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Amitabh Bachchan Nailed UP Swag Decades Before Ayushmann Khurrana Became Heartland Poster Boy

Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana

Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana

Poster boy of heartland cinema Ayushmann Khurrana goes head-to-head with OG UP man Amitabh Bachchan in Gulabo Sitabo.

We've seen Ayushmann Khurrana play a Kanpuriya to the T in Bala and ace the Mathura dialect in Dream Girl. With his body language and mannerism, he had no problems convincing us that he is indeed a cassette shop owner in Haridwar (Dum Laga Ke Haisha) or a small-time writer from Bareilly (Bareilly Ki Barfi).

Thanks to these successful portrayals, Bollywood quickly crowned this Punjabi from Chandigarh the 'poster boy of heartland cinema'. Ayushmann went on to star in Article 15 and Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, both based in Uttar Pradesh, thus nailing his newfound tag.

Gulabo Sitabo is yet another UP-based film Ayushmann has taken on, playing a middle class man in Lucknow. The film pitches him against a stalwart, a pillar in Bollywood cinema who has been holding fort for over five decades. In many films through those decades, we have seen Amitabh Bachchan flaunt his UP swag proudly on screen.

Bachchan was born in Allahabad, and a part of his appearance and mannerism has always reflected that identity. We have seen him slip into Punjabi or Bengali roles with equal ease - his mother was Punjabi and his wife is Bengali. But his desi charm has been an inseparable part of his on screen persona.

One of the most enduring images of Bachchan in his UP avatar is from the song Khaike Paan Banaras Wala from Don (1978). With a gamchha tied around his head and a paan in his mouth, the actor reveled in the role of the unsophisticated thief. The song was initially meant for Dev Anand's Banarsi Babu, but the senior actor had rightly assessed that it did not go with his suave, urban personality. Instead, Bachchan got to ace the look in this last minute addition.

He got to relive that slightly rustic, unpolished image in several other films and songs. Some of his most popular songs - Aaj Rapat Jayein (Namak Halaal, 1982), Jumma Chumma De De (Hum, 1990) and Holi Khele Raghuveera (Baghban, 2003) - banked on Bachchan's crude yet endearing appeal. We have also seen him channel the same in films like Bade Miyaan Chhote Miyaan and Sooryavansham in 1998.

His style of saying 'Hain!' with his left hand extended became a trademark after his role in Shahenshah (1988). But ironically, it was the role of Inspector Vijay, also played by him, who required a UP-ite's body language in the film.

The film's director Tinnu Anand had told Scroll, "Being from Allahabad, Amitabh could speak in a particular style rooted in his hometown, which he added to his character of the policeman, the paan-chewing inspector Vijay. Amitabh reasoned that since the other guy, Shahenshah, has all these heavy dialogue, the alter-ego should have a different lahja (tone) of speaking."

His role of DCP Dashrath Singh in Bunty Aur Babli (2005) exploited his UP connect once again. While the film captured the restless soul of small town India with protagonists from Fursatganj and Pankinagar, it also gave us an antagonist who clung to his gamchha more than his policeman's uniform.

Not just films, Bachchan has enjoyed mouthing dialogues in the dialect of his motherland in several TV commercials as well. "One can never forget the tone graph and mannerisms of your 'janmbhoomi'... and the joy of its 'boli'," he had said while sharing an video ad for an innerwear brand. Here's another sample of his gamchha-clad look in an ad.

In his current release, Gulabo Sitabo, Bachchan plays an aged Muslim man living in an old haveli in Lucknow. The film's writer Juhi Chaturvedi says, "Mr Bachchan comes from the Lucknow-Allahabad belt so he understood the character of Mirza very well. He knew the cultural and historical background. Language has its own contribution to a character. Each language has its own satire, banter and repartee. He was familiar with all that. He was able to contribute a lot from his own understanding and experiences," Juhi said.

Bachchan's adversary in this film is Ayushmann, with a very UP name – Bankey. "Ayushmann is not from Lucknow, but he has done so many films in that space. Despite belonging to Chandigarh, he is able to pull off a role like this. But at the same time, this is not just another 'Ayushmann in UP' role. He makes sure all his characters look different," says Juhi.

The portrayal of the heartland hero has changed over time. While Bachchan has been acing the desi mannerism for decades, Ayushmann has sealed his space in heartland stories in a short span of time. It will definitely be interesting to see the two UPs face off in Gulabo Sitabo.

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