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Amitabh leads Bollywood's grey pack
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Slowly but surely, Bollywood seems to be making space for actors who have greyed but make up a talent pool to reckon with.
Films written specially for actors who are above 60 seemed to have faded until Ravi Chopra's "Baghban", starring Amitabh Bachchan. This surprise success of 2003 showed how close the feelings and emotions of the old are to the audience.
"In fact," says Tamil superstar Madhavan, "I'm planning to produce a film about a father who's sent away to an old folk's home by his own son. I wanted only Bachchan to be cast as the father. But now after 'Baghban' it seems like too much a good thing."
More and more directors are coming forward to write roles where the patriarch gets to have his say. And most of these patriarchs are played by Bachchan.
Ravi Chopra who was in the wilderness for decades until "Baghban" is now planning two films that have the mega-star playing an autumnal soul.
In Chopra's "Babul", Bachchan will star as a father-in-law rehabilitating his own widowed daughter-in-law. And in a remake of the Clint Eastwood starrer, "The Bridges Of Madison County", Bachchan will play a 60-plus man getting a stab at romance with a bored and lonely housewife.
In Mahesh Manjrekar's "Virudh", he'll be a father fighting to get justice for his dead son. And in Rituparno Ghosh's untitled film, he'll be a celebrity whose son cannot come out of his father's shadow.
Are these paeans to patriarchy being conceived to accommodate Bachchan's exceptional stardom? Or is the sudden emergence of the aging hero a sign of maturing times?
"Not likely," says filmmaker Arjun Sablok. "I feel it's like music composers who were inspired to create those imperishable tunes for Lata Mangeshkar. Likewise filmmakers today know they have the ever-dependable Bachchan to carry them into areas of heroism that Hindi cinema would usually shy away from."
With more and more filmmakers turning to Bachchan to do an autumn sonata, other eminently gifted actors of his age-group like Victor Bannerjee and Om Puri are also being offered pivotal instead of marginal roles.
Bannerjee, who played a cameo in "Bhoot" and starred in "Joggers' Park", is now playing an important role in "Amavas".
The enormously gifted Bannerjee is having a ball.
"After 'Jogger's Park', I think I've started a new phase in my career. In Anirban's 'My Brother Nikhil', I wanted to play the title role. It's a dream role. But I'm happy playing Nikhil's dad.
"Playing a dad in our films is no longer the thankless task in Hindi cinema that it used to be, thanks to Bachchan."
Many years ago, director Bhim Sain had made a film called "Gharonda" with the then 50-plus Shreeram Lagoo, who was cast as an aged widower who marries a much younger woman again. He gave an unforgettable performance.
Lyricist, writer and filmmaker Gulzar has just seen the veteran actor in a play. "Lagoo is so wonderful at his age. Why can't our films find space for him?"