Great Expectations

Suma Nagaraj

Living in the shadows of India's one and only superstar and a respected actress who in her heydays was the epitome of grace onscreen and, dare I say it, the world's most recognised beautiful face, ex beauty queen turned somewhat of a crossover phenomenon in films who commands a princely sum for the smallest endorsement, must be a huge burden for someone who's time and again faced criticism for his bad run at the box office.

Now add to it that the former two are his parents and the latter is his wife who enjoys global recognition like no other Bollywood star has or probably ever will. Even Atlas would have shrugged.

If anyone deserves a break from the constant comparisons, expectations and enormous pressure of being a star son and star husband, it's Abhishek Bachchan.

I remember being a staunch Aamir Khan loyalist when I first set eyes on Abhishek. I was whizzing past Mumbai's High Court after a lovely dinner at a colleague's house, and we stopped when we saw Abhishek along with his dance troupe doing this hackneyed ascending-descending routine on the steps in front of the High Court for I think his Bollywood debut. His body language conveyed his uncertainty, but he still kept pace with his fellow dancers, for I think a good few minutes. My colleague and I perched ourselves on the bonnet of his car and watched in rapt attention as the dance routine was filmed.

I found Abhishek endearingly awkward then. I find him endearingly awkward now.

I can't say I've followed his career with a magnifying glass ever since, but I've sought out a few movies of his that I've made it a point to see on the big screen. He may be far from being an accomplished actor after more than a decade of playing people he isn't, but I think he's more of an actor than most of the established leading men that Bollywood touts everyday ad nauseum, including arch rival, Hrithik Roshan.

His detractors tend to forget that even his much respected superstar father had an equally insipid run before he struck gold at the box office. His detractors also forget that given Bollywood's penchant for dancing and beating around the bush, Abhishek's schtick, if you will, is as far removed from shaking a leg as Hrithik Roshan's is from histrionics.

You may well throw Koi Mil Gaya in my face - I take that and raise you a Kites. I don't know, in my saner half of the world, people with developmental issues or an overprotected environment at home don't dance with leading ladies in romantic settings. NOTE: I'm not for one moment discounting Hrithik's amazing dance moves and Greek God good looks, but I'm saying, that's all there is to it. Maybe a little more, and I really hope Hrithik comes into his own acting-wise, but there's not much you can say to convince me otherwise.

Coming back to Abhishek, his body of work is something that will probably make him cringe to his last movie, but tell me of one good actor who's not made bad acting choices and I'll take all my words back.

If at all there's one thing he can be ridiculed for, it's for making some monumentally bad choices in his career. Then then there's this irksome little fact that there are no Hrishikesh Mukherjees and Prakash Mehras now, only self-aggrandizing, over-exaggerated pompous clones with neither the vision nor the courage to make movies that don't play to the gallery. If it weren't for Hrishida and Mehra, the world wouldn't have seen half of the best movies of both Amitabh's and Jaya's careers, something that served them well during their prime.

Abhishek's strengths are deadpan dialogue delivery, spot-on comic timing and that little overlooked facet that most so-called leading men can only dream of, the express-an-emotion-without-the-aid-of-a-dialogue detail. I remember that lovely scene from Delhi 6 where his face is lit up by the lamp after a short exchange with Waheeda Rehman, and he says so much without saying anything at all - his expressive eyes, that he's inherited from his actress mother, do all the talking for him. Then there's that pert rejoinder in Kucch Naa Kaho, which he delivers poker-faced in a way only he can in the current crop of Bollywood actors. His chemistry with his then rumoured lady love Rani Mukherjee and comic timing was there for all to see in Bunty aur Babli.

While he's not likely to be forgiven for agreeing to mouth the dumbest catch phrase in brand endorsement's history (Get idea) and for agreeing to star in Raavan, seen as one of the biggest debacles of his, his wife's and Mani Ratnam's career, his Zanjeer or Abhimaan, or hell, even Sholay, is not too far away. Luck is bound to be a lady one of these nights and when she does shine on him, which she will, look me up - we'll toast his success together and I'll proudly tell you I told you so.