Exit Big B, enter Naseeruddin Shah, the new angry old man!

Naseeruddin Shah's objective analysis of Dilip Kumar as an actor and a towering personality of the film industry was not taken in good taste. Unfortunately, Naseer's timing for it wasn't good

Naseeruddin Shah
Naseeruddin Shah

Monojit Lahiri

Naseeruddin Shah ko gussa kyoon aata hai? is a query and refrain that has been around forever. His celebrated barbs against celebrities – be it the late Rajesh Khanna, the Big B, Khans or any and everything related to glamorous Bollywood – are well known.

Public shock, anger and bewilderment however hit a new high with his latest bombshell targeting the late, revered Dilip Kumar. In an exclusive article in The New Indian Express, Naseeruddin Shah – along with an offering of bouquet – also presented brickbats. He questioned whether Dilip’s "example as a star was worthy of emulation and whether he helped push the envelope towards progress or instead, facilitated the downward spiral of popular Hindi cinema into the total star-centricity in which it wallows today. Given the position he was in, it is more than evident that he didn’t do enough in terms of passing on the benefit of his experience or bother to groom anyone and left behind no significant lessons for future actors. What he was truly matchless at, was creating a demand for himself – sometimes at the cost of the film he was in – a legacy that weighs heavier on the Hindi film fraternity than his finely nuanced performance. It is however a moot point at what precise time in his career and why his commitment to meaningful cinema, which had resulted in his collaboration with such directors as Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, K. Asif, B.R. Chopra deserted him and the self-congratulatory phase took over.”

While, to lessen the blow, Naseer did sign off with “Be all that as it may, I remain one of the millions who will remain eternally grateful to him for the magic”, the deed was done and one can almost see and hear the likes of die-hard and passionate fans like Javed Akhtar, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan looking for their guns while expressing raging shock and fury!

Question is: why this complaint from Naseeruddin Shah? And why – now?

40 year old, Delhi-based film buff Arnab Sen believes that it is a part of his on-going narrative of sour grapes. “When you are an acknowledged actor of rare brilliance, schooled by the great Ebrahim Alkazi in the finest institution, NSD, it’s impossible to go ga-ga over the Bollywood school of acting. His description of their template – fake theatricality, arch voice-intonations, clenched jaw muscles quivering lips, caterpillar eyebrows and of course, the constant wagging hands! – is hilarious. In contrast, Dilip’s economy of movement and gesture seemed to have been little understood by his peers and others who, superficially, mimicked his style.” While the thespian has a point, like in the instance of Rajesh Khanna, the timing of his statement couldn’t have come at a worse time, believes Sen. "When Dilip’s fans and family were in mourning, was it necessary to let fly his personal version of some home truths, immediately? Its shockingly unkind and insensitive of an actor celebrated for his sensitive portrayals.”

Dilip’s die-hard fan, Nilima Khanna is hopping mad! The Mumbai-based home-maker is convinced that “this sick guy needs to see a shrink to address his complex! He seems to be congenitally anti-success! Anyone from Bollywood who has struck big gets his mickey and out come the knives. Problem kya hai, Boss? It has to be envy and jealousy. He has never and will never feature in the popularity polls or blaze the neons because both his looks & genre of films are NO ENTRY products! For the aam junta who adored Dilip, Naseer Shah’s films work as fab sedatives or purgatives! He should learn to cool it. It’s sad that he insists on repeating his role as an irritating agent-provocateur to attract attention, instead of re-enforcing his name as a fine actor. One starts losing respect for people like him who stoop to conquer.”

32-year old Bangalore-based Vicky Shorey is amused at the home-maker’s broadside. A serious film buff, he believes that these reactions are typical of fans blinded by the aura of the star, buttressed by unconditional non-negotiable loyalty and solidly re-enforced by loss and nostalgia. “These creatures are off-limits, sacrosanct and can do no wrong. You touch them and you woo peril. For me, while Dilip Kumar was indeed a great actor, not everything he did was great. Naturally. Wasn’t he human? Was everything that the iconic Brando, Bogart, Monty Clift or James Dean did, flawless? Besides, didn’t Naseer analytically spell out the great thespian’s USPs and salute his being on top of his game, way ahead of his contemporaries, a thinking actor passionate and selective, forever pursuing the linear truth?”

However, young Shorey reminds us that change is the only constant. “First, with the entry of Rajendra [Jubilee] Kumar followed by [the phenomenon] Rajesh Khanna and later [Angry Young Man] Amitabh Bachchan, the great Dilip Kumar’s earlier clout and charisma slowly went under a cloud. The new age audiences followed the trail of Khanna in a fashion unmatched in the annals of Bollywood history. With the exception of Shakti – where he was truly outstanding and perhaps Mashaal, most of his other films seemed to pointedly showcase his larger-than-life image, not the actor. Did that mean he, overnight, became a lesser actor? Of course not. Only his films and style of acting appeared dated to a generation more hooked on change and speed than stylised acting that was deep and reflective.”

Regarding the furore, my belief is that the furore appears to be more of an emotional reaction than an informed response. If one objectively studies Naseer’s words, neither the zero-grooming, legacy or drawing attention to himself is totally off-centre, nor the transiting into character roles that were not really compatible with his powerful acting prowess. Where Naseer solidly goofed was the timing. To unfortunately let it all out just after the legend’s death was in bad taste. Why? Because if there was one single individual who could tick all the boxes in bringing dignity, grace, pride, respect, even a sense of majesty, grandeur and gravitas to an industry perceived [mostly] as nothing more than a frivolous, mindless, colourful, over-the-top, song-dance tamasha, it was Dilip Kumar. In any podium or platform on earth, his sophisticated and refined presence, his powerfully understated articulations celebrating the industry would automatically place him as the greatest Brand Ambassador for planet Bollywood ... and all in such elegantly minimalistic fashion.

Views are personal

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