Amitabh vs Bachchan sa'ab: Who is your hero?

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 05, 2012 07:53 hrs

Dinner in my house operated like clockwork. However, sometime in the year of the new millennium, I was told that dinner would henceforth be served 30 minutes late. 

I was shocked. I wondered which god had caused that most unmovable of rocks – my mother – to make a change, which I had been begging for a decade with no success. 

As it turns out, 'god' was on television, asking that eternal question – Kaun Banega Crorepati

Bearded and sober, he oozed class and baritone with every word. His quiet dignity overwhelmed the ridiculously large blue neon sign behind him. 

A contestant on screen helpfully informed me who he was, by addressing him as "Bachchan sa'ab". 

That was the first time I came to know of Bachchan and I was hooked from the very start – watching him night after night. 

However it gradually dawned on me that my mother was actually hooked to someone else - Amitabh. 

I could find no connection between Amitabh and Bachchan sa'ab. 

I was four years old when Amitabh's last good film, Agneepath (1990) came out. I, along with most of India, did not watch his later 'classics' like Aaj Ka Arjun, Indrajeet, Bade Miya Chote Miye and Kohram

By 1998, when I actually began watching films, Amitabh was gone. 

But when I first saw Bachchan on the big screen  - as the stern, bearded, heart-broken but still iron-willed father in Mohabatein (2000) - KBC had already made me quite familiar with this man. His place in my cultural pantheon was firmly cemented. 

He was the bearded old man. Dignified most of the times, he was also a bit silly some of times. He was an old-fashioned, but fair, authority - standing for traditional values and morals. He was also capable of dramatically melding the new with the old, taking up a fresh banner without leaving his old allegiances. 

He was the benevolent establishment that was always ready to change for the better, exiting the scene gracefully after preparing the ground for the next generation. He was the wise hero from another age. 

My mother's Amitabh, on the other hand, was a clean-shaven, lanky youth who was usually the anti-hero.

He learned the lessons of life the hard way. He was a symbol of anger. At the height of license raj, he would not only take on the establishment, but also frequently overthrew it. He was the stoic lover who occasionally broke out of his reserve to openly express a deep, emotional form of love.

I eventually watched most of his films with the due diligence of the recently converted. 

But I could never connect to it. In my liberalised India, there was no such anger at everything. I could not understand why a government job was so important or why a degree was worthless. I had difficulty believing that all problems could be solved in the end. With serial blasts and a real black market sapping my nation, I failed to feel much sympathy for the loveable smuggler or the 'Robin Hood' who worked outside the law. 

On a lower note, I could not understand why anyone would watch a film for three long hours, enduring a never-ending barrage of songs. 

I resigned myself to the fact that this divide between her view and mine was never going to be overcome. She had Amitabh and I had Bachchan. 

Ironically, it is this divide that makes Bachchan the legend he is.

There were many others competing for my mother's attention along with Amitabh. 

Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Feroz Khan and even Vinod Khanna.

But they would all fall by the wayside in time. They were a product of their times and, like golden memories, were forever walled off from the 'now' to remain in the 'then'. 

After the disasters that overtook Amitabh from 1990 to 2000, he not only looked like he was about to join their club, but he could be seen standing in the club's lobby, filling in his application. 

But things didn't turn out quite like that. He still stands just as tall.  

He was definitely lucky - the position of KBC host could have easily gone to someone else. But even as a child, I realised only Bachchan sa'ab could transform KBC from a 'game show' into refined television. 

He could have chosen a different path. He could have chosen to be clean-shaven! But he seemed to have made the right choice. 

My parents watched someone symbolically give up an idealistic boyhood to become a man. I watched someone give up being 'the man' and become an idealised symbol.

Luckily, we both watched a legend unfold on screen.

With a career spanning four decades, we've all grown familiar with Amitabh Bachchan. But what phase did you catch the ever-transforming star in? Did you catch the Big B bug thanks to his films or KBC? Let us know your first encounter with the megastar in the comments section below.

More from Sify: