Why is it that even top Indian movie stars, when they rarely ever land a role in a Hollywood film, get only tiny, inconsequential parts.
If you thought Anil Kapoor’s role in the last installment of Mission Impossible was a joke and Anupam Kher’s brief appearance in Lust, Caution an insult, it gets worse with Amitabh Bachchan in The Great Gatsby.
Having watched the trailer of the Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming film The Great Gatsby last week and catching a brief glimpse of our own Amitabh Bachchan (in a grey suit??) in it, I was more than intrigued by the movie and the book on which it’s based.
On Sunday, braving the scorching mid-Atlantic heat I ran over to the local library and picked up F.Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby, first published in 1925.
Since I own a copy of Correspondence of F.Scott Fitzgerald, I’d obviously read some of his letters and formed a favorable impression of his skills as a writer.
But I’d never read any of Scott Fitzgerald’s novels.
So The Great Gatsby was my first deep dive into the work of what many consider one of the great American writers of the last century.
The Great Gatsby is not a long book.
The hardcover edition runs to a mere 180 pages, letting even slow readers run through it in a few hours.
Great Gatsby – The Novel
I do not concur with the general notion that The Great Gatsby is a classic and one of the greatest works of American literature.
Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, Saul Bellow, Mark Twain, well, these are a few American writers I’d place above F.Scott Fitzgerald.
Of course, some of you will be quick to argue that Nabokov was a Russian writer, not American. But in my defense, I will respond that Nabokov spent a considerable length of time in the U.S., became an American citizen in 1945 and his best known work Lolita was written and published when he lived on our shores.
Although I may not place The Great Gatsby among the classics, I find it good enough to merit a second reading, an exercise I intend to embark upon soon.
There are four main characters in The Great Gatsby: our main protagonist, the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby, his next-door neighbor Nick Carraway, Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom Buchanan.
The rest including Jordan Baker, Meyer Wolfsheim, Myrtle Wilson and George Wilson are minor characters in the novel, although some like George make dramatic moves toward the end.
And amongst this gaggle of minor characters, I place Meyer Wolfsheim on the lowest rung.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned from IMDB and Wiki that Amitabh Bachchan was playing Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby.
If you can trust the recollections of this blogger, Wolfsheim appears but a couple of times in the book.
We learn he’s a Jew, an unsavory character and that he’s Gatsby’s friend (is he really?).
That’s about it.
Why, Big B
So why then did Amitabh Bachchan, aka Big B in India to distinguish him from his small-in-every-sense son Abhishek Bachchan, eagerly accept this insignificant role.
First, Hollywood producers are not lining up to give this old geezer Bachchan roles. Despite an acting career spanning over four decades, Amitabh Bachchan is a name that resonates only in the India subcontinent.
Mention Amitabh Bachchan’s name to any American and you’ll be asked whether he works in Dunkin Donut (a U.S. franchise donut chain owned by a lot of Indians and employing mostly semi-literate Gujarati immigrants).
Since beggars can’t be choosers, Amitabh has to swallow his pride and pick up whatever crumbs are thrown at him.
Second, there was no other role Bachchan could possibly have played in The Great Gatsby given the story. The men are much younger to Bachchan, who’s in his late 60s.
I suspect that even with the benefit of makeup Amitabh Bachchan is too old to play any one else in the film. Not even the garage shop owner George Wilson.
Third, even if the part in a Hollywood movie is small Indian stars like Anil Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan avidly make a grab for it because of the cachet of working alongside stars like Tom Cruise or Leonardo DiCaprio.
Fourth, the Indian movie industry is a laughing stock on the global stage with zero credibility.
The Indian movie business is, for the most part, comprised of crass buffoons like Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Riteish Deshmukh, Ram Gopal Varma et al.
Since the Indian movie fan base is also comprised mostly of buffoons, the Hindi and regional language film industry is thriving in the country, relegating Hollywood films to a secondary status there.
So given the low global standing of the Indian movie industry it’s unlikely our stars, even those of the stature of Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor or Anupam Kher, will ever be offered plum roles in a Hollywood production.
They’ll have to stay content with itsy-bitsy roles flung at them once in a blue moon.
Oh, what a shame for a nation that boasts of making more movies every year than any other country on the planet.
Before signing off, I must add the caveat that Meyer Wolfsheim’s part may have been expanded in the movie but I greatly doubt it.