An article I read in the papers got me thinking about how certain characters in movies endear themselves to us…only because we find them so realistic. I also walked down memory lane on a Sunday morning, sipping my tea, sitting in my balcony…just reminiscing about actors whom I have admired. We so often undervalue the roles that are played by actors in our movie watching. The actor – character divide goes in and out of focus in most movies. However, there is a certain kind of cinema, where this divide does not exist and the character overtakes the actor, or, rather, the actor submerges himself in the role, disappearing completely until you forget about the real life person.
A recent character that had such an impact on me was Bhaskor Banerjee, played by Amitabh Bachchan in the film Piku. Amitabh is one actor who has been immortalised in our minds. Right from playing the character of Vijay in Deewar, to the leather jacketed hero on a bike, in Muqaddar Ka Sikander and now, as Bhaskor Banerjee in Piku, there is something about Amitabh where the actor – character divide becomes a blur. There is one scene in the movie, where Piku is talking to the maid who has a complaint against Bhaskor. He is constantly hovering over her as she works and suspects her of being a thief too. The maid is naturally upset. Bhaskor’s expression when Piku adopts a conciliatory approach to dealing with the maid is priceless. His behaviour is also something most of us see with older people in our homes.
The other scene that impacted me a lot was Bhaskor dying in his sleep. It was very different from seeing Amitabh dying in his movies of 1970s or 80s. Bhaskor’s death felt more real, closer home. It hits me with the reality that in real life too Amitabh Bachchan is 73 years old. Amitabh as Bhaskor in Piku was very different from Amitabh playing the role of an old man in his earlier movies. Bhaskor strikes a chord…reminds us of our own parents, grand parents…
Watching Piku, drove home two points for me. I became more aware of mortality & how some of the reel life characters leave an indelible print on our minds. Some of the older Hollywood movies I watched have also had the same impact. Omar Sharif’s role as Feodor Sverdlov, a handsome Russian diplomat in Tamarind Seed, was one such character. Omar Sharif slipped into the role so well that it was difficult to think of him as Omar for a while after that. He falls in love with Julie Andrews, who works for the British government and it is a romance set during the height of the Cold War. The storyline and the roles were extrapolated in real life for me because I was in Vietnam at that time when my Dad was the military attache there. I was witness to a couple of budding romances around me.
I still cannot figure out where Don Vito Corleone began and where Marlon Brando disappeared in Godfather. The larger than life character of Don Vito took over Marlon Brando’s persona completely. The scene where Vito talks to other Mafia chiefs and transitions from peace talk to subtle warning if any harm were to befall Michael, Brando is brilliant. He goes from regretful, sad, to calm and forgiving to powerful and firm but it so subtle, it hard to distinguish between Don Vito & Marlon Brando. “But I’m a superstitious man…and if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he gets shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he is struck by a bolt of lightning (I got goosebumps here), then I’m going to blame some people in this room, and then I do not forgive”
I know a lot of people sideline Brando’s role and prefer Al Pacino’s role as Michael Corleone. Al Pacino, was no doubt fantastic. There is no denying the character – actor overlap there. However, in my mind, it will always be Don Vito Corleone who will send the shivers down my spine and yet, will be an endearing old man tending to his vegetables in his garden. The lines between performance and reality break down with such actors and roles. And I guess age does make a difference…beyond a point there is no faking. Even if it happens momentarily, while watching a scene, where the person is rising from the chair, pauses to balance himself, or, has a faraway look in his eyes while thinking of his life, or, the tone of his voice changes subtly to convey the emotions he is going through, without changing his facial expressions….you continue to wonder,”Was that Amitabh or Bhaskor/Omar or Feodor/Brando or Don Vito?”