Amitabh Bachchan: The brand value of being earnest
by Vanita Singh
What makes Hindi cinema’s favourite Angry Young Man still so relevant? He is 70 years old, wears his grays elegantly, and writes a blog in his characteristic style that is almost old-fashioned in its courtly Queen’s English. Yet brands (and even states) still want Amitabh Bachchan as their face, directors still want his Midas touch (even if, in the form of a cameo) and millions of viewers still want him to test their general knowledge. What makes Amitabh Bachchan, Big B, one of the biggest brands in showbiz, one of the few stars, who can please both, the urbane and the angry young street kid too? Who better to answer that, than the man himself? Here’s an excerpt from Bachchan’s blog (Dated Oct 1, 2012) about the hullabaloo about his 70th :
What a lot of fuss and unnecessary attention to just another figure of a year gone by. But to some it has meant a moment that needs remembrance and documentation, or perhaps in some cases archival value. So one concedes!
And there lies the answer. This star understands the importance of others’ need to document his life and graciously welcomes one and all to do so. More importantly, he seems to have separated Amitabh from Bachchan, the private from the public – perhaps a reason why his public persona is dripping with humbleness and the earnest need to be a star at the service of entertaining people instead of being the star OF the people.
That shows up in how he treats the media as well. In 2009 CNN-IBN rolled a show with Bachchan who was promoting his then release, Rann. In contrast to the late 70s when he had stopped entertaining the media following some key publication’s decision to boycott him, the new millennium saw him wisely use the media. Bachchan not only arrived on time to our studio for the show roll (stars aren’t exactly known for their punctuality), but also came prepared. It was clear that, though aware of his stardom, Bachchan insisted on conducting himself as a professional. He had a part to play off the screen as well and he played it to the best of his abilities.
He was equally gracious when two years later he visited the CNN-IBN studio for another show (he was promoting his 2011 release, Bbuddah… Hoga Terra Baap then) – only this time, he arrived before the scheduled time and even asked the channel’s team to choose the shirt he should be wearing for the show and then very accommodatingly did the switch behind the sets instead of the green room – a walk to which would have delayed the roll.
Just because he is a consummate professional does not mean he is a pushover. Even as he patiently entertains all the interviews that his 70th birthday has brought upon him, he speaks his mind (wrapped in polite words of course). Refer to this excerpt from his blog (Dated Sept 30/Oct 1, 2012):
A million interviews tomorrow … all leading up to the DAY of 11th … say no to one and bear the consequences of the others … say yes to one and bear the consequences of the others … though I wonder what it is that they would want to know now - I have indeed put in all in a zillion meetings before …
It seems, Bachchan’s years have taught him to make the most of the circumstances; to understand the difference between riding on stardom and driving one’s stardom by simply being human (no pun intended). Remember, this superstar has seen the dangerous highs and lows in his career graph (one of the lowest being the financial crisis that followed the failure of his production house, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited in the late 90s). And as the story goes, this Young Angry Young Man of the 70s didn’t shy away from approaching filmmaker Yash Chopra for a role following his financial slump (which resulted in 2000’s hit, Mohabbatein) and then dared to take on a TV show when most big screen stars frowned upon small screen (in 2000 he started hosting Kaun Banega Crorepati.)
And with this show, he managed to reconnect with his fans and make new ones. Bachchan graciously invited people to the ‘hot seat’ and played the good cop to the hilt. He treated his admirers with respect and courtesy as against the usual suspects who indifferently scribbled autographs barely looking at their fans through their designer sunglasses. He wore designer suits, French beard and trendy glasses but he spoke to his fans and the media with humbleness and politeness — that much like gravitas had become his trademark. Whether it’s a carefully cultivated persona or his real being, only few can confirm but it is definitely worked in Bachchan’s favour — his fans returned his courtesy by tuning into his quiz show religiously and Amitabh Bachchan once again became a brand to reckon with. Film roles too started pouring in and soon, advertisers lined up to sign him on to woo both young and old India. The awards followed, including a National Film Award for Best Actor at the age of 66!
This Bbuddah… star has made sure to be in sync with the times. Today, his blog entries are hovering at around 1600 days, his Twitter followers have touched 3,652,955 high and he even has an official Facebook account. And if it seems a tad too self-indulgent, refer to his blog entry dated Sept 2, 2012.
Having said all … many may observe that perhaps the most used word or letter on this platform is indeed the letter ‘I’ … !!! Ha ha ha !! So what does one do to maintain my objection? Stop ? No … this cannot stop now. This is not autobiographical, it is a most lenient fire side conversation after dinner has been served, with members of my family. And for this I seek pardon. Not from you that read, but from those that contemplate other attributes, biographical !!
Well, let’s not forget, he is what they call a living legend. He has inspired fans to walk backwards, hold vigils, emulate him in many ways, and even flee their homes hoping to own Bachchan-sized shoes in showbiz. So was his phoenix like return out of the oblivion of the 90s, back into the spotlight, this time as an endearing icon by design or destiny? Once again, who better to answer that, than the man himself? Here’s one of Mr Bachchan’s most recent tweets:
@SrBachchan — Never a day goes by without the thought of what tomorrow may hold .. design and plan seldom redeem the unexpected .. que sera sera !
Vanita Singh is Associate Features Editor at CNN-IBN.