Dear Mr Bachhan
Before I begin, I must warn you, I am not a fan. Shocking as it may seem, I have watched Sholay just the one time. That was back in your heyday and I’ll admit, back then you were a deserved superstar. There were some great performances and you didn’t sell ball-point pens and Binani cement on every billboard in town.
This heyday I speak of probably came to an end around 1985 but having consulted your imdb page, I would put it more accurately at 1984, when, at the height of your almost phenomenal popularity, you chose to act in a little passion project called ‘Paan Khaaye Saiyan Hamaar’ directed by one Sujit Kumar. You may not remember too much stuff around the time as you were busy arranging deals with the Bofors people, but it says here in the dramatis personae that you played the part of ‘Nahar Singh’ with Rekha playing ‘Courtesan Dil De Be’. Sadly, I couldn’t find a story synopsis. If the people at Sony or Zee really want to treat their paying public they should air this little gem during their Dhamakedar Diwali Weekend With Big B every year. I suspect this is also when the dementia set in. Because your string of hits following this would find themselves on a Kitsch Box Set. Made of gold, of course and scented with pan spittle. There’s the all-time great Gangaa Jumna Saraswathi, of which one viewer remarks under the title ‘Desperate Entertainment’, “… Wow. I can’t believe I actually found this. I watched this on an overnight bus ride to Luxor, Egypt. They were playing it too loud for me to fall asleep so I thought I might as well watch. It was pretty entertaining in a campy way. The production values are horrible, the musical numbers come out of nowhere, and the costumes and locations were crazy enough for me to keep paying attention. Watch this only if you appreciate Ed Wood style camp, and for those that do, you will have fun.”
People are right when they laud you on your comic skills because if you ask me, Gangaa Jumna Saraswathi is up there with Chaplin’s best. And then not be undone, you went on to make a hat-trick of camp classics. Jaadugar (1989), Main Azaad Hoon (1989) and Toofan (1989). Mercifully I haven’t watched any of these. If I had I’d be writing this letter using a Braille keypad because I would’ve gouged my eyes out by the time I was through watching them. But let’s not delve into the late eighties anymore. Admittedly, it was a pretty weird decade all over the world. In 1988, the biggest hit of the year was Crocodile Dundee 2 and Duran Duran was top of the charts. So it must have been something in the air.
The Prozac must have kicked in after that because Indian viewers were spared the sight of your droopy mug for several years. Then came the big comeback. This was around the time the media gave you the ‘Big B’ moniker and the worst French beard in the history of hair made its debut. One would have thought you learned your lessons from your Jaadugar days, but no, you picked up just where you left off. Mrityudaata (1997), Bade Miyan Chotte Miyan (1998), Lal Badshah (1999) and Hero Hindustani (1999). Nice.
It’s a good thing they haven’t found a cure for the mass retardation that affects this country. You probably get this one question a lot. What is it like being Amitabh Bachhan? I expect it must feel pretty damn good having people escort you to immigration through the VIP channel every time you take a flight. Not to mention those life-size cut-outs with rosy cheeks painted on. But my question is not what its like being you, it’s more along the lines of ‘what were you thinking?’
I’ve caught glimpses of your interviews on tv from time to time and from what I can tell, you seem to be a fairly intelligent and articulate man. You seem like you went to school and you can, I presume, read and write. Let me ask you, Mr Bachhan, if this is true, do you ever read the scripts before you sign the contracts? Or do you just grab the money in your sweaty palms and do whatever they ask you to do? There is a profession that specializes in doing what I just mentioned and it does involve a bit of acting but something tells me you want to be taken more seriously. You are an honourable man, after all. A much honoured one, sorry. In 2007, the French bestowed their highest civilian honour, the Légion d’Honneur upon you. And there are possibly several crates of national scrolls and various trophies in your attic. I suppose none of these people have seen Ganga, Jumna, Saraswathi.
If until now the Indian public’s addiction with Amitabh Bachhan was a mere three-sticks-a-day-I-can-handle-it sort of thing, now, it is in overdrive. We went from three sticks a day to twenty and are now snorting Amitabh, drinking Amitabh and having Amitabh fed intravenously through our veins. It is a full-on Amitabh assault on the television set. BPL, ICICI, Parker Pens, Maruti Versa, Pepsi, Reid & Taylor, Boroplus, Nerolac Paints, Dabur, Hajmola, Eveready, Emami, Luxor pens, Binani Cement and Cadbury’s are just a few of the brands you endorse. Tell me, Mr Bachhan, is there anything you won’t endorse? Why don’t you just spare everyone the trouble and make an ad where you walk into a large supermarket in India and just say “Everything here is simply awesome. All the brands, everything, has my stamp of approval. Go buy it.”
There’s no let up. I thought there would come a time when this saturation would lead to your brand power waning. But no, your evil empire is only getting stronger. The fruit of your loins, the flabby “heartthrob” Abhishek, is all set to carry on your crappy legacy. It is testament to the brilliance of Mani Ratnam that he fashioned a good movie using Abhishek Bachhan in Guru. The man is a genius. They should give him the Légion d’Honneur.
While I will not be so ill-mannered as to suggest you take your own life, may I plead with you to please, please consider retirement? ICICI has some great pension plans. But you already know that, since you probably made the ad. You will notice that, apart from the stray mention of Bofors somewhere I haven’t mentioned your wife or daughter-in-law or Amar Singh or ABCL. It’s all kosher here. Nothing below the belt. At one point in my life, when I was perhaps five or six, this one song from Mr Natwarlal was what kept me going. So, I figured I owed you that much.
Give it some thought, what?
First published in KIRIK 01 February 2010