The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chan vs Bachchan

The star At JW Marriott on Tuesday, his Myth co-star first called him 'the most famous Chinese man on the planet'. In true Mallika Sherawat style, she needed to drive home the point and justify why she went topless for him, even if it was for a nanosecond. 'You keep all the stars in the world on one side and keep Jackie on the other side, he will still be heavier.' A certain Mr Bachchan wasn't listening in, for he landed up in the same lounge 24 hours later.

For once, Mallika made sense. At 51, Jackie Chan is indeed Asia's biggest cine star, who has achieved mission impossible by changing the American movie method ' from blood-and-gore action to comic action. Denied entry into Hollywood in the late-80s after smashing box-office records in China and Hong Kong, it took him 15 years all right, but today he commands a rush hour in Rambo land. Breaking bones (his rivals on screen and his own off it) like biscuits, Chan's stunning stunts leave children, men and women gaping, from Los Angeles to Lake Town. No wonder he is worth billions of dollars, from the East to the West.

The Sport He did wear the customary turban that everybody from David Boon to Richard Gere has sported after touching down on desi turf. He did go through that oh-so-cliched 'Namaste India' routine more times than Mallika wrapped herself around the 'Buster Keaton of kung-fu'. But Chan was easily the most entertaining star guest in town ' from picking at papad to mimicking his 'Malika' to serving up a laughathon.

A Mallika phone call did invite Chan to Mumbai but it was actually an opportunity to do something for the city's street children that sealed the deal. The handsome cheque Chan handed over to Mira Nair's Salaam Baalak Trust would help some of the rehabilitated girls learn judo on Saturdays. Even the special video the Chan factory played to the media galleries was on his charity chariot trundling around the world, showing how the action-is-fun man has brought a smile to many a child.

The showman Chan is just like in his movies: a riot. A showman in the truest sense of the term, the man conquered Mumbai before you could say Bollywood. 'I can't speak good English,' he smiled, but then came up with quotable quotes like, 'We must join forces against America...' Walking down Bandra Bandstand hand-in-hand with Mallika, he was asked about the chemistry he shared with the Bolly bombshell. First, he flashed the trademark smile stretching from ear to ear and forcing his eyes shut. Then, just two words: 'She's mine!'

The star There's a crowd outside the JW Marriott in Mumbai on a Wednesday evening and you know you are at the right place and at the right time. Even though he comes every morning to work out in the hotel gym, there's always a crowd to see Amitabh Bachchan drive in and out. Jharokha darshan of the Sarkar, you see. An Abhishek Bachchan may still walk away unnoticed in Mumbai city, but his dad remains the man to watch. And boy, does he know that! With no slump in his winning streak ' 2005 has seen him scoring the maximum number of Bollywood hits ' Aby Baby just can't do no wrong at 64 (there's no escaping the age factor, you see, for the man makes it a point to remind you of it, repeatedly... 'At 64, I'm lucky that roles are being written for me...').

The style Every actor worth his namak in Bollywood would swear by his punctuality and how he is still the most disciplined star on the sets, and how he is the God of all things big and small. Why then would Amitabh Bachchan arrive an hour late for a press conference in Mumbai days after keeping journalists waiting in New York for a couple of hours' Once lounging in his Aks-like chair, he held up the interviews again, meeting a family friend for a good 15 minutes. That, you see, adds to the Amitabh aura; feeds the myth around the man. As do the same old laconic lines, the intimidating demeanour, yet self-effacing script. Munching away on his special oatmeal and chocolate cookies, his answers sound pre-recorded, pauses and all. Ask him about his omnipresence, on screens big and small, and he shrugs those shoulders: 'Worried about over-exposure' At 64, you are worried about exposure!' Come on Sir, give us a break. 'Main to sirf naukar hoon, kaam mil raha hai iss umar mein bahut badi baat hai' Hail, Amitabh Bachchan the serf. His KBC scripts, thankfully, are more real.

The show He knew that his printed shirt behind the off-white suit 'did' and so he let the lenswork take its course. His Ek Ajnabee director called him his 'cowboy' and Bachchan swaggered on to the podium in John Wayne style. After the swagger, the stutter (a couple of thank yous) and then the stoicism. The man went mute again ' just where there was no stopping the Chan chatter a day before ' and as if on cue his eight-year-old co-star, Baby Rucha, filled in the blanks. 'Everyday after the shoot in Bangkok, Amit uncle would get me ice-creams after the day's work.' If only the ajnabee (stranger) wouldn't be as cold as one and would melt enough to reveal a bit of the man behind the myth.

Post script: They don't know each other. Amitabh Bachchan has heard of Jackie Chan and even seen some of his films. Jackie Chan may have seen Amitabh Bachchan movies but clearly doesn't remember him. And the two men are as different as their appearances would suggest ' Chan is 5-ft-8-inches and a bundle of fun-filled energy, Bachchan is 6-ft-2-inches and ever brooding.

While Chan is a spectator's delight, whether jumping off buildings in his movies or just smiling away at the hundreds gathered outside the Cinemax multiplex in Versova, Bachchan appears always in a main aur meri tanhayee mindframe ' remote and reticent.

Behind Chan's smiles, it's difficult to discover the crusader fighting piracy and poverty across the globe and making sure that his movies can be watched by his kid fans all over. Behind the Bachchan mask, the cause seems all commercial, the humility ('I am no Shah Rukh or Salman') a humbug.

Afterthought: Mallika Sherawat is a smart girl. Period. She may find the Bachchan run hot-hot-hot (courtesy Koffee With Karan), but when it comes to pairing up on screen, she would prefer running to Chan, topless or otherwise'

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