Itís all very well to put the blame squarely on the weak writing or on the filmmakerís flawed vision. But donít actors ó that too in the top rung where Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan belong ó scan a script before they get into a project' Or do they play blind because the film-maker in question has delivered (read: Company, Bhoot, Sarkar) in the past' Either way, the actors, especially Amitabh Bachchan, who is far more senior and should know better, have muffed up by associating themselves with the pathetic remake of a film that still stands as a milestone in Hindi cinema. If the two top actors green-signalled the script, then Ram Gopal Varmaís Aag paints an extremely poor picture of their script sense. What in the world did Amitabh Bachchan see in the film to play Babban, the miserable xerox of the iconic Gabbar Singh' On the other hand, if AB went along with Ramu without asking any questions (except, perhaps, whereís my fee'), that too is not what youíd expect of a professional.
The question is not of playing a part in a flop film (commercial setbacks, as we all know, are a part and parcel of every professionalís life). Itís the more serious matter of examining the choices that a superior actor like Amitabh Bachchan sometimes makes. And no, Amit, itís not because your fans love you too much to accept you in a negative role. Try playing a suave but ruthless criminal in a slick, well-made film and thereís no way they wonít lap it up. Also, letís not confuse a negative role (which you played with aplomb even way back at the onset of your career in Parwana) with something gross and grotesque which is what Ramu and you turned Gabbar, sorry, Babban into. Gabbar Singh was raw and ruthless, a scary nightmare of a villain, not a lame, repulsive reptile with no definition to his personality.
After misadventures like Boom and Nishabd, Amitabh Bachchan has often offered the explanation that these roles challenged him as an actor. As an actor he wanted to go where he hadnít in the past. So, what next, Mr Bachchan' Breaking wind or a shot on the Ďpotí perhaps, a la Kamal Hassan' You havenít done that before. If my question sounds harsh, crude and undignified, itís solely because Amitabh Bachchan as Babban in Aag actually does a shot as yucky as digging his nose. Where was the challenge to the actor in that disgusting shot, Mr Bachchan' Does retaining your dignity curtail your freedom to explore and to be versatile'
If one isnít so harsh on Ajay Devgan, itís because he is, first, not an icon, not someone we look up to, to set an example (and we do hold Amitabh in high esteem). Secondly, Ajay as Heeru (Ramuís poor turn on Sholayís Veeru) merely looks like he picked up his fat pay cheque and went to sleep, stumbling like an unwashed somnambulist through a highly unsuitable role until it was time to pack up and go home. At least Ajay Devgan did not do anything gross and disgusting.
As for Ramu, when a man starts heaving his latest, talent-challenged moll into an important project, he mauls the film and whatís left of his reputation.
To top it, Ramu crossed the limits of abrasive insensitivity when he, in a bid to hail his new Gabbar-turned-Babban, claimed that within minutes of watching AB as the legendary Sholay villain, he forgot all about the 30-year impact of the original Gabbar. Play up your actor as much as you want Ramu, but at the cost of the dead who arenít around to defend themselves'
This, by the way, was the same Mr Khan for whom Mr Ray, Satyajit no less, flew down from Calcutta. Amjad Khan had met with a life-threatening car accident and Manikda had personally visited him in hospital to say that he would wait for the actor to recover and play Wajid Ali Shah or, his Shatranj Ke Khiladi would stand scrapped because he could not imagine anyone else in that role. At that time, Shabana Azmi had been impressed enough to remark that coming from someone as eminent as Ray, this was the highest compliment an actor could receive in his lifetime!
The box-office egg created by Ramu is, perhaps, Amjad Khan having the last laugh from the grave.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is managing editor of Movie Mag International