Prem To Robbie: Same Role, Same Actor, But A Starkly Different Abhishek Bachchan

Abhishek Bachchan, it's been an absolute gift to see you reclaim the title of an 'actor'. Now, on to better roles.

Walking out of Manmarziyaan, you can’t help but wonder why Abhishek Bachchan gets the hate he does as an actor. Pitted against Hrithik Roshan from the very beginning, Bachchan was never the most charismatic guy in the room. However, being born in the house of the country’s biggest superstar would mean he would undergo a ‘struggle’ of his own. After a two-year sabbatical and a few films we’d rather forget, Bachchan has come back as a ‘character’. Something you wish he would have chosen before films like Players or Bol Bachchan.

When Rajbir Bhatia a.k.a Robbie (played by Abhishek Bachchan) walks across the airport lounge in Anurag Kashyap’s film, it won’t be the first time you see him do it with such poise. Bachchan played the nearly same character 15 years ago in Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon. Granted that there is varying degree of skill behind the two parts, but it is also Bachchan who seems to have come of age.

In the 2003 film, where he seems to be playing the ‘quiet, introverted’ tycoon, in the 2018 version Bachchan is more assured in his silences. There’s still the glint in his eyes as he stalks his respective rishtas on his laptop (Kareena Kapoor in MPKDH & Taapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan), something that hasn’t faded in 15 years. But while Prem is underlined as the ‘boring, studious type’ who carries ‘books on publishing’ as gifts, Manmarziyaan writer Kanika Dhillon keeps her cards close to her chest, letting Robbie’s mask of sanity slowly unravel without ever allowing him to become dull. As both Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) and Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) sparkle in their author-backed parts, Robbie becomes the film’s immovable object.

As the love triangle’s voice of reason, he features in two of the film’s best scenes. Having just been told by Rumi that she intends to elope with her lover on the night before their wedding, Robbie stands flummoxed. Trying to fill in the awkward silence Rumi asks him if he’s on Facebook, that maybe they could be ‘friends’. A few more seconds pass when she asks him to help her kick-start her bike. Robbie goes through all this, without uttering a single word. The second great moment of the film comes when Rumi, exasperated by how much ‘space’ she’s given by Robbie, asks him, “Why don’t you ask me anything?” He knows she’s spent the day staring at her smartphone, and pat comes the question, “How was the run?” He’s just doesn’t want to know.

There’s another HUGE difference between Prem and Robbie. Prem is the epitome of everything pure, nice and solemn. He carries on with his ‘I’m-happy-for-you’ face throughout the film, which ends with him ultimately sacrificing his love for the ‘greater cause’.

In Manmarziyaan, Rumi asks Robbie – have you always been like this Ramji-type? Robbie is no saint. Robbie walks into this volatile relationship with his eyes open. He explains to his friends – that if he gets the opportunity to marry this girl he fancies (no matter what Rumi’s reasons are for marrying him) then risking heartbreak might just be worth it. Robbie too, makes the ultimate sacrifice by refusing chai. And as he walks away one final time, is when you end up feeling the weight of that smile he’s had to brave through.

There’s a weary wisdom to the way Abhishek Bachchan plays Robbie Bhatia, the age reflecting in the way he conducts himself. He’s one of the few actors who can play roles completely alien to the privilege he’s grown up in, pretty well. Whether it is as Lallan Singh in Mani Ratnam’s Yuva, or as the relatively hip Rishi Talvar in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, there’s a peculiar beauty to the way he breaks down.

Kashyap gives him a moment to shine as Robbie, as the mask finally crumbles in front of Rumi in spectacular fashion. We’re fed little nuggets of information towards the end which informs the beginning of Robbie’s Ramji phase. Robbie is probably another Vicky of his time, after more than a decade’s worth of course-correction. The character’s arc might just be a parable for the actor’s own course over the past decade, comprising few challenging roles.

Abhishek Bachchan, it’s been an absolute gift seeing you reclaim the title of an ‘actor’ by playing in the hands of such an able team behind the film. The talent was never in question, now on to better choices.