Amitabh Bachchan is the most popular star on the planet today. BBC Poll did not need to have confirmed it. If it took passion towards art, commitment towards people and talent for performance to be an admired star, AB has demonstrated them in plenty on the screen.
Two recent movies he has starred in, Khakhee and Sarkar are exemplary in theme and outstanding in performances. And both the movies deal with subjects considered to be holy cows in India. One dealing with defense establishment, and the other deals with the God.
They are rare films. Rajkumar Santoshi’s Khakhee clearly has AB in a lead role which reminds Hindu majority Indians of their prejudices against Muslims in India who could be as patriotic and more. Khakhee exposed the entire police administration, special forces, defense establishment opinions and mainstream political themes which play people against people on religious grounds. And it did more. It depicted a minority Muslim member in proper light as a working class hero who was deliberately framed by the power brokers, while complicating the issue further to expose how all the people blowing trumpets of patriotism were actually anti-people. All those who speak against terrorism in order to victimize the minorities are the ones against whom the war needs to be waged (haven’t we thought so before?). For whom the patriotic bells toll?
That was an astoundingly different movie. It spoke the bitter truths about hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed patriots. And naturally enough, the movie despite Santoshi’s (Lajja, Damini, Ghayal, The Legend of Bhagat Singh) immaculate direction and compelling star-cast, was not awarded even by a lousy award committee as Filmfare. And on box office too, it received hardly any accolades.
Sarkar released few weeks ago, sprung another surprise. Reviewers equated the character with Bal Thackrey, that communal religious Hindu fundamentalist. Now that was the same man who once threatened that his Shiv Sena will wipe Pakistan out of the world map (such a statement was sure to scare even the Godfather!).
I wondered to myself if AB had made a turnaround at the last part of his life. After successfully defending the poor and the homeless in dozens of his movies, after battling the management injustices in factories as a class conscious worker, after even playing a role where he slaps his father for having been a ruthless capitalist, after enacting a role of a coolie wedging hammer and sickle to form trade union, after being a majdoor fighting for equal shares in company he worked for, and after playing the role of a police officer who betrays his national government only to protect the nation from the government, how can this man play Sarkar to glorify someone like Thackrey.
Well, calling to notice his disastrous political career which led him to public service disillusionments, and his financial managements of his business which eventually led him to host television shows, any amount of despair could also not be ruled out. So when I started reading the online reviews talking about Thackrey, I was not absolutely surprised.
And then I watched Sarkar.
Far from enacting Thackrey, he actually denounces the religious in the movie! His son played by his own son, also declares he does not believe in God. And the duo not only do not need a God to help them in their mission to help the poor and deprived, they also track down the Godman in the movie as one of the characters they set out to eliminate. In a classic scene, when the God believer quotes Bhagvad Geeta, Sarkar’s son asks of him “Do you want to see your God now or you want to join my hand (to reveal the people involved)? The preacher of God obviously enough deserts God. Even speaking from AB standpoint, it was a welcome change from the role he played in Naastik or Laawaris, where he needed a God eventually.
Sarkar is opposed to a system based on religion, democratic farce, or systematic exploitation. This is clearly inspired by Godfather and Ram Gopal Verma never forgets to mention that if there would have been no Godfather, there would have been no Sarkar.
That said, for the benefits of those friends who have decided not to watch Sarkar owing to the misinformation carried out by people who wanted to equate the role to emulate Thackrey, here is a quote straight from the horse’s mouth:
AB speaks : I have never interacted with him (Thackrey) on a political front. ….We haven’t tried to use facets of his character, no. Because this character isn’t him. This is just someone Ramu and his screenwriters and dialogue writers have created. I’ve tried to just portray that to the best of my abilities. We haven’t tried to imitate anyone with this film.