heart. In contrast, Raj Kapoor was emotionally engaged with Hindi cinema. That is why, when India's official film festival included a section on mainstream cinema, he spoke passionately about how the 'tamashawallahs" have been allowed into the hallowed precincts of the film festival.
Bachchan, the intelligent actor with an intellect and a flair for the English language like all good Indian middle class individuals, has never faced intelligent criticism. He has been surrounded by fawning journalists, who went on to write starry-eyed biographies.
So, if he is told that he is a mediocre actor, Bachchan would not know what to make of it. That is why, it becomes necessary to give him examples to prove the point. Thw two great mediocre actors in Hollywood in the last 40 years or so -- coinciding with Bachchan's time in the Hindi cinema -- are Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Both de Niro and Pacino are method actors. They study their roles, get under its skin, get the accent right, get the gestures right and deliver a dramatic performance which never rises to the heights of greatness. Robert de Niro's performances in 'Taxi Driver", 'Godfather II", "Raging Bull" were all studied performances, great examples of affectation. So it is with Al Pacino in 'Dog Day's Afternoon", 'Godfather II", Bobby Butterfield" (with Martha Keller),and 'The Insider".
Both de Niro and Al Pacino can be very exasperating because they do their roles with such methodical rigour. It never occurs to them that they are sucking out the heart and soul from their performances with their dedication to skillful acting.
Bachchan has the same problem. He executes every role with a thoroughness that is frightening,and leaves you wondering why such a good performance fails to move you. The reason is simple: He puts everything into the role except his heart.
That is because he is too educated to be a good artist. He did not ever get a good sentimental education. All that he got was a good English language education which leaves one quite uncultured.

12 comments:

Nicky said...

You are talking utter nonsense in this piece.

A Anand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Anand said...

That's an honest review. I agree that all three have been mediocre actors. Acting cannot be taught in a school. Either you are born with it or you can pretend that you have it. In my view, Robert Redford (Out of Africa), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption),Ed Norton (American History X),Clint Eastwood (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) and Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets) has done better job than these three actors.

ANS said...

Yawwwnnnn......you are simply out of your mind, and I beg to differ with everything you have written in this piece.

Maybe you have some grudge, not against these actors, but the profession or the industry itself? Just a thought!

Vijay said...

This guy talks from the opposite side. Has little clue or understanding of what acting and cinema is all about. It's easy to trash someone who has achieved much much more than this writer can ever drwam of..... Need I say more........ smiles....

Ashish said...

This piece would make a lot more sense if you included your idea of good actors and their performances.

Also, not all people are unmoved by Bachchan's performances. For example, I don't know anyone in my friends circle who did not love Khuda Gawah or Baghban.

Last, have you considered that it's real tough to achieve such heights as Bachchan has achieved if your heart is not into your work.

Jugu Abraham said...

You have woken up, Venkat! Good morning.

Ramachandra Parsa ( Parsa V R Rao ) said...

A very good and balanced assessment of the Legend Amitabh Bachhan as his admirers call him. Yes, his die hard fans cannot digest this ruthlessly frank criticism of their Demi god. Yet the fact remains Amitabh is and will be a thorough Professional Actor. Not a soul stirring performer . Like Raj Kapoor in Hindi or S V Ranga Rao in Telugu. Any serious student of Cinema must see Raj Kapoor's performance in Teesri Kasam and S V Ranga Rao's performance in Aatma Banduvu which came in early Sixties, and compare it with the best of Amitabh's performances. Let his fans decide and choose and pick their Hero's best performance as they see it. Let them compare that with the other two actors I mentioned. They will see the the truth themselves.1

P.P. Balachandran said...

Jugu, are you,too, endorsing the view that de Niro and Paccino are 'mediocre' actors? I have no opinion on Bachchan. You can hang him for all that I care. Someone above is quoting Robert Redford (Out of AAfrica) and Clint Eastwood as being in the same league as Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson is at his best not in As Good As It Gets, but in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.Of course it's my personal opinion.Just recall Paccino's Michael Corleone in Godfather 1, and de Niro's Vito Corleone in Godfather 2, and ask yourself whether those were mediocre performances. I think it was Sofia Coppola (FFC's daughter) who recommended Al Pacino to play Michael with these famous words: "He can undress you with his looks." Talking of looks, which was the last film of Eastwood you saw where you noticed the tiniest of muscles move on his face, except when he chewed his cigar? Did you ever see his eyes?

amitabh srivastava said...

Well said Parsa. Why should we all bow down to Amitabh Bachchan. Those asking for examples of good acting should compare that thespian Dilip Kumar. Naseer or Sanjeev Kumar who could make every muscle of his face talk without speaking. Bachchan much to the annoyance of his fans is no patch on them.

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Mahendra Chaudhari said...

Are u ppl retarded ?!! Clint Eastwood can't act to save his life. Amitabh no heart ?!! Go watch Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. The truth is... we Indians don't deserve a Amitabh Bachchan. The 3 midget Khans are right for us. None of us are qualified to even discuss Someone with the acting calabre of AB. Go home. Period!

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