Some cinematic moments and characters are so deeply etched in our hearts that they forever live on in our memories. Who knew when Shah Rukh Khan starred in a film titled Baadshah, he would be referred to as one thereon? With Anil Kapoor, we got the catchphrase Jhakaas, and Salman Khan made the shirtless body hero a sensation. Abhishek Bachchan’s latest release, Dasvi, features a song, where the lyrics goes something like, Macha Macha Macha Macha, Macha Macha Macha Re. Chaahe tanne medal mile, chaahe koi sazaa de. These words are evocative of the actor’s journey, which has been anything but easy. 60 films, 21 years, interesting characters, an unmatchable wit — Bachchan has it all. Yet, before OTT, something was quite amiss. He’s dealt with constant comparison to legendary parents, Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, and continues to even till this day.

A candid Bachchan had said in a Rolling Stone interview in 2021, “It took me over two years to get my first film. A lot of people would think that being Mr. Bachchan’s son, people are going to be lined up around the block. No, they weren’t. I spoke to almost each and every director before starting, and they did not decide to work with me, and that’s fine.” In the same interview, Bachchan had opened up about being replaced in films without being told, reaching a set and realising he’s been removed, and being in situations where he’s been moved to a back seat in a public function when a bigger star showed up.

In a previous interview with Hindustan Times too, in fact, Bachchan commented on failure and said, “Failing publicly is humiliating and sometimes, people take pleasure in seeing you fail. I faced a lot of hardships at the beginning of my career. I slowly realised that it’s a business and you just have to pull up your socks and keep carrying on.”

And now, in the last two years, he has acted in four films, thanks to OTT. The talent that Bachchan always had is shining through thanks to the broad avenue that the web space provides, and while his latest film, Dasvi, didn’t really impress critics, the audience lapped it up — it was trending on the No.1 spot on Netflix in the India film section, and No.4 on the Netflix Non-English film section, too.

As the pagdi-tying, Haryanvi speaking chief minister in Dasvi, Bachchan is spectacular, and lights up every frame he appears in. He brings back memories of his past roles — Yuva and Sarkar, especially. The film is also proof that he’s not afraid to take risks since returning from his break with projects like Ludo, Breathe: Into the Shadows, and Bob Biswas. Bachchan plays the character of Ganga Ram Chaudhary in the film, who decides to complete his high school degree while being imprisoned for a scam during his tenure as a chief minister. Does he feel education should be a prerequisite to becoming a politician? “Firstly, I’m not qualified to answer that question. Who are we to say who is and who is not qualified to be a leader? It’s not as black and white an answer as we’d like it, especially in our country and the system in which we work. There is a big difference between having knowledge and being educated. A lot of us are educated. Do all of us possess knowledge? We could pass an exam, but have we truly comprehended and acquired knowledge? Ganga Ram is a political animal. He hails from a political family, so it’s in his blood. He has the knowledge of how to play politics,” he adds.

Bachchan took a break from acting a few years ago, from 2015 to 2018. How much of a difference did the break make? “The main factor is comfort. By comfort, I mean comfort in my craft. I’m enjoying my craft way more than I was before. Back then, a sense of complacency was creeping into my work. Everything was coming to me a bit too easily, and it came to a point where I realised that is not the way I should be working. Now, there is a certain amount of comfort and maturity in how I work,” he says.

The actor celebrated his 46th birthday recently, but believes age has brought nothing to him as an actor, it is the experience that matters more. “I know many 20-year-olds like my nephew and niece who are just starting their adult life. The kind of experiences they’ve gathered is equivalent to what I have gathered in 46 years. I learn from them. As an actor, one should be like a sponge — learn from everything and everyone. The maturity and outlook of today’s generation makes them so much more advanced than we were.” A common thread between Bachchan’s recent work is that they all have been released on streaming services, as it is with actors like Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, and Taapsee Pannu.

Is this a sign that people are accepting this wave of consuming content on streaming services, or is cinema evolving? Bachchan feels, “A little bit of everything, and it’s all related. I think our cinema is evolving. Maybe today, thanks to streaming services, the audience is exposed to world cinema at their convenience and ease like they’ve never had before. For example, before streaming services came in, you could only see foreign films or films of another language of a different country or region on Satellite TV or Cable TV. Now it’s easily accessible, literally at the push of a button. I think that prompts the audience to evolve in their taste and the content they want to consume. Earlier, we had a template for a genre, which was pretty much what we worked with. Now, there’s more experimentation. It causes a ripple effect as well. I truly believe that now is a better time to be an actor — just the variety of work you get is fantastic. It actually is quite interesting. Would things have panned out the way they did if we started today? I really don’t know. I hope that these film-makers that have worked with me continue to work with me in the future.”

He wouldn’t call himself an OTT junkie, but he does enjoy the convenience these platforms offer. “What’s really nice is that OTT is not a replacement for television or cinema. It’s a different medium altogether with a different kind of storytelling. All these platforms are doing such wonderful work, and their content is well-curated. I enjoy it. We’ve had this debate about cinema for the last 30-40 years — cinema competing with VHS, Cable, and satellite TV, and now with streaming services and other digital mediums. Cinema and all other mediums can and will co-exist.”

Besides being an actor and a sports entrepreneur, Abhishek Bachchan has also donned the producer’s hat. He produced films like Paa and Buddha Hoga Tera Baap for Amitabh Bachchan, a unique feat in an industry where usually fathers produce films for their children. And for the first time, Junior Bachchan is producing a film for himself. It is a Hindi remake of the Tamil film Oththa Seruppu Size 7. He reveals, “The concept intrigued me immensely, and it piqued my interest as an actor. It’s very challenging because I’m the only actor in the film. But you never feel that. I was so fascinated with the whole process. I knew there’d be a huge challenge from a performance perspective. We are in the post-production stage, and we will release the film as soon as it is completed. I’m excited about it. It’s a little passion project of mine.”

Second Innings

OTT has reformed the way we consume content, sure, but an even better advantage of this medium is a new kind of character layering that has given Bollywood’s biggies an avenue to showcase their potential like never before. We look at five such second innings.

Saif Ali Khan

Saif Ali Khan is one of the most seasoned actors in the business — we know there’s no dearth of talent there. His performances in films like Omkara, Parineeta, and the light-hearted Dil Chahta Hai are lauded even today. But his career saw its ups and downs. Somewhere towards the end of 2013, his films weren’t doing the kind of business they were expected to, but the lull picked up when Sacred Games happened. In Netflix India’s first show, Khan knocked it out of the park with his performance as Sartaj Singh, setting the bar for India’s OTT content high. He followed it up with the second season of Sacred Games, and the controversial Tandav.

Sushmita Sen

Former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen made a massive comeback with Ram Madhavani’s Aarya, and it is her best acting gig in a decade. She’s clearly meant for the screen, and a story like this one, with its cliffhangers and political backdrop, required a strong lead, which Sen has proven herself to be. Where were you all these years, Sen? Her audience is happy to have her back, and is awaiting Aarya’s third season.

Manoj Bajpayee

Manoj Bajpayee once famously said, ‘I’ve made a career out of flop films’, and he is not entirely wrong. Out of nearly 70 films, he has had only eight or nine hits. But he is always listed among the best actors in the country. The success of his first web show, The Family Man, cemented his position not only as an actor, but as a star. With the second season, an entire generation that didn’t grow up knowing him as Satya’s Bhiku Mhatre, will now call him Srikant.

Bobby Deol

One of the hottest men of the ’90s, Bobby Deol had a steady stream of hits with Gupt, Soldier, Ajnabee, and Humraaz. But after a point, Deol disappeared from the scene. He often claims that he couldn’t keep up with the changing times, and missed out on the films made in the new millennium. But when Deol wanted to change, he did ite. Today, he is possibly the industry’s most-streamed actors, with his web show, Aashram, garnering 100 million views for its third season in just 32 hours. The first two seasons had 160 million views.

Vivek Oberoi

Vivek Oberoi had a great start with films like Company, Saathiya, Yuva, and Masti, not to mention his performance in Shootout at Lokhandwala. But, something slipped thereafter. It wasn’t until his portrayal as Vikrant Khanna in Inside Edge that people sat up and noticed him again. The show, in its fourth season, is loved by viewers and dedicated fans, alike.